Sarah Michelle Gellar Slams The Marvel Fanbase For Its Treatment Of Female Leads, But Is Her Critique 100% Fair?

Sarah Michelle Gellar has a long history with genre work. It’s been nearly 20 years since the last episode of her hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired, but the actress still fields questions about her time wielding vampire stakes in the late '90s supernatural series. Gellar says it’s in genre work where women can succeed in the film industry. Except, according to the Scooby-Doo actress, when it comes to Marvel movies. The Crazy Ones star criticized fans’ treatment of female leads, and it has me asking ourselves, is her critique 100% fair? 

After a nearly decade-long break from acting, Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to the world of supernatural entertainment in her new show, Wolf Pack. The actress recently spoke with The Guardian about her hiatus and return, as well as her perception of the treatment of Marvel female casts by fans. According to Gellar, when it comes to upcoming superhero movies (and in the MCU in particular), there’s still an aura of "male superheroes only" that she thinks is very backward. The actress told the publication: 

Genre is where women can really succeed and hold an audience. Every time a Marvel movie tries to do a female cast, it just gets torn apart … Unfortunately, audiences weren’t as accepting. There’s still this mentality of ‘the male superhero,’ this very backwards way of thinking.

The Grudge star isn’t entirely off in her assessment of some fans’ adverse reactions to and less-than-pleasant treatment of female-led MCU films. Let’s take a look at fans’ responses to the female-led Marvel movies in order

Captain Marvel (2019)

Kevin Feige and Co. were already twenty movies into their cape-wearing Universe before they released the Brie Larson-helmed Captain Marvel in 2019. The first Marvel movie led by a woman was anything but smooth sailing. While early reviews were mostly positive, the film experiences a deluge of trolling. Some fans disliked Carol Danvers before she even hit theaters, so much so that they review-bombed the movie on Rotten Tomatoes to the point that the site had to change some of its policies. YouTube even changed its algorithm to combat the unhappy fans who claimed the film had too much of political agenda. However, it should be noted not all people who disliked the movie were men. See what CinemaBlend's Jessica Rawden had to say about why she didn’t like the film very much.

Black Widow (2021)

While some felt that Scarlett Johansson’s swan song as her assassin turned Avenger came a bit too late in the Marvel cinema lineup, the movie was largely well-received, especially by fans. Regarding critics’ response, Black Widow currently sits at 79% on the Tomatometer with critics, while it has a 91% audience score. Some spotty CGI aside, most seemed to enjoy Natasha Romanoff’s send-off and the introduction of her extended family. The significant difference between Black Widow and Captain Marvel being audiences had a decade to grow attached to Johansson in the leather-clad ass-kicking role of Natasha. 

WandaVision (2021)

WandaVision marked Marvel’s first canonical television show that Kevin Feige was in charge of. While it’s not entirely female-led, considering the performance is named after its two leads, it is undoubtedly mostly the Scarlet Witch’s story and is a tear-jerking story told brilliantly. The show was a hit with critics and fans and had no gender-focused online troll campaigns. It was a great jump start to the MCU’s television outing. Again, fans had years to grow attached to Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in their respective roles.

Ms. Marvel (2022)

Ms. Marvel had its first episode (of six in total) premiere on Disney+ on June 8, 2022. The show’s early reactions were overwhelmingly positive for the lighthearted teen romp. While Kamala Khan’s first introduction to the MCU was appreciated by fans and critics alike, finding its intended audience, it did receive toxic troll treatment, with much of the vitriol focused on the character’s heritage and gender. 

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022)

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows Jennifer Walters, played by Tatiana Maslany, as she navigates her complicated life as a single attorney in her 30s and a nearly 7-foot green superhero named She-Hulk. While the visual effects on the show were singled out as being a mixed bag, many critics felt the show was intelligent and funny, and there was a lot of praise for Maslany in her role as the green goliath. However, there is a massive disparity in critical and audience reviews of the show. She-Hulk has an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the audience score sits at an abysmal 33%. As reported by Forbes, trolls bombed the emerald attorney harder than any other Marvel property.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Due to the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, filmmaker Ryan Coogler had to pivot original plans for his Black Panther sequel and focus on the sounding women in the Wakandan ruler’s life by writing the real-life tragedy into the story. While some pointed out Wakanda Forever’s uneven tone, the movie was well-received both critically and by fans, and Angela Bassett’s powerful performance received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination

Final Thoughts

While gender has most certainly had a hand in some of the review bombing seen around Marvel’s female-led property, it makes me seriously consider if there is something else also taking place simultaneously. It seems that the movies and shows that receive the most criticism from online trolls tend to be the ones that focus on newer characters, and gender politics takes center stage in the promotion of the property.  

Whether you agree with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s critique of Marvel’s fanbase and its treatment of female leads or not, while we finally see more and more representations in genre content, it’s clear there is still some work to do.

Sarah Michelle Gellar’s new paranormal show, Wolf Pack, is now streaming for anyone with a Paramount+ subscription

Ryan LaBee

Ryan graduated from Missouri State University with a BA in English/Creative Writing. An expert in all things horror, Ryan enjoys covering a wide variety of topics. He's also a lifelong comic book fan and an avid watcher of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon.