There’s not much that’s believable in “Godzilla.” We’re dealing with a giant lizard that stomps his way through cities worldwide, knocking down many things and squishing even more things. It’s a fun popcorn fantasy — a throwback to when “summer blockbuster” wasn’t synonymous with “movie that sucks.” But the filmmakers couldn’t, for whatever reason, imagine a world where there are roles for women that extend beyond “assisting men” and “worrying about men.”
There are only two (well-played, to the actors’ credit) substantial female characters in “Godzilla”: Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), assistant to Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (I guess Vivienne hasn’t finished her doctorate yet), and Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle Brody, who’s married to military man and lizard antagonist Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Women do show up more than African-Americans, who are represented by one naval captain, one bus driver and one happily reunited family.
I am not asking for any of the Navy SEALS to be a female, since 100 percent of current and past SEALS are male. But if you look up the qualifications for “scientists who are experts in giant lizards that eat radiation” I’m pretty sure “being a guy” isn’t one of them.
Joe Brody, Bryan Cranston’s character, could also have just as easily been a woman, since I’m pretty sure there are actual nuclear scientists who also happen to be women. Even when a character is practically sexless — like the scientists in “Godzilla” or, in fact, Godzilla itself — the default gender is male. There’s no reason Dr. Serizawa couldn’t have been a woman. There’s not even a reason that Godzilla couldn’t have a pair of ovaries.
Visibility matters, and people know that (it’s why my mostly white college used the same black student three times in its prospective students brochure; representation communicates a message of possibility). Making even one of the lead scientists in “Godzilla” a woman might not have inspired little girls to become scientists, but it would have normalized the IDEA of a female scientist in a pop culture setting.
We’re moving toward better inclusion of underrepresented groups in blockbusters: The Falcon, who in Marvel canon is black, got his turn in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” this spring, and Michael B. Jordan will be the usually white Johnny Storm in the 2015 “The Fantastic Four” reboot. But for the makers of “Godzilla,” it seems that, while a giant lizard makes perfect sense, a prominent female scientist is out of the realm of possibility.