Wonder Women: The female superheroes that are taking over the toys space

If no one else will defend the world, then I must,” declares Gal Godot’s inspiring Wonder Woman in the female-led blockbuster that snatched the top spot from Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy this summer. Patty Jenkins’ rip-roaring WWII adventure represents a milestone not only in the world of comic book heroes but also film-making in general. The film was named the highest grossing blockbuster ever to be directed by a woman, as the film’s total gross nears a whopping $800m, marking an incredible achievement for the picture. 

Meanwhile on television, one of the most iconic sci-fi heroes of all-time is set to be portrayed by a woman for the first time in Doctor Who’s 11th season, allowing girls everywhere to put themselves in the shoes of the time-travelling, interstellar adventurer for the first time.

“It’s really an exciting time for the Doctor Who brand in terms of licensing,” Rikesh Desai, licensing director at BBC Worldwide, told ToyNews. “We’re very much looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and are having productive conversations with our existing licensees and potential new partners.”

It’s really an exciting time for the Doctor Who brand in terms of licensing

Rikesh Desai, BBC Worldwide

Despite these progressive icons making a positive impact in the media, with issues of gender, especially when it comes to well-established franchises in typically male-dominated genres, fan reaction is never straightforward. As with the reveal of Rey being the protagonist of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, opinions were split between forward thinking fans that praised the change and those closed-minded curmudgeons that were all too bang the worn out drum of “political correctness gone mad.”

Playing catch-up

This renewed focus on inclusiveness is an encouraging development in the world of entertainment, especially in media focussed towards the youngest viewers. With licensed products being arguably the biggest drivers of profit in the world of toys, it’s fair to suggest that this new age of representation will be reflected in the toys that the young generation will get their hands on as well.

However, toy firms have historically lagged behind on issues of representation, especially when it comes to the pantheon of heroes. In 2015 Hasbro courted controversy when the firm released a play-set depicting a thrilling scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow races to the team’s rescue, dropping from a jet on her motorcycle. All the detail of the scene was in tact apart from one crucial detail – the presence of Black Widow herself. Yes, fearing that the play-set’s target audience, boys, would not want a female figure at the centre of the action, Black Widow was replaced with the Captain America character, much to the disappointment of fans everywhere.

Later, play-sets featuring the same scene emerged from Hot Wheels and LEGO both featuring the same omission. Whether this decision came directly from Disney is speculation, but one thing was for sure: the gatekeepers of the toy industry didn’t have confidence in the appeal of female heroes.

A couple of years on and things are changing. Perhaps spurred on by criticisms of the past and the changing tide of public opinion towards gender equality, Disney’s Star Wars features not one but three female main characters across its main-line movie titles, spin-offs and television series. These icons of female empowerment are represented in the toy space by the Forces of Destiny, which are being brought to store shelves by Hasbro.

Being one of the leaders in the toy space, this international firm is recognising the demand for female heroes that are just as powerful and proactive as their male counterparts. Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of consumer products at Disney highlighted this focus on inclusivity, saying: “From Princess Leia to Sabine Wren, Star Wars heroines are unique, and we wanted to represent that in the product line for Star Wars Forces of Destiny.

“Our new Adventure Figures celebrate the power and stories of these incredible characters and allow kids to recreate their most heroic moments at home.”

But the true woman of the hour is DC’s Amazonian princess, who has brought ladies to the forefront of the superhero space with the rollicking Wonder Woman.

“For 75 years, Wonder Woman has served as a global symbol of empowerment, justice, equality and peace, recognised for her power and strength as one of the world’s most iconic super heroes of all time,” enthuses Paul Bufton, VP of licensing and business development at Warner Bros. Consumer Products EMEA. “WBCP has brought a fleet of licensees from the EMEA region and around the world to deliver a global-reaching licensing and merchandising program in support of the film reaching fans far and wide.” 

For 75 years, Wonder Woman has served as a global symbol of empowerment, justice, equality and peace, recognised for her power and strength as one of the world’s most iconic super heroes of all time

Paul Bufton, WBCP

Super squad

With female empowerment in the spotlight, WBCP’s dedicated line of female superhero toys, DC Super Hero Girls, is poised to make an even bigger impact leading into AW 2017, bolstered by its multimedia, multi-platform approach.

“Continuing to grow and expand globally, DC Super Hero Girls continues to engage young fans with original content and a wide range of product, including toys, costumes, apparel, accessories, publishing, digital games and more,” continues Bufton.

“With DC Super Hero Girls, we’ve created a unique world for girls and kids to immerse themselves with their favourite DC characters as they engage with and explore the world of superheroes – as we know it’s not just boys that like superheroes – and we know girls everywhere are very much just as excited to imagine, explore and discover themselves and their favourite superhero characters.”

The toys, manufactured by Mattel, have enjoyed healthy sales since their launch in 2015, bolstered by DC’s strong female characters including the likes of Harley Quinn and Supergirl. Wendy Hill, brand activation director at Mattel UK, highlighted the line’s success as a huge step forward for female heroes in toys.

“In the fashion dolls subclass July NPD, Mattel is pleased to say that DC Super Hero Girls are the number three fashion doll, as well as the number one fastest growth of the top 10 fashion doll properties, and the number one item YTD in fashion doll,” explains Hill.

“The DC Super Hero Girls range has been an important launch to show girls and boys a universe and storylines that have strong female characters in the thick of the action, and to create products that allow them to play out female superhero stories.” 

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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