It says a lot about the state of romance in popular culture when Deadpool – yes, Deadpool – is considered the top romance movie of the year. That’s not a joke or some gimmicky marketing ploy. That’s an actual news story from earlier this year. About a month ago, it was widely reported that Deadpool had been the top-selling Blu-Ray in the romance section on Amazon.com. Now why is this a big deal? Well for those of you who aren’t comic book fans, Deadpool isn’t known for romance. He’s known for things like this.
His story is less about romance and more about him being a wise-cracking, overly violent, 4th-wall breaking nutcase with a heart of gold. It’s every bit as insane as it sounds. It’s the exact reason why he’s a cult favorite among comic book fans. The movie that came out earlier this year did everything it could to capture that and did so on a budget less than half of what traditional superhero movies get. Despite so many things working against it, this movie is still one of the biggest successes of 2016. According to Box Office Mojo, it made $782 million on a $53 million budget. Even among non-superhero movies, that’s pretty impressive.
What makes this even more remarkable is how much of the story surrounding Deadpool is crafted around romance. Make no mistake though. Romance with Deadpool is very different from romance with Superman. There is no Lois Lane. There is no sweet and innocent young woman who Deadpool has to change in order to be with. Instead, we get Vanessa.
Who is Vanessa? Well, she’s a stripper/prostitute/girl-with-serious-issues. So naturally, she and Deadpool hit it off beautifully. A good chunk of the movie is dedicated to showing them in all sorts of lurid or seemingly lurid moments that forces one’s dirty imagination to run wild.
Now why is this a big deal? Why is Vanessa different from any other generic comic book interest? Well aside from the fact that she isn’t afraid to get naked in this movie, there’s something remarkable here that may or may not have been intentional.
Go back about 10 years and watch any slasher movie. Who usually dies first? With few exceptions, it’s almost always the overly slutty, overly pretty, overly sassy woman who is too comfortable getting naked and too comfortable being sexual. It’s a twisted form of puritanism, killing off those who are overly promiscuous while often letting the sweet and untainted virgin survive. With Deadpool, they do the opposite.
Vanessa is a sex-positive woman whose sexuality is never the reason for her predicaments in this movie. What happens to her in Deadpool would’ve happened if she had been a virgin nun. Her overt sexuality is never conveyed as a negative quality about her. That’s not to say she didn’t have some twisted character flaws. There are a number of scenes where she makes clear that she wouldn’t last long in any slasher movie. Despite this, she still comes off as lovable and endearing.
For me as a romance/erotica writer, this is pretty remarkable because I rarely see sex-positive female characters portrayed in such a way. Contrast this with Bella Swan in “Twilight” or Anastatisa Steel in “50 Shaes of Grey” and it’s no contest. Vanessa is a better sex-positive female character at her core.
Given the success of movies like Deadpool, I hope this means we’ll see more characters like Vanessa and not just in superhero movies. Pop culture, for a variety of conflicting reasons, remains somewhat weary about female characters who are overtly sexual in a positive way. There’s still this inclination to punish or undermine those who are more sexual than the arbitrary level that society deems appropriate. I like to think that the strides made by society will temper this inclination, but that remains to be seen.
For aspiring writers like me, this is kind of a relief because it means that there is a place for sex-positive female characters in pop culture. One day, I hope to contribute to that culture with my work.