Brow Beat

The Spice Girls’ New Movie Is Bringing Girl Power to the Animation Industry

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 11: Melanie Brown, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton and Melanie Chisholm attend the after party for the press night of 'Viva Forever', a musical based on the music of The Spice Girls at Victoria Embankment Gardens on December 11, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)
When 12 (frames) become 1 (second of animation).
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

The Spice Girls are back and teaming up with Paramount Animation to produce a brand-new animated feature for 2020, according to the studio’s president, Mireille Soria. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Spice Girls approached Soria, who is known in the animation industry for her progressive staffing of women, with an idea for an animated feature that will feature new music and old favorites and introduce a new generation to the Spice Girls’ populist feminism.

The film will be the girl group’s first appearance in an animated film and the first official Spice Girls feature of any kind since 1997, when the surrealist road-movie classic Spice World was unleashed upon the public. Though Spice World achieves a perfect score on the Bechdel scale and is fondly remembered by many millennials for its bizarre plot, cool double-decker bus, and nostalgic portrait of late-’90s pop culture, the film never really reaches its “girl power” potential or really defines its feminism in any instructive way. This is perhaps due, in part, to the shortcomings of the film’s screenplay, written by Kim Fuller, brother of Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller, which is more interested in making the film a vehicle for the Spice Girls’ star power rather than girl power.

The development of the Spice Girls’ latest film signals that the group, now mothers of young girls themselves, is taking its feminist platform more seriously. According to Soria, the group has been “very involved” with the project, which is consciously embracing female talent in the entertainment industry. The screenplay is being written by Karen McCullah and Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, the writing team responsible for 2000s girl-power classics such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde, and while Simon Fuller will be returning as producer, he recently told the English tabloid Daily Star that the Spice Girls will be taking time off to focus exclusively on the movie after their current U.K. reunion tour, aptly titled “Spice World.”*

The production’s collaboration with Paramount Animation’s largely female-run studio is another progressive choice in an industry where women are grossly underrepresented. A study by Stacy L. Smith released this month from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that, while trends in the animation field are slowly improving, women, especially those of color, still have a long way to go in the industry.

In below-the-line roles, women are still outnumbered in film and TV. Across 52 top animated films from the past 5 years, only 7% of head of story positions were filled with women, as were 8% of animation heads and 14% of art directors. Women of color held 6%, 3%, and 4% of these positions, respectively. Across 100 popular animated TV series, women made up 16% of animation directors, 20% of lead animators, and 11% of lead storyboard artists. Slightly higher percentages of women of color were observed in these roles in comparison to film, as 8%, 13%, and 3% of positions across these respective jobs went to women from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds.

According to Smith, the “male-dominated and masculine culture” of the animation field produces an industry view that women are less valuable and less interested in the work itself. What’s more, Smith found that the animation industry’s efforts at inclusion have often resulted in feelings of isolation and tokenism among women in animation, creating a general sense of “distrust and skepticism.” The study suggests that the “goal must be to ensure that everyone feels a sense of belonging and that men and women are committed to target inclusion goals and working collectively toward achieving them.” So far, the Spice Girls’ decision to work with Mireille Soria, an animation executive who has gone to lengths to ensure a secure and inclusive environment at Paramount, shows that the group shares these goals.

It may be tempting to write off news of a new Spice Girls animated feature as a cynical cash-in of 1990s millennial nostalgia, but there are signs that the Spice Girls are using this moment to do something new. Though the film is still in early stages of development, it offers the women of the Spice Girls an opportunity to define “girl power” for a new generation and, to amend the words of Kathy Acker, transform society, not only with “lightness and in joy,” but also through representationally conscious creative and business decisions.

Correction, June 13, 2019: This post originally misidentified Kirsten Smith as Kristen Smith.