Warning: This article contains spoilers about Deadpool 2
The release of superhero blockbuster Deadpool 2 has sparked a renewed conversation about ‘fridging’, a comic book trope that sees female characters physically harmed to advance male characters’ story arcs.
‘Women in Refrigerators‘ was a website created in 1999 by female comic writer Gail Simone, inspired by a scene in a Green Lantern comic in which the hero returns home to find his murdered girlfriend stuffed in his fridge.
The site featured a list of other female characters who had been “either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator” to motivate male superheroes to avenge them.
“Male characters seem to die nobly, as heroes, most often, whereas it’s not uncommon … for a male character to just come home and find her butchered in the kitchen,” Simone wrote.
This practice, now simply known as ‘fridging’, has been the subject of plenty of backlash, particularly in an era when female superheroes like Wonder Woman are dominating the conversation.
But the unfortunate trope has re-entered the public consciousness since appearing in big-budget sequel, Deadpool 2, which hit cinemas on May 16.
Early on in Deadpool 2, hero Wade Wilson’s fiancee Vanessa (played by Monica Baccarin) is killed by a mobster, prompting him to acquire new motivation to help others, guided by Vanessa in dream sequences.
During the film’s credits, this plot point is reversed when Wade is able to travel back in time to kill the villains who killed Vanessa, leading audiences to wonder whether the film’s writers were aware of ‘fridging’ all along and wanted to make a statement about it.
Apparently not. According to Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, they’d never heard of ‘fridging’ – despite mentioning Simone by name in the movie – and simply wanted to push the plot forward.
Male writers say they didn't know what fridging was when writing Deadpool 2.
Um, gents: This is the literal definition.
— Beth Elderkin (@BethElderkin) May 20, 2018
“I think at some point somebody just said, ‘Y’know, Deadpool kind of works best when he’s had everything taken away from him, when he suffers’,” Reese told Vulture.
“So the thought was maybe we can really, really engender great suffering for him by having his line of work be the thing that costs Vanessa her life.”
Asked about whether her fate in the film constituted ‘fridging’, the actress who plays Vanessa, Morena Baccarin, told Bustle: “That’s exactly what it is.”
But Baccarin thought it wasn’t the worst thing in the world: “It’s about [Wade] finding out where his heart is, and without her, he doesn’t have that story. The film doesn’t happen without her.”
Audiences, particularly female viewers, thought differently.
“As funny as Deadpool 2 was, the fridging was strong and disappointing,” Twitter user Lisa Schaeffer posted.
“Listen up Marvel Studios! [Vanessa] better get her own f—ing franchise with guest appearances by Deadpool or I will never forgive you fridging Vanessa, Time Slider or not. Do you hear me!? Otherwise, Deadpool 2 was great. But I expect better. That’s just lazy writing,” another Twitter user declared.
Others weren’t buying that the film’s writers weren’t aware of the trope.
Guys relax, the fridging of that character in DEADPOOL 2 is actually a tribute to former DP writer Gail Simone, who coined the term many years ago. It’s another meta joke!
— Joe "Sim-Bye-Oat" Grunenwald (@joegrunenwald) May 20, 2018
“Turns out I was giving the Deadpool writers a benefit of the doubt they didn’t deserve. More the fool me. They’d never heard of fridging. Never HEARD of it,” incredulous Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson tweeted.
“The fact that Deadpool can claim to be a genre-savvy movie without its writers knowing about fridging is the most obnoxiously Fake Geek Boy thing I have ever heard. *Imagine* if a woman with this huge a knowledge gap about comics history & culture got tapped to write this film,” Vox writer Aja Romano opined.
Regardless, mass audiences don’t seem to care, with the film scoring a respectable 82 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and already grossing more than $470 million at the global box office.