Action has always been a very male-driven genre; from male-led epics like Lord of the Rings, to male-led historical pieces like Braveheart, to even male-led superhero flicks like The Dark Knight. Females in nearly all genres are given bit-parts; sideline motivations that are used as an accessory to the male-hero's quest; this is never more evident than in the Action and Superhero genre. If they're not a love interest who's only addition to the story is romance then they are a damsel in constant danger (often times, they overlap). For years this has been true; women have been portrayed as weak, ditsy, or even plain stupid. We've seen an upsurge in female action heros in the last few decades, but I believe we are about to enter the Age of Feminist Action Heros.
The 80's was the beginning of the end for the misogyny of action movies. Schwarzenegger and Stallone were ruling the genre with an iron fist; with the first instalments of the Rambo, Predator, Terminator, and so many milestone films. Bruce Willis was making his way onto the action stage. Men were the kings of that arena. Until little, wide-eyed Ripley make the first step in 1979, in Alien. Obviously, she wasn't the first female action star ever but she redefined the parts women could have in the genre. Ripley was not only the lead but the lone survivor (Spoiler? I guess?) of the movie. She wasn't strong the whole time but she rose to the challenge; the challenge of the xenomorph but also, more importantly, the challenge of women in action movies. Since then we have had a definite, exponential growth in the amount of female heros.
Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor are the godmothers of the modern action heroine.
The first Terminator film showed us a scared, albeit weak Sarah Connor who relied on the protection of a man to survive the T-800. However, in the far superior sequel we finally see a fully realized, strong heroine who not only doesn't need a man's protection, but often times protects men weaker than her. Ripley herself, in Aliens is powerful and feared. It started slowly but the change from purely male-led action movies was shifting.
In a genre where Ethan Hunt, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Dom Toretto, Batman, and Rocky are king, it seemed impossible for a woman to be one of the greats. Ripley and Sarah Connor were the beginning. But women still seemed to have side roles. Disney still characterized them as one-dimensional, romance obsessed dolls. The monumental release of LOTR brought dozens of amazing, male characters to the public eye from the brave Aragorn to the wise Gandalf. But where were the women? Galadriel had a side part. Even arguably the most bad**S (I don't curse) female character of the series, Eowyn, didn't have much of a role and her story was concluding by dying heroically for her father...Oh wait, no. Her conclusion was finding love in the arms of a strong, capable man. But it was step in the right direction.
Another step forward was the titanic series, Harry Potter. These films brought many female role models; from Hermione to Professor McGonagall (who are arguably stronger in the books but we will stick to the movies). However, even they are set as aids to the lead men. Hermione is only as good as Harry. McGonagall is second fiddle to Dumbledore. Even Bellatrix is second-string to Voldermort. We did get truly unique characters such as Luna Lovegood but for every strong-minded, free willed woman we got a Bella Swann. A pathetic, mindless, and helpless girl who can only find solace through the protection of a lover. Ugh. The Twilight Series has put back female characters decades. Decades. But we have recovered from it.
We need 5 Katniss Everdeens and Hermione Grangers for every Bella Swann and Anastasia Steele.
All these steps have led to where we are today in the Action genre. Today we have Katniss Everdeen; who isn't perfect-- she is slightly obsessed with Peeta-- but is still a powerful leader and a great warrior. She sets a standard for YA female characters. So often this genre is so twisted towards romance that the gravity of the settings aren't fully realized. Katniss not only is a strong woman but is a great representation of what would really happen if a teenager went through these horrific events. But I can't possibly analyze every genre and their representation of women; that would take weeks.
Even Letty from the Fast and the Furious films is a good example. These movies aren't the greatest but at least she isn't used as purely a love interest. In the original she was used as an accessory to Dom Toretto but over the years Michelle Rodriguez's constant feminist empowerment mindset has made her characters much stronger and realistic. We finally have Black Widow, the first fully realized female superhero on screen. She's just the first of many.
The Superhero Genre was once the worst example of sidelining women. Now, they are the fighting force towards promoting them.
Marvel has created a gallery of sidelined women but they have begun to remedy that. For every Mary-Jane Watson there is a Mystique or Storm. For every Jane Foster there is a Kitty Pride or Lady Siff. Though superhero films aren't perfect and relegate lots of females to small parts, they are taking huge stride. Today however, we live in the heyday of the female action hero.
In the not too distant future we will see more female superheros than ever before. With the newly renewed X-Men we will see Mystique, Jean Grey, Storm, Jubilee, and possibly more. Captain Marvel-- one of my favorites-- will get her own film, not to mention the fact that we now have Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Gamora, Nebula, Jessica Jones and a possible Wasp. Not to mention Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. DC is introducing us to Wonder Woman next year which will be her first big scene debut ever and a Supergirl television show. I'm crossing my fingers that in the next decade we will see even more female superheros such as She-Hulk, Powergirl, Huntress, a female Robin, and Spiderwoman. I'm hoping for more female villains as well with perhaps another Catwoman or Poison Ivy.
A constant problem in this genre is the forced love interest. Jane Foster and Betty Ross are perhaps the best examples of this. Neither of which are very realistic or thought out. Jane falls in love with Thor for no apparent reason and then continues to wait TWO WHOLE YEARS for him to return to her instead of, I don't know, solving all the astrophysical problems that have been facing the world. She's a leading mind in her field but insists on being defined by her love of a man she barely knows. Peggy Carter was always a character I was interested in. She's smart, capable, tough, and firm but is still very feminine and stylish. She uses all the tools she has in her tool box, instead of just ignoring her more feminine side.
Television is learning.
In the recent years television has not only including women in more action based series but has put them front and center. Whether it be Black Canary in Arrow or Peggy Carter, the superhero TV shows are really embracing their female parts. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Flash, and even Daredevil had many great female characters ranging from the heros themselves to their sidekicks and even villains. AMC's The Walking Dead has truly fantastic female parts from the evolved Carol, to the tough Maggie and authoritative Deanna. With Michonne, Beth, Tara, Rosita, there is no deficit of good female characters. TWD spin off series Fear the Walking Dead is also set to be lead by a strong female character. But the best example of feminist characters in TV today has to be HBO's Game of Thrones.
Orange is the New Black, Girls, and Broad City are all shows that traditionally would embrace women either way. But GoT is set in a genre that has always been the bane of the feminist movement. In most fantasy worlds women are scantily clad elves or nymphs, prancing around barely dressed as a backdrop for the male leads. Or they are princess in distress. But never have women been so realistically depicted than in GoT. You have a role model for every type of girl under the sun. You have powerful, tomboy characters such as Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark. But you always have very, very feminine characters like Margaery Tyrell and Sansa Stark who are equally as powerful and developed. Whether you like older characters (Olenna Tyrell) or evil characters (Cersei Lannister) or even just self-driven characters (Daenerys Targaryen) there's something for everyone. Game of Thrones may actually be the best representation for women.
Now people might say that women in that show are just utilized for sex and used for their bodies instead of their mind. But the truth is, the amount of female characters that are used for just sexual purposed is dwarfed by the amount of well-developed, fully clothed characters. It is true, the amount of naked women in the show is astounding and is much higher than naked men. But that's the setting of the show. That's the cruel world it is set in. But even in a world that thinks of women as inferior, female characters strive even beyond men. This is never more evident than in one of my favorite lines:
"All men must die-- but we are not men."
George Miller finally got it right.
For those of you who haven't seen Mad Max: Fury Road, what are you doing? Go see it! There's nothing better in theaters right now, trust me. But either way, I'll try not to spoil anything in it. But just saying, George Miller, the director, finally got it right. This movie has one of the best and most realistic representations of women that I've seen in years. Charlize Theron's "Imperator Furiosa" is exactly what audiences have been craving for in female heros. She is strong-- at some points stronger than Max-- very smart, clever, respected, honest, tough, resilient, and all around powerful. She makes Katniss look like a giddy school girl. I am so enthralled with her character. At moments I cared more for her than for Max. Apparently, George Miller consulted popular feminist writer Eve Ensler to help him better present the female characters as not only hardcore survivors but real people. There are many true and realistic female characters in this movie; from weaker, frightened women, to tough, unstoppable women. I was so pleased with this movie and I desperately hope that it sets a trend for future action movies. Not only the return to practical effects but the creation of women that can be looked up to.
We, this chosen generation, live not only in the Renaissance of the Superhero, but also in the Age of the Feminist Action Hero. A combination that when used well, will create some the most monumental and everlasting female characters that will live on forever in the tomes of film history. I am so excited. Strong women make the world go round. When film sets the standard for what children can grow up to be, we will have powerful women and girls in both the media and the real world. It's about time that we have embraced 51% of the world's population. Women used to be trapped within rom-coms and family films, but now we can finally enjoy the amazing presences of men and women in all genres. I believe the barriers are finally all coming down in the sense of film. What do you think? Do you believe that we have entered the golden age of action heroines? Anybody I forgot to mention?
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