In the comments of the last post regarding the Sherlock Holmes 2 movie, I got caught up in a discussion about the female roles in the movie and whether or not they were important or not.
I believed that, while Simza was cool, she wasn’t as important as she could have been. Though she was important, I thought she wasn’t important enough.
Though all the female characters in that movie were fleshed out and characterized very well (and thus we have come a LONG way from when women first appeared in action movies), I want more.
This conversation sparked inside me a rant that has been inside me for a long time. I could probably write ten posts about it. Here’s one with a second post on the way.
It has to do about the roles female characters play in most fantasy or scifi action movies.
In most of these films (not all, but most or at least the ones I noticed), female characters fall into the same type of supporting roles over and over again. Fleshed out or not fleshed out. Kick ass or not kick ass.
A lot of these characters I really loved anyways. But again. I want more. I want something else in addition to this.
Here are some of the main roles I noticed:
The Love Interest – the person or thing that needs to be saved or protected and basically the main personal motivation for the male protagonist’s actions, other than to save the day.
Examples: Trinity from The Matrix, the girl from Transformers 2, M.J. from Spider-Man, Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Rescuer/Protector – the protector of someone they cherish: a child, a mentor/father, a lover/husband, usually male but not always.
Examples: Arwen and Eowyn from LOTR (I know I said I love them and they are awesome, but again, their motivations were all because of a male figure in their lives), Trinity from The Matrix (yup, she’s both: Neo’s Love Interest and Neo’s protector. She’s there for his sake, either to be his motivation or his support), Simza from Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (she’s there for her brother).
The Selfish Bitch – usually a thief or criminal whose motivations are shallow and usually involving money. They are often coldhearted and /or unsympathetic to others.
Examples: Irene Adler (I’ll get more into her in the next post), Catwoman from the old Batman movies and cartoon show.
The Hateful Bitch – similar to the Selfish Bitch, but she has lost someone (a child, her whole family, a lover or husband, often a male but not always) and her actions are motivated solely on making the person who hurt her, pay. Or simply, they’ve been hurt or suffered trauma and now are cold hearted and unresponsive…until a man comes in and makes them whole again (*gags*) or not.
Examples: The girl from Underworld, the girl from 28 Days Later, Mystique from X-Men (and it hurts me to say this cause I LOVED her, but even if she was inspired by injustices to mutants, her main source of motivation was freaking Magneto and the second he turned on her, hurt her, she switched sides in order to hurt him), The Bride from Kill Bill.
The Stereotype – a character who has no fleshed out background, and is simply playing out a preset personality type.
Examples: The tomboy, fighter pilot girl from Avatar, Scarlet *I think that’s her name*from Iron Man, the girl from Ghost Rider (who also plays The Love Interest and The Girlfriend…god I hated her).
The Girlfriend – a character whose only source of motivation is to be with her man.
Examples: Bella from Twilight, Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean, every single princess in every single Disney Princess Movie (even if it doesn’t start out that way, it ends up that way, but then again they are romances so it doesn’t really count or really matter).
There are more, most likely, but these are the ones I noticed the most. That doesn’t mean these characters were poor (well, some of them were) or the movies sexist or boring. I loved most of these movies. I’d watch them again. Some are really fleshed out and they really work. It has less to do with the characters themselves and all to do with the importance of their roles.
There’s nothing really wrong with them other than it sometimes feels like that’s all there is.
However, there are female characters who break these roles. Characters I enjoy a bit more because they are so RARE. For example:
Claudia from Interview of the Vampire
The scientist lady from Avatar
Lyra from The Golden Compass
Most of Hayao Miyazaki’s female characters (except maybe Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kushana from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind…though only a little bit, because even though Kushana was hateful, she also loved the men under her charge and was motivated by that devotion as well as her own sense of pride. Miyazaki characters who especially broke the standard roles are San and Eboshi from Princess Mononoke, and Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind).
The biggest difference between the characters that play the roles mentioned above and those who break them is that those who break them aren’t SOLELY motivated by a man or anyone else for that matter.
And most importantly, their roles matter a WHOLE lot more because they act the same way a male main character would act.
What does this mean?
Their motivations expand. They don’t just act for themselves or for romantic longing or for family devotion or a mother’s instinct (and in fact has nothing to do with another character at all) and more for their personal values and beliefs.
What I mean is….
They are champions of their own world.
THEY want to save the day, or learn the truth, or make a difference, or solve a puzzle, or escape fate, or defeat evil, or etc. That’s their primary focus.
They don’t support or rely on a man who wishes to do these things, or revolve their every action around the main male character’s actions, but act on their own in order to affect the world around them or, in this case, the plot—the most important thing.
She’s a leader.
She’s a hero. (And not the type in skin tight leather and six inch heels. Girls only wear that sort of thing to get the attention of guys or feel sexy/attractive…to guys. That kind of getup is uncomfortable, painful and demeaning).
She’s a detective.
She’s a problem solver.
She’s a doctor.
She is an independent thinker.
In the next post, I’ll take characters from popular movies and explain exactly why I believe they fall into redundant, less-important-than-they-could-be roles or break out of them and have stronger roles because of it, and what true gender equality in action genre films really looks like.
What do you think about female roles in sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure/genre/youknowhatimean stories?
Agree or do you think I’m being too much of a nitpick? Please, let me know in the comments.