Thursday, October 27, 2011

Girls kick ass

During the recent reboot of the DC comic book universe, one of the more controversial elements was the portrayal of the character, Starfire.  Several fans found the reboot of the character to be vapidly sexual and a poor role model for young women.  Other readers thought that the aforementioned camp just really needed to lighten up.  Before you ask, I don't fall into either one of these groups especially.  The debate, however, did make me think.

All in all, this is not a bad time to be a female science fiction character.  Let's face it, female characters of the genre started out in a perdition of serving the role of eye candy and as the people who needed rescued from glass tubes and the hands of alien monsters.  So what makes the characters different now?  What is the secret to creating a good female science fiction character?

Oddly enough, I don't think that there is a "secret" to it that is any different from the creation of male characters.  We need to identify with them, even if only on one single level.  They need dichotomies of the kind that we all have, e.g. love dance music, hate to dance.  They must have at least a soupcon of strength and of intelligence, otherwise we could never stand by their choice of actions and follow them on their narrative.  In other words, they just need to be likable.  Even just a little tiny bit.  So without further ado, I thought that I would take a look at just a few of my favorite women of science fiction and why I think they're great.

Going chronologically, the first one I think of is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the Alien franchise.  Her character is important because she really dialed back the babe quotient.  That is not to say that Sigourney Weaver is an unattractive woman (I mean, she's Dana Barrett after all), I simply mean that her appearance is only one facet of Ripley's complex character.  Ripley is tough.  A real ass-kicker.  But best of all, we see her turn into a caregiver with Newt in Aliens.  As much as that little girl needed her, Ripley needed Newt in order to become a whole person.

Speaking of the maternal instinct, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor shows a nice range of evolution.  Inner strength is brought out of her during Terminator and by T2 she becomes someone you just really wouldn't want to mess with.  And what motivates her besides the salvation of the human race?  Her son.  The safety of her son.  I also like how her character was allowed to show bitter hatred.  Up until that point, Schlockywood seemed reticent to do that with a female protagonist.

Then there's Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala.  Yeah, yeah, screw off.  Regardless of what you think of the last trilogy, Portman offers a character that in a few ways surpasses even Leia.  Padme is smart, an independent thinker, and tough.  I just love the scene in Attack of the Clones where lets Anakin yap on while she frees herself from her bonds in the arena.  It was one bright spot in my otherwise least favorite of the Star Wars films.  Too bad Amidala's character could not have been expanded more, but due to script and directorial shortcomings, it just was not to be.

I had to consider and reconsider including Jessica Alba as Max in Dark Angel.  On the surface, she seems yet another case of the tired, "she's hot, she fights crime" paradigm.  Maybe that's what makes her a good choice.  She is not just one or the other, she is both.  While not the only example of this kind of character, Max is my favorite plus she has the original angle of being genetically modified.

Finally, I would not consider Underworld science fiction nor even a decent movie for that matter.  But it's got Kate Beckinsale as the hot and ruthless Selene, so that's good enough for now.

And I've been horribly remiss in not mentioning Trinity from The Matrix.  Again we see smart, tough, pretty, and a bit of vulnerability thrown in for good measure.

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  1. On Facebook, Armando said: "Jonny, you do realize that NONE of these characters are particularly...feminine, right. I love them, but...Ripley was written as a MALE character in Alien, Sarah Conner in Terminator 2 has basically undergone a sex change from the first movie.
    "My point is they aren't strong BECAUSE they are women, but in SPITE of their femininity. I think that's also a dangerous model. It discounts the feminine and exalts the masculine. Ripley in Aliens is probably the best mix of the two (not in Alien, but in Aliens and Alien 3 there is at least an acknowledgment that she's a woman).
    "By the way, regarding Starfire's transformation...I like that they changed her up a little, but not HOW they changed her up. That charcter's ideas of her sexuality are supposed to be based upon the fact that she's distinctly NOT human. At least they emphasized that aspect, but instead of her simply thinking differently, the writers came up with some lame excuse."

  2. I had no idea about Ripley. I'll have to look into that. I guess I see them as both strong and women and therein was the appeal. As for Starfire and other characters like her, I will never understand why people perceive one character as indicative of *all* members of that gender/ethnicity. It's simply what the writer thought would best serve the story. That said, the far worse transgression in the New 52 IMHO is that they're just shitty comics. Except for "Men of War." That deserves props.

  3. I should also add that the mentioned characters are but a few of the many, MANY great female characters out there. I only cherry-picked a few of my favorites, you can doubtless come up with many more of your own.