I’ve noticed a trend.
A terrible trend.
There are too few bad ass women on television. And by “bad ass”, I mean strong, independent, confident women who are not defined by the men around them. Women that break down the Berlin Walls of stereotypes and bring some evenness to the unequal playing field of genders in Hollyweird.
I first had this horrible thought about six months ago when I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters on opening day. Now I know that there are not an overabundance of female characters in Tolkien’s secondary world, but in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, he managed to provide strong roles for the women that did appear: namely, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, and Cate Blanchett. Upon hearing that Blanchett would be reprising her role of Galadriel, my heart did the happy cha-cha-cha. Cate Blanchett is perhaps my favorite actress alive, and in my imaginary world she and I are best friends.
The trilogy used her well, and Jackson gave Blanchett work to do. Remember that scene where Frodo offers her the One Ring, just because she’s Galadriel, which makes her the Middle-earth equivalent Oprah? And then she goes creepy and dark and bad ass, and Blanchett effectively makes you believe that she’d eat the hearts of small children?
The brilliant thing about Blanchett is that she goes from creepy-child-eating-Galadriel to regretful-and-repentant-Galadriel in 2.3 seconds flat. She’s fucking brilliant.
Oh wait, did you see her in The Hobbit?
I’m not sure what happened in the ten years since The Fellowship of the Ring was released, but somewhere along the way Peter Jackson forgot that women can and should do more than just stand there and look pretty. It was an incredible waste of an incredible actress.
And it’s not just The Hobbit. Across the board, the number of empowered and mighty women on screen is dwindling in favor of what I like to call the “Bella Cardboard Cutout.”
I’m not saying there are no powerful women left on television. Nikita is pretty bad ass, and so is Danaerys Targaryen. But, a majority of the powerful women are on HBO or Showtime or they’re just not as obvious on primetime television. It breaks my heart to see that we’re moving backwards. So, as a woman and a film/television watcher, I implore the creators of modern entertainment to take a good long look at what they’re doing to the female sex.
So, dear producers, directors, writers, and casting agents, let’s give our daughters some role models worth looking up to, like these bad ass women from past television shows:
1. Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Star Trek, 1966-1969, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1991
This actress changed it all. The first African American woman to star in a major television series and on the command bridge like the smart intelligent bad ass she is, she made history again and broke down a few more racial walls by sharing an onscreen kiss with William Shatner in 1968. In addition to acting, she has used her celebrity power to work with NASA on recruiting women into their programs, because, hey, she’s already proven that women can kick ass in space.
2. Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), The X-Files, 1993-2002, 2008
Scully is, without a doubt, an intelligent and capable woman. Not only is she constantly keeping Mulder in line, but she also approaches the unexplainable with a solid sense of logic. Scully saves Mulder’s ass a zillion times, and always remains as the emotional lifeline of the show. Without Scully, would I have given a flying rat’s ass about The X-Files? Probably not.
3. Xena (Lucy Lawless), Xena: Warrior Princess, 1995-2001
There are few women more bad ass than Xena. Originally a character written for a three-episode arch on Hercules, she became so popular that they wrote her own series about her quest for redemption for her past sins.
So this is a woman so fucking bad ass that she works for years to make up for her past life as a bad ass warlord.
Throw in some leather armor, a sword, and an infamous war cry, and there, my friends, is a terrifyingly powerful woman.
And she never needed no man to save her ass.
4. Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1997-2003
This woman is the ultimate kick-ass. At sixteen, she saves the world. At seventeen, she saves the world. At eighteen, she saves the world. You get the picture. Sure, there’s the necessary teenage angst/drama that goes along with having such a young protagonist, but at the end of the day, Buffy will shut up and stake a vamp. Cuz that’s who she is: the fucking slayer.
I grew up watching Buffy (much to the chagrin of my parentals, who thought my mind was better used reading Dostoevsky) and Buffy taught me some serious life lessons. 1. Women can save themselves and the world. 2. Being kick ass doesn’t mean you can’t be feminine. 3. Even if you can kick serious vampire butt, it’s better to do it with a friend by your side.
5. The Whedon Women
Yes, I know this is a pic of a man. But, Joss Whedon has done more for women on the big screen in the past two decades than, well, anyone else.
Joss Whedon is the biggest bad ass I know of. Why? Because he repeatedly takes the Hollywood formula, chops it the fuck up, and creates something way fucking better. He repeatedly writes incredibly bad ass women into his work, and they are never carbon copies of the same tired trope.
Think on this:
- Zoe from Firefly
- Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel
- Fred/Ilyria from Angel
- Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Echo from Dollhouse
- Sierra from Dollhouse
- Whiskey from Dollhouse
- River Tam from Firefly
See a pattern? Not only does he write bad ass female characters, but he puts more than one on the same show. This has given Joss Whedon the unusual status in my world of “I’ll watch anything he fucking touches.”
So, yes, I’m disappointed by the way women can be portrayed (and because they keep cancelling Whedon’s television series), but Whedon brings hope that female portrayal on screen will change.
And he says it in better words than I ever could.
- Joss Whedon “Pissed Off” About Lack of Female Superheroes in Film (slashfilm.com)
- No Female Superheroes In Movies? Joss Whedon Has A Lot To Say About It (refinery29.com)
- In Focus: Director, Joss Whedon (nerdlikeyou.com)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus: Volume #1 (comicsforge.com)