Lady Action Stars on the Rise

Woah, woooah, did you guys know that The Avengers came out this last weekend? Of course you did. Which is why writing about anything that doesn’t involve the film wouldn’t be topical.

But I refuse to actually talk about the film, so let’s talk about Black Widow instead, and what her role means in the trending of female action heroes on the silver screen.

No wait, hear me out.

I went into the Avengers, honestly, not expecting much out of Scarlett Johansson. And I really wasn’t surprised when her acting was a bit flat. But the Black Widow, man! She was FANTASTIC! Look, it’s hard to do female heroes right. When they aren’t accidentally (or purposefully, I guess) creating Faux Action Girls, they’re sexualizing the hell out of them. (I’m looking at you, every Bond movie ever.) And when I say “it’s hard to write female heroes,” what I really mean is “IS ANYBODY EVEN FUCKING TRYING??”

So Black Widow, right? I was expecting more of the sexualization element from her in The Avengers, but then I got KICKED RIGHT IN THE ASS HOLY HELL THE BLACK WIDOW IS COOL! Damn right! Her costume may be tight and sexy, but it wasn’t due to anything other than the fact that they gave flattering clothing to a pretty woman. There was no gross sexual gaze to her character, no jarring “this is how women behave, right” moments. She fought as well as her male counterparts (even had, in my opinion, the second best action sequence in the whole movie), and more importantly, was treated (on-screen) as an equal. Even her relationship with Hawkeye seemed based more in genuine affection and companionship rather than codependency.

People will ask me why I’m surprised, “it’s a Whedon film after all.” Go away, this is my article. I can’t help my feelings.

So yes, we can all agree that the Black Widow was awesome. So…where’s our Black Widow movie? C’mon, those guys can get away with repeatedly making terrible Hulk movies, and the painfully weak Thor movie, even pushing for Ant Man (seriously why would movie audiences care about Ant Man Marvel pls), but we can’t get an movie for the only established female super heroine in this franchise? Let’s not even get into the fact that they only have one woman on the team. (No, Maria Hill does not count.)

What is your problem, Hollywood? Why are you so scared of ladies?
“We’re not sexist!” They will cry, “female action stars are a high-risk endeavor! Look at Aeon Flux, look at Ultraviolet! Look at Salt! Look at Elektra, Tank Girl, Catwoman! We just can’t sell action women to audiences!”

Fuck your shit! You can’t make shitty movies and blame their failure on their female leads! “Well I guess you can’t sell men as action leads because John Carter tanked.” That isn’t logic! (Actually, John Carter may be bad, but that isn’t why it tanked. It could have, however, benefitted from a female lead.)

Female action stars have been well received over and over the last few decades.
Hell, back in the 70’s, Lynda Carter made “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman” for four years. Sigourney Weaver starred in the game-changing Alien film, the same year Wonder Woman left the air. (And she has definitely made a name for herself in Sci-Fi since then.)

Sure, the momentum was slow at first: you have Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies (’84 and ’91), and Xena, who also broke ground as a strong woman of action, breaking Wonder Woman’s records with six years on-air. Milla Jovovich may have been a bit of a Faux Action Girl (and not the lead) in the Fifth Element, but you have to admit she kicked ass with the best, most memorable action sequence in the whole movie. And she continued to define her career with action movies, including four Resident Evil films, (which I’m told suck, but with that many sequels, they must be doing something right.) and, admittedly, the terrible Ultraviolet film. 2003 and ’04 saw the wildly popular Kill Bill films, which were about action and little else. (And starred a largely female cast, actually.)

Yet none of that really dispelled the stigma surrounding women in the action genre. The female action star was still a novelty idea. But…there’s been a rapid increase of women playing fairly well-written action roles lately.

Aside from the Black Widow in Avengers, the Hunger Games seems to have shocked everyone by creating a well-rounded character in Katniss. We have another surprisingly well-received heroine in Legend of Korra’s titular Korra. (Why were they surprised though, really?) The former generated more buzz about attracting female audiences to action movies, but the latter was pleased to discover that Korra appeals to an audience of whatever gender, which I feel would be the camp the Black Widow falls into. Both observations are important in convincing execs that women are marketable, although history generally shows that Hollywood is most concerned about selling most things to straight, white men. (Hello, fifty percent of the population over here? Why do our tits invalidate us?)

Thinking in the “it appeals to everyone” mindset, we’re also seeing the (frankly amazing) popularity of cartoons like My Little Pony and Super Best Friends Forever, both shows that do a good job of providing diverse role models for girls while appealing to wide audiences. In a more mature category, Game of Throne’s Arya Stark is the second most popular character on the show. Readers of the book also know about Arya’s gender-defying, ass-kicking exploits. We’re moving into territory where girls can not only kick ass and sell TV, but can do it while being well-written, interesting characters.

I’m hoping this woman empowering trend continues with the release of Brave and inclusion of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.


HOW MANY MORE MOVIES DO BATMAN AND SUPERMAN GET TO HAVE BEFORE THEY GIVE HER A CHANCE. (And no, that awful, horrid, embarrassing TV pilot does not count. At all.)
Give it to Joss Whedon! He’s been jumping to do that damn movie for ages.
(I may not be enthralled with his vision but at this point GOOD ENOUGH.)

Arielle Sorkin

Generally nervous human being.

2 thoughts to “Lady Action Stars on the Rise”

  1. I loved your article!!! i feel the same way.

    P.S: how do you feel about the james´s bond girls? i just want to know if we’re on the same page…

    you’re really funny.

    you go girl call them as you see them

    1. Haha, thanks.
      I actually haven’t seen many Bond films, and not in a number of years (I never found them terribly appealing), but the eponymous “Bond Girls” are a widespread enough trope. So while I feel I can’t fairly or accurately judge the way women in the Bond books and films are specifically written, I can judge them on an iconic level.
      James Bond as a whole is largely satirical of the action spy/thriller genre, which explains tongue-in-cheek names like “Pussy Galore,” and the glaring wardrobe differences between the way Bond and his female co-stars. But the line between satire, especially of sexualization, is difficult to walk without dipping into the very thing you mock. Bond Girls didn’t become famous for their action exploits or their wit, they’re famous for defining femme fatale.
      Not to say that there isn’t a place for that, it just would’ve been nice it there were memorable female characters for the sexy dames to bounce off of in those stories. (Although I hear Judie Dench’s M is playing that role in the newest movies? I haven’t seen them.)

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