OPINION COLUMNS

Strong female characters come in all varieties

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, August 26, 2017
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The director of some of my old favorite movies just said something kind of dumb about one of my new favorite movies, showing there’s still a lot of debate about what makes a good female character in film.

Racey Burden

James Cameron, who directed “Titanic,” “The Terminator” and “Avatar,” told the Guardian recently that he believes the titular character of “Wonder Woman,” Diana Prince, was a “step backwards” from one of his own female characters.

“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over ‘Wonder Woman’ has been so misguided,” Cameron said. “She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon.”

He goes on to heap praise upon Sarah Connor, a character he and his ex-wife Gale Ann Hurd created.

Now, first let me say that I love Sarah Connor, too. “Terminator” and “Terminator 2” are amazing films, and she’s the reason why. Watching Sarah change from a frightened waitress to a hardened doomsday survivalist is fascinating. She’s an icon for a reason – she’s tough, she’s gritty, she’s losing her mind trying to save the world.

The biggest problem James Cameron seems to have with Wonder Woman is that a) she’s hot (which to be fair to Cameron, a lot of female characters in superhero movies are reduced to “hot” or playing the victim – looking at you, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) and b) she’s not “troubled” like Sarah Connor.

But Wonder Woman is iconic in a completely different way, which I don’t think Cameron understands. “Wonder Woman” director Patti Jenkins said it best when she responded to Cameron’s comments by saying, “…if women always have to be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren’t free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she’s attractive and loving, then we haven’t come very far.”

I loved “Wonder Woman,” and though I know the character has been sexualized in the past, I didn’t really feel that way at all about Jenkin’s version. We didn’t get your typical “male gaze” shots lingering on particular body parts (but I could call out “Titanic” for an entire scene devoted to nude Kate Winslet). Diana is thrust into the world of men, but she’s not there for them to look at. She’s on a mission; she’s a warrior.

And Cameron must have missed that Diana is tough – she walks through No Man’s Land alone in a scene that made me tear up, just because I’ve never seen a woman superhero in a scene like that before, pushing on despite all the (male) voices telling her she can’t. She faces the harsh realization that maybe humans aren’t always inherently good, and she keeps fighting for them anyway. That takes strength.

She’s also kind-hearted and loving. Diana doesn’t need to be harsh all the time to save the world. It’s not a perfect movie by any means – not even a better movie than, say, “Terminator 2” – but I would never say “Wonder Woman” set women back.

See, that’s the problem with this idea of “strong female characters” – people, especially men, tend to think that has to mean one thing, usually a woman who doesn’t need a man but who acts like their idea of a man – rough and tough, good in a fight, unemotional. It doesn’t have to be like that. Real women are more than one thing, so fictional women should be, too. The Diana Princes of the world don’t take away from the Sarah Connors.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

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