Quotes: She Gets to Screw It Up

After the release of Terminator: Dark Fate in November of 2019, Emmet Asher-Perrin wrote at Tor.com about the Terminator franchise. This section at the end describes perfectly why the original T (1984—oh gosh!) will always be my favorite of the series and why we need more (super)hero stories with women in the focus:

“The end of The Terminator is maybe more entrancing than any other finale in the franchise for that reason. It has more in common with a horror film than a sci-fi action flick. Sarah Connor, the final girl who has to make it through for so much more than the sake of her own life, crawling away from two glaring red eyes. Her leg is broken, she’s barely fast enough, but she pulls it all together to crush the T-800 into scrap parts. You can see the moment where the unflinching hero of Judgement Day is born, and it’s right when she says ‘You’re terminated, fucker.’ It only took a span of days to rip her normal, unremarkable life apart, but we get the chance to take the entire journey with her, to sit in her emotions and think about how it would feel. It’s just as fast as most ‘Chosen One’ narratives tend to be, but it doesn’t feel rushed because we are with her for every terrifying second of that ride.

“There are a few more heroes who get this treatment, but they are rarely women. Black Widow has a few muddled flashbacks in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Captain Marvel gets flickers of her past in formative moments. Wonder Woman gives us a brief introduction to Diana’s home and the women who raised her. Rey doesn’t get much time to wrestle with her budding Jedi abilities before heading off for training. We get brief hints of where these women came from, of how it feels to take everything onto their shoulders. But Sarah Connor gets to muddle through it. She gets to wear weird tie-dyed t-shirts and shiver when she’s cold and decide whether or not she can accept the idea of time travel and unborn sons and machines that will always find her no matter where she hides. She gets to present herself as wholly unqualified, and she gets to screw it up, and she still makes it out the other side to fight another day.” [original emphasis]

– Emmet Asher-Perrin

We’ve recently watched a few excellent crime procedurals (for example, Vera and The Fall, plus a new Finnish-Spanish production called Paratiisi) where the female protagonists were written with multiple characteristics that television’s stereotypical damaged males have (like a traumatic past, superficial sex / multiple throwaway partners, alcohol use, difficulty maintaining meaningful human relationships or, indeed, behaving professionally towards your colleagues, to mention a few).

Criticism of these kinds of women in stories is often framed in terms of likeability: you can’t like a woman who behaves in “un-feminine” ways. Well, assuming we’re not talking about comfort-watching or reading (which I’d allow some liberties to), do you have to? I’ve never met anyone who liked everyone they ever met.

I’d say it’s lazy storytelling at its core to plop in a feature of a given character or culture or setting without examining its purpose in the story. For example, while I appreciate the performances of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in the Sherlock series by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, I detest the selfish, egotistical, arrogant, inconsiderate way Moffat and Gatiss have their Holmes behave. (There’s a reason we haven’t rewatched the series.) He if anyone is unlikeable, to put it mildly, but somehow people can only see his genius—even when the original Sherlock Holmes emphatically behaves with kindness.

And while it’s true that none of these “unlikeable” people would be easy to have as friends, it’s also true that none of them is without any redeeming qualities either. The point is, depicting one gender only in a certain light and cutting off other possibilities of being from them is overly limiting, because in the real world possibilities are nigh on infinite.

Depicting a variety of individuals is exactly what makes for instance heist stories like Ocean’s Eight or Jane Austen’s novels so enjoyable and delicious. Flipping details around, reversing patterns, defying expectations—these are exactly what make a story shine. Women are people and people come in a range of shapes, sizes, and mentalities. Just think of the range of abilities and body shapes Olympic athletes represent, for example.

Just like I do not want all men in my fiction to be cookie-cutter copies, I certainly don’t want all women in my fiction to be cast from the same mold. Expecting all or even most members of any group be an amorphous mass is really rather ill-advised, for it ruins many a good tale and taken to extremes would make stories untellable.

To re-phrase Asher-Perrin: what The Terminator really gets right is that Sarah Connor gets to feel her feels, to react, emote, and flail (like Ye Old Female Protagonist)—AND she gets to win the day.

Asher-Perrin, Emmet. “The First Terminator Movie Gave Sarah Connor One of the Most Compelling Origin Stories”. Tor.com, November 01, 2019.

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Black Widow Special Look Trailer

The Black Widow movie is released in just under two and a half months, and a special look trailer is out.

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow | Special Look by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

We see more action, but still relatively few plot points are added to the first trailer: for example, the character I assume to be the Taskmaster remains officially unnamed in the clip. We do hear that a new class (a “vault”) of widows has been trained, which has lots of spin-off potential.

What I really enjoy the most, though, is that we see at least three women being pals (well, for certain values of pals at least) and kicking ass while at it. Sure, some of the stunts look a bit ludicrous, but show me a superhero movie that doesn’t have overdone action in it. The point is, women get to do it, too, and not just the lone Smurfette pasted in to flash cleavage. These women—like the other characters in the story—are highly trained and they are finally allowed to act it. Fucking finally!

Leverage Sophie It Is On

Black Widow opens May 01, 2020.

Image: screencap from the tv series Leverage (“The Office Job”, season 4 / episode 12) via Oui, Mais Non (insertusernameici) on Tumblr

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Trailer for Manikarnika

The story of Rani Lakshmibai, Queen of Jhansi, is not a new one and has been both written and filmed before, but the 2019 movie Manikarnika is the first I’ve heard of her. Apparently she was one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 / the First War of Independence against the British East India Company in northern India after the death of her husband, the Raja of Jhansi.

Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi | Official Trailer | Kangana Ranaut | Releasing 25th January by Zee Studios on YouTube

Phew—the trailer’s even bloodier than the one for Tomiris. (I wonder whether it’s a Game of Thrones effect—the popularity of that bloody show begetting other series with high liquid velocities?) Apart from that, the two trailers and/or stories seem to share a remarkable amount of basic similarities, yet are set thousands of kilometers apart. An interesting coincidence.

On the other hand, Manikarnika looks incredibly gorgeous! According to IMDB, it’s already available—the release date is given as January 25, 2019—and Amazon offers streaming versions in Hindi, Telugu, and Tamil with a selection of subtitles.

The bloodiness makes me really apprehensive, though. I’m in for more humane stories at the moment, but I think I’ll have to keep Manikarnika in mind.

Found via Frock Flicks.

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Trailer for Tomiris

Apparently, there is a Kazakhstani movie on the historical female leader Tomyris of the Massagetae, and we also have a trailer with English subtitles:

TOMIRIS – Official trailer (HD) (English subtitles) by SATAIFILM on YouTube

We know for sure that Tomyris fought Persians in the 500s BCE, but as far as we know she did not unite all the people of the steppe as the movie claims. Well, it wouldn’t be the first movie to play fast and loose with history.

At this writing, IMDB only has the most rudimentary information and gives the year 2019 for release. Director Akan Satayev’s credits include a dozen or so writing and producing projects, mostly local and directed at a decidedly non-English-speaking audience.

It’s possible, then, that Tomiris will also remain outside of the Anglo-American market. I, for one, would find that sad, for the production looks really interesting (although I could do with a little less blood flying around).

Come to think of it, I should have a look to see if I can find any movies of ancient Persia or thereabouts. Anything you can suggest would be welcome!

Found via Helsingin Sanomat (NB. Finnish only).

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Representation Chart: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Phase 3 movies of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Captain America: Civil War; Doctor Strange; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home)

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Captain America: Civil War: Tony Stark / Iron Man, Steve Rogers / Captain America, Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier, Rumlow / Corssbones, Clint Barton / Hawkeye, Vision, Scott Lang / Ant-Man, Zemo, Thaddeus Ross, Everett Ross, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch, Sharon Carter / Agent 13, Colonel Rhodes / War Machine, Sam Wilson / Falcon, King T’Chaka, T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Doctor Strange: Dr. Stephen Strange, Kaecilius, Dr. West, Dr. Christine Palmer, the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Peter Quill / Star-Lord, Yondu, Stakar Ogord, Ego, Taserface, Kraglin, Nebula, Ayesha, Gamora, Mantis
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter Parker / Spider-Man, Adrian Toomes / Vulture, Happy Hogan, Flash, Mason, Mr. Delmar, Mr. Harrington, May Parker, Betty, Shocker, Abe, Coach Wilson, Michelle, Liz, Ned, Principal Morita
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Thor, Loki, Grandmaster, Skurge, Bruce Banner, Odin, Hela, Heimdall, Topaz
  • Black Panther: Ulysses Klaue, Killmonger, W’Kabi, Shuri, M’Baku, N’Jobu, Ramonda, Zuri, Nakia, Okoye
  • Avengers: Infinty War: Eitri
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Luis, Hank Pym, Sonny Burch, Kurt, Hope Van Dyne / Wasp, Cassie, Janet Van Dyne, Dave, Bill Foster, Ava / Ghost, Agent Woo, Uzman
  • Captain Marvel: Talos (as Keller), Yon-Rogg, Ronan, Agent Coulson, Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel, Wendy Lawson, Nick Fury, Korath, Att-Lass, Maria Rambeau, Monica Rambeau, Minn-Erva
  • Avengers: Endgame: Pepper Potts, Morgan
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home: Quentin Beck / Mysterio, William Riva, Maria Hill, Janice, Mr. Dell, Brad

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
  • “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Quotes: There Was No Room for Romance

I don’t usually like to do two quotes posts in a row, but the interview at A Mighty Girl blog with Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden was too good to pass. So:

“We didn’t take some kind of firm stance like ‘There will be no romance in this movie’ at the beginning. But as we were exploring the character and exploring what the story was really about, it was about her humanity and, ultimately, her friendships. Not just her buddy friendship that she makes with Nick Fury over the course of the journey but that key, essential friendship with Maria Rambeau from her past that helps link her to her own humanity. And even her friendship with Talos, the Skrull leader, which is a surprising friendship, as she kind of recognizes the humanity in him as well. There was no room for romance. That wasn’t the point. The point was about her connection to these friendships. That felt like a more true story to tell for this character.” [original emphasis]

– Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden

Bang on. It really annoys me when action movie writers deign to put in a lone Smurfette of a woman, they’ll apparently also have to squeeze in a romance—usually poorly written and atrociously justified with respect to the rest of the story. It’s like regardless of the story, the presence of Wimmin Parts Dictates That There Must Be Romance(TM) Because Otherwise the World Will End. (Although sometimes they work for me, like in The Terminator, but that was better justified, not superficially tacked on.)

Women are people, and like most people, we are able to focus on multiple issues and shift our focus as needed. A war-invasion would definitely be the kind of a situation that takes most of one’s concentration! Besides, not everyone is interested in romance.

It makes for more realistic, genuine, accurate storytelling to show people acting like they do in real life, and to show various kinds of people within a group, any group. It’s so refreshing that the writers of Captain Marvel recognized that; I can’t believe Hollywood’s taken this long to realize it (and/or listen to the storytellers that do).

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Quotes: Lords of Creation Don’t Take Advise

I’m (re)reading some things from my childhood, except in English instead of a Finnish translation. This paragraph made me gawk:

“Amy’s lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till long afterward; men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don’t take the advise till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do; then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it; if it fails, they generously give her the whole.”

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Whoa! Little Women isn’t really the kind of book where you’d expect to see sarcasm this sharp; it sounds more like Jane Austen.

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 [reissued; published by Puffin 1953; first published 1868], p. 571.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Celebrating International Women’s Day with a Captain Marvel Viewing

March 08 is International Women’s Day. Very appropriately, we are celebrating by going to see Captain Marvel!

IMDB Captain Marvel Eyes Horizontal

I’m hoping it’ll be as awesome as the trailers look!

To the people complaining that this version of Marvel is too political and therefore massively off-putting, I have only one thing to say.

(Long post warning.)

Read the whole post.

Quotes: You Can Be Warm and Vulnerable with People You Trust

Some power reading on gender and power, especially at Anglo-American financial companies:

“My Kleiner colleagues said that I sucked the air out of the room, that I ‘wasn’t the warmest person.’ Now [after leaving] I’m told the opposite. I’ve thought a lot about how I was accused of being cold and unlikeable at Kleiner. Looking back, maybe I was. But it wasn’t because I’m a cold person. It was because I needed to have my guard up all the time. You can be warm and vulnerable with people you trust, not with those who you know are trying to keep you down.”

– Ellen Pao

Current Reading Reset

I can attest from personal experience, even if not in the same environment.

Pao, Ellen. Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. New York: Spegel & Grau, 2017, p. 259.

Image by Eppu Jensen

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Quotes: Gentlemen

Miss Marple made a contribution to the conversation. “Gentlemen,” she said with her old maid’s way of referring to the opposite sex as if it were a species of wild animal, “are frequently not so levelheaded as they seem.”

– Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library

Speaking as a member of that peculiar species, I do not object in the least to Miss Marple’s observation.

Christie, Agatha. The Body in the Library. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1941, p. 103.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.