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I am very passionate about women…

… let me start this article again…

A topic that I am interested by in cinema is this idea of creating a strong female role model. Not too long ago, I talked about how much I hated the idea of a great female actress being stuck accepting roles that just want her to look pretty on camera. We have got to the point where there are some good roles out there, but they are a rarity and that’s not really good enough in my book. I have noticed a trend in female characters that are almost the role models we want and that is that the writers aren’t overly trying to make her a bad character. They are trying to make her an interesting one, but the battle of the sexes in cinema is such a bitter one, that they are crucified as characters for doing that.

Take a love interest. I think romance in a movie is good. It adds another layer to a film, making the characters a little deeper. It also adds to the stakes, as there is a clear goal to the movie, so at a script level, romance is a great thing to throw into the mix. However, as we are trying to break women away from this idea of being dependent on men, or a character designed to be a ‘prize’ to the male, rather than a character in their own right, we want to start creating female characters that don’t have this romantic liaison. Sometimes this works, like with Black Widow in ‘Avengers Assemble’, who thankfully didn’t have a romantic attachment to a male co-star. However, would ‘Elysium’ have worked if there wasn’t a romantic sub-plot between the two leads? In order to create strong female characters, you could argue that the writers need to sacrifice an element to their work.

.scarlett I am going to use Lara Croft, the gaming hero, a lot here, because, despite this being a film article, her character suits my discussion perfectly. Besides the latest game has so many cinematic qualities, it still works as a discussion about women in stories. The Tomb Raider reboot was meant to make Lara a deeper character. She was brought back to her roots and her skills with tombs were explained. However, people have argued that she has lost her feminist standing as a strong female role model. Why? Well, for one, she is seen breaking down and crying a lot in this game. She loses her friends and while the old Lara would shrug it off with a regrettable expression, this Lara feels the pain of losing her friends. In many ways, this is an accurate depiction of how a person would react in the situations that Lara is faced with. But that’s beside the point: this is not a normal woman, this is Lara freaking Croft!

I know that the old Tomb Raider was, for all intents and purposes, a badly written character. In the early Tomb Raiders, she showed up at a tomb and just got on with her stuff. There was little back story. Sure, back story was added in the Keeley Hawes trilogy (is there an actual name for that trilogy or can I keep calling it that?), but her character was still pretty much the same figure. But there’s a good reason for that. Lara is more than a character, she is a symbol. I liked her as she was the one female famous fictional figure that we could just assume was a badass hero. John McClane has no back story, explaining how good he is at fighting. No one tried to explain the origins of the commando squad in Predator. If male heroes can get away with that kind of story-telling, why can’t Lara? Or because she is a woman, she needs to have everything explained, because a woman cannot simply be awesome for no reason. That would be absurd!!!

For the most part, I like the idea of the Tomb Raider reboot, even if I prefer the style of the other games. I am not someone that has written off Lara as a character, because she was depicted crying. She also cauterised herself, which I couldn’t do if you paid me in chocolate cake. That is badass, no matter what way you look at it. I don’t blame the writers for exploring Lara’s character, I just think it is bizarre that in improving her canon, she has lost a little credibility as a feminist figure. How can a screen-writer push himself or herself if (s)he is worried that a female character (s)he wants to depict as awesome will suffer as a result?

I don’t have an answer. This is just something that occurred to me recently and I thought I would share this view with my readers. One day, we will reach a time in cinema, where women actors won’t be struggling to find a strong role for their careers. I just wish that day would hurry up

4 thoughts on “How Good Writing Makes A Bad Female Figure

  1. Sshhh…don’t speak too loudly. Before you know it, they’ll be announcing a John McClane origins story where we find out he had a rough childhood and how he’s more than just a kick-ass action hero.

    Anyway, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said in your post. I still prefer the original Lara Croft backstory where she was the sole survivor of a plane crash (albeit one that her mother wasn’t on) and took up adventuring in spite of her parents’ wishes. You know, the classic rebellious aristocrat who just got on with it and didn’t stop to consider her actions or their consequences. As much as I tried to enjoy the latest TR game, I just didn’t like the “new, improved” Lara and feel that they should have just rebooted the series with a completely different character. It would have make more sense to make her Lara’s daughter than wipe away Lara’s entire history.

    I can imagine the pressure that writers are under to create strong yet identifiable female characters, whether it’s for a film, game or comic series, as they’re constantly being attacked by fans on Twitter or by email. It seems that regardless of what they do, they’ll be offending or upsetting someone. Marvel’s Black Widow (or at least the film version) is a step in the right direction. Her background is barely touched upon in the films (she makes a very vague reference to it at the start of The Avengers) and I think this is a good thing. Sometimes you just want to be carried away with the story and not be bogged down by backstory. My only issue with Black Widow is that she was very much the token female (Maria Hill aside) and she seemed a little underpowered compared with most of the rest of the team. Then again, maybe that just proves how bad ass she really is. 😉

    • Yeah, Black Widow is one of my favorite female characters of 2012. She is underpowered compared to the others, but she is meant to be the spy for the Avengers (as seen in Iron Man 2). However, if she had skipped the final fight, that WOULD be sexist lol.

      • Indeed. She still made a valuable contribution to the team and is arguably a lot more useful than Hawkeye (poor guy). I loved her scenes in Iron Man 2.

  2. I completely disagree that classic Lara was a badly written character. Subtlety is not bad but good. Check out some Lee Child. I feel the “badly written” description applies to the one-minute-crying-next-minute-psychopath 2013 Lara, which was barely recognisable as the iconic aristocratic British Lara Croft

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