Warriors I Have Loved

My recent posts got me thinking about the warrior women I have loved, particularly certain ones of color.  I don't think they get nearly enough sufficient healthy attention.  I say "healthy" attention because by now we've seen all that can go wrong when a black woman is cast as a warrior/fighter/tough chick and her characterization is handled poorly.

'Cause only every so often does it go right.

"Mace"
Angela Bassett
Bassett is the real star here, in the role of a lifetime as a morally strong and physically stronger heroine. Lewis plays the same old white trash girl she has played many times, but at least she has the experience to bring total conviction to the role.

~ Jonathan Dabell on Strange Days (1995), by way of IMDB
I don't think Angela Bassett gets nearly enough credit for her work in sci-fi.  I remember watching her portray Lornette "Mace" Mason in Strange Days and admiring the fact that she was a bodyguard which, though a typically masculine role, she portrayed beautifully and gracefully.  I'm surprised at how well this movie did since the black woman played the best character and got the guy at the end.

"Dr. Evers"
Because Supernova (2000), in which she plays the elegant, intelligent, and equally strong-willed Dr. Kaela Evers, did not do so well.  Once again Ms. Bassett had a very good role, she outlived most of her crewmates, she gets the guy, and learns she's pregnant by him (James Spader's character).  Was it one too many times?  Was she only supposed to have a role like this one time?  Because I felt the plot was interesting enough (dialogue need some more work), the casting was fairly well done, and needless to say, Ms. Bassett's acting outshone many of her castmates' work.  I guess that's a no-no in Hollywood.

"Nebula"
Gina Torres

I think this one goes without saying.

Ms. Torres captured my heart during my Xena phase as both Queen Nebula (of Sumeria for some reason), and Queen Cleopatra.  I think Ms. Torres was the reason I grew to be quite fond of my lips; as a child, I often thought they were too big.  But then I saw her, with her sinfully full lips, and her wild mass of dark tangles, and it was instant hero-worship.

As an adult, I've continued to admire Ms. Torres.  I don't know if she scores these roles on her own, or if she has a dedicated agent, but I remain impressed with her choices.  I'll admit I was a little iffy when I first saw an episode of Cleopatra 2525, but she grew on me as resistance team leader Hel.

"Hel"
Most folks [read: black women] whom I introduce to Cleopatra 2525 also feel iffy when they first watch the show.  They all say the same things: they're not sci-fi fans, they can't stand Cleo, they don't dig fantasy, they can't stand Cleo, they don't understand why there's so much action, they can't stand Cleo...and so on and so forth.

But when they see Ms. Torres is a leader, and a responsible, clear-headed, resourceful, fairly well-rounded character, their attitudes quickly change.

"Zoe Washburne"
I'll admit, however, that my favorite "warrioress" from Gina Torres is the stoic, gun-slingin', nerd-marryin', bad-ass Zoe Washburne.

I think Joss Whedon redeemed himself in many ways to me when he drafted the characterization for Zoe Washburne, and we were back on good terms until he went and killed off her husband in Serenity.

*rubs temples*
"Arina"
Marjean Holden

As we speak, my resident geeks are nodding at the name which I'm guessing most of you don't recognize.  I first fell in love with this woefully underappreciated actress when I was a teenager living in Houston, and I watched the short-lived fantasy TV show Beastmaster.  Ms. Holden portrayed the long-legged warrior Arina.  Granted, she was "last of her tribe" and she was "hardened" by the loss, and "on nobody's side but her own", but she repped us brown girls and she repped us hard.

Her beauty is undeniable, which is why I was ambivalent about her portrayal of Sheeva in the second Mortal Kombat film.  In addition to Kitana, Mileena, Jade, and Sindel, I also loved playing Sheeva.  I thought she was a bad-ass and deserved to be feared.

"Crewman Stolzoff"
But then I saw MK2 and cringed.  Ms. Holden reports that her character had more lines, better lines, to her surprise they were hacked out of the film without her knowledge.  I wasn't surprised, of course; we all know how women and actors of color in particular get screwed over in Hollywood.

Marjean Holden also appears on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in the episode "Empok Nor" as the brave Crewman Stolzoff.  She's a security officer, and she dies in this episode.  Which really sucked, because DS9 is my favorite, and I think she could've been an awesome recurring character.

The Black Slayers

Every so often, Whedon hooked his black female demographic up.  Granted, we could've seen more of these women and learned more about them, but alas...sometimes we have to make do.

April Weeden-Washington


April Weeden-Washington and K.D. Aubert as "Nikki Wood"

She was cunning, resourceful, and - did I mention? - hot.
~ the vampire Spike

K.D. Aubert
I don't know why Slayer Nikki Wood's character was set in the Seventies, but I have no complaints (except for the whole "single mother" stereotype).  She got to rock a 'fro, she had a kick-ass black coat, and her fight on the subway with Spike was just epic.  She talked smack, fought hard, and did us brown girls proud.  Writer Doug Petrie (creator of the Slayer "Faith", mind you) says he has soft spot for Nikki Wood, and went on to write a comic book about her.

And if you're wondering why two women played Nikki Wood, it was because when April came back for Season 7, the staff thought she looked "too mature" (old) for the role.

Alyssa Ashley Nichols/Indigo
Indigo as "Rona"

I'm only putting this one on here for three reasons: 1) actress/spoken word artist Indigo ain't gettin' nearly the attention she deserves, 2) for her role as a Slayer, she didn't get the luxury of a boot camp; she had to learn to fight right on the set, and 3) her character has to fight a bunch of "uber-vamps" with a broken arm.  *nods* My girl.

"Kendra"
Bianca Lawson as "Kendra Young"

Yes...I know...we've been already been over this, but I don't care.  I love Kendra the Vampire Slayer.  I started watching Buffy because I read a novelization of two episodes with Kendra, and I wanted the see the live-action version.  I was surprised to see a black Slayer (in Season 2, no less); but then I learned Bianca Lawson was the original Cordelia Chase.

I think I prefer her as a Slayer; the hostile black high school bitch is no coveted role.  Kendra helped the show capture my attention in a way none of the TV spots and school chatter couldn't.

I'm ambivalent about Sineya.  While I am glad the writers of Buffy acknowledged that the First Slayer would be an Ancient African, I don't like how her characterization was handled at all.

"Alexa"
Sanaa Lathan

Ms. Lathan won the role of Alexa Woods over hundreds of actresses, and anyone who watches Alien versus Predator a few times can understand why.

She really shone in this role, and I was proud to see a beautiful black woman portraying such a sharp, adaptive, and rational character.  And when the Predator arms her with a spear and shield, I felt very connected to her.  She became a full-fledged warrior woman in that moment, and I feel it's one of her best performances.

When I want to see strong female characters of color, these are a few which come to mind.  It's not enough for a warrior woman to simply be tough; she has to be smart, able to carry an engaging conversation, and be emotionally balanced.  As the warrior woman becomes increasingly whitened and fetishized (Sucker Punch), written to appeal to mainly heterosexual white men rather than to inspire women, I find myself mourning the loss of these women, and longing for the day when I can see their triumphant return to both film and television.

Comments

  1. I just watched Strange Days last night. I thought Bassett's character was the most interesting part. The whole time I was watching it I assumed they would go the black woman=off limits route so I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. Another odd thing about watching a film made in 95 (about the future) was you would think by now we would have had a few more mainstream movies with BF/WM relationships, but no not really. It's like we went backwards.

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  2. Another odd thing about watching a film made in 95 (about the future) was you would think by now we would have had a few more mainstream movies with BF/WM relationships, but no not really. It's like we went backwards.

    Looking back, I thought so too. We have gone backwards. Why do you think that is?

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  3. I LOVE THIS POST! Kudos, pimptress!

    I've been an Angie fan for years and I loved "Strange Days!" She was such a boss-ass chick, and personally I think everything Angie does is boss. I recently saw "Supernova" and was so happy to see that she got some serious play (cos James was all up on her ass from the first five minutes), survived, and got the guy at the end.

    Gina, you already know...she's such a great under appreciated actress. Hel made Cleo 2525 bearable; Hel & Sarge. I kept hoping Cleo would get killed in a free-falling accident. Zoe, too, was a bitchin' character; she was the one character who would be the most likely to fuck someone up. And Wash loved her dirty drawers. *squee*

    Sanaa Lathan as "Alexa." AvP is one of my default movies. Why? 1. Sanaa. Not many people can hang from an ice fall in Nepal with one arm, answer her cell in mid-climb, AND get great service. 2. The Predator(s), but that's something I'll get into on my own blog. Needless to say, I love that character. But I digress. AvP is a fantastic movie and I wish Sanaa would get more roles like this. She owned it.

    Now I never watched Buffy or Xena, (and that's why God invented Netflix) but I am certain that I would have loved those women you highlighted.
    Anyhoo, thanks for this post about boss ass chicks. I already posted it on a couple of fb friends' walls. Warrior women of the world UNITE!

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  4. Lets not forget that Gina Torres played the badass russian Anna Espinoza spy on Alias. She and Sydney had quite the rivalry with Anna coming out on top many times.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4D5CICNUsg

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  5. "Looking back, I thought so too. We have gone backwards. Why do you think that is?"

    I have absolutely no idea. but taking the long view of things progress is never steady. It seems like whenever POC or women or gays or anyone makes progress in this country there is a backlash against it. But then again a movie like AVP where a black women is the lead probably couldn't have happened in the 90's. Maybe Strange days was just an anomaly. I can't think of any other examples of BW/WM relationships on film.

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  6. ^^^mainstream movies I mean

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  7. "I don't know why Slayer Nikki Wood's character was set in the Seventies, but I have no complaints (except for the whole "single mother" stereotype)."

    If I'm not mistaken, Robin's father is killed off and that's why Nikki was a single mom (this was explained in the comic but it's been a few years since I read it).

    The reason I believe they set Nikki in the 70s is because she's supposed to serve as an homage to the Cleopatra Jones and the Foxy Browns. The slayer represents iconic powerful women and they don't get any more powerful than the black heroines from 70s black action films.

    I believe Whedon and co. were paying homage to that archetype because they paved the way for Buffy. And if you recall Nikki was no mere slayer, she was a legendary slayer of her day and more than once, parallels were made between her and Buffy in that they were powerful alphas who did things their way.

    Gina Torres- I could go on for ages but yeah, cosigned. Did you ever see her in Alias as Sidney's rival, the villainous Anna Espinoza? I'm just gonna say this about Gina, when she's good she's great but when she's bad, she's delicious.

    Marjean Holden- My girl. Also an accomplished badass martial artist too. I adore her.

    Kendra- OH HELL YES! Hands down my all time Buffy character and I was pissed when she got killed off. My only consolation is that her spirit lives on in Zoe Washburne but yeah I'm feeling you on her as the slayer: The She-Giles. LOL!

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  8. Ankhesen Mié said...
    Looking back, I thought so too. We have gone backwards. Why do you think that is?[/i]

    Jas0nburns has already addressed one side of it. But the bigger part of it seems to be that BP are not providing the support for these movies.

    Gina Torres and Marjean Holden have always been my favorite sci-fi/fantasy actresses. I really enjoy the work they do.

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  9. @ jas0nburns

    Let me rephrase - there have been a lot more BW/WM films since the 1990s. I guess the question is, why haven't more white men been supportive? (Hint: give insight into the average white male mind on this issue; I already know why POC generally don't dig such films).

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  10. @ Neo-Prodigy

    Thanks for info! The things I learn on this blog; when you explain Nikki's characterization that way, it does make a lot of sense. Especially when you consider the music playing on the subway during the fight.

    As for Gina Torres's "Anna" on Alias, I dug her work as always, but I got was quickly annoyed with the "big mean black girl vs. skinny good white girl" tired-ass theme. I also, they kinda portrayed her as being "looser" than Garner's character. Once again, the white girl got the tender, romantic love scenes while the black girl got the tawdry. *rolls eyes*

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  11. " guess the question is, why haven't more white men been supportive? (Hint: give insight into the average white male mind on this issue; I already know why POC generally don't dig such films)."

    I have no idea. I mean TBH the average white male mind doesn't give two shits about the love story anyway. Maybe someone with better insight into the white female mind could answer.

    I suppose that even though BW are on par with their white counterparts beauty wise, most WM have been programmed not to pick up BW on our radar. I think studio exec's know this and fear we won't connect. I think with most WM, BW might as well be walking around with t-shirts that spell out "not for you." And so to WM in the audience it doesn't really matter how pretty they are or what great actresses they are.

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  12. @ jas0nburns

    I have no idea.

    And yet you went on to give us insight anyway! Heheheheheheheh.

    Maybe someone with better insight into the white female mind could answer.

    You're saying they know your minds better than you do?

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  13. " have no idea.

    And yet you went on to give us insight anyway! Heheheheheheheh."

    well that was kind of disclaimer in case you disagreed (jk) actually I typed it before I thought of anything and neglected to delete it.

    "You're saying they know your minds better than you do?"

    No. I was saying maybe it's WW, not WM who's support is more relevant here because just as men are meant to identify with the leading man, women are meant to identify with the leading lady.

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  14. @ jas0nburns

    No. I was saying maybe it's WW, not WM who's support is more relevant here because just as men are meant to identify with the leading man, women are meant to identify with the leading lady.

    But if the target audience is BW/WM, wouldn't you say WW shouldn't really factor in at all?

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  15. But whites are almost always the primary target audience in mainstream American media.

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  16. @ jas0nburns

    You're not answering my question.

    If a film has a leading man is white, and the leading woman is black, do you really think WW are part of the target audience?

    If you do, how do you suppose the filmmakers would factor in white female audience members?

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  17. Field!!!! Welcome to my blog!

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  18. you lost me. ;)

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  19. @ jas0nburns

    you lost me. ;)

    Here we are, on a post about awesome black warrior women, talking about the BW/WM theme in some of these movies, and you brought up the white female element. Why do think you did that? How do you feel it factors into the discussion?

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  20. I brought WW into it because the idea is for female viewers to identify with the women in the movie. The fact that WW tend not to identify with BW is what keeps BW out of these roles. That's why for example you wouldn't see a BW playing the lead in "The devil wears Prada" because WW wouldn't connect with that. They couldn't feel like it was "them" having the experience of the character in the movie. For a WW the fantasy would be ruined and since WW make up the vast majority of female movie goers, the movie would flop.

    If you look at WM action heros like Arnold or Bruce Willis it's obvious that the male viewer is supposed to identify with that character. To feel like it's him running on broken glass and killing bad guys. It's a male fantasy. So I just assumed that the reverse was also true for women in movies. It's a female fantasy. Therefor who the woman is and what she does has more to do with the psychology of the female viewer than the male viewer.

    So I would say that it's definitely racism that keeps more BW out of these roles but it's more about WW racism than WM. Even though it's all really the same shit.

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  21. @ jas0nburns

    Whom do you feel Hollywood aims to please more, white men or white women? I mean, when it comes down to choosing between the two?

    Because if a filmmaker is doing a BW/WM, something tells me they don't really factor WW into their project. They already know most WW won't identify with the BW lead (look at how Uhura's been treated the new Trek film). So at the end of the day, they're not making that film for WW. They're making them for BW and WM.

    Now, I already know why BW would give such films a lukewarm response. I just wanted to hear a WM perspective on why WM were also giving such films a lukewarm response.

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  22. Jas0nburns said...
    "... The fact that WW tend not to identify with BW is what keeps BW out of these roles. That's why for example you wouldn't see a BW playing the lead in "The devil wears Prada" because WW wouldn't connect with that. They couldn't feel like it was "them" having the experience of the character in the movie. For a WW the fantasy would be ruined and since WW make up the vast majority of female movie goers, the movie would flop."

    So basically what you're saying is, 'white people lack Empathy for non-whites’. If they can’t 'Empathize' with the lead character they're more likely to give the film a lukewarm response; which translates into loss revenue at the box office. Moreover, if it comes down to catering to the whims of either the BW or the WM, then the White male fantasy is given precedent. If he's cast against a black female the context of the piece will always cater to the White male ego. From Monster's Ball: "I want to take care of you." "Good- cause I really need to be taken care of."

    I mean there has to be a white hero even in the absence of a white damsel. Sexism is still a big factor in these type movies.

    Additionally, if you render the relationship between the BW and the WM ‘Sexless’ you can draw the white females in as well, don’t you think? This is why there had to be a White Damsel in the Princess and the Frog. Whites needed someone to ‘Empathize’ with; even thought it was a black woman’s story. Disney just couldn’t bring themselves to tell a story about a black woman in a black world without whites.

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  23. Nikki is my favorite Slayer, hands down. I also love that her boyfriend was Asian.

    On that note, we were given another (major) black Slayer character in Season 8 named Renee. She dated Xander and I found her to be a very strong and likeable character...but I am very displeased with what happens with her character.

    I love most of these actresses and most of the roles mentioned. Lastly, this post appeals to the nerd in me. I approve.

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  24. "So basically what you're saying is, 'white people lack Empathy for non-whites’. If they can’t 'Empathize' with the lead character they're more likely to give the film a lukewarm response; which translates into loss revenue at the box office."

    pretty much yep. And speaking of Disney, I was thinking about how it's no problem for WP to empathize with animal characters in Disney movies as children, but then we grow up and can't empathize with fellow humans of a different skin tone. I mean Disney can make a movie that's all fish, or dogs, or whatever but not all black people no way.

    "Additionally, if you render the relationship between the BW and the WM ‘Sexless’ you can draw the white females in as well, don’t you think?"

    Yes exactly. I think that's huge. I Thought that's what they were going to do in Strange Days and actually I think they kind of toyed with that expectation a bit. But yeah, and when not rendered sexless they tend to be attached to secondary male characters.

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  25. Oooh...good discussion going! Any more?

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  26. "If they can’t 'Empathize' with the lead character they're more likely to give the film a lukewarm response; which translates into loss revenue at the box office."

    For some reason this doesn't seem to apply to Will Smith though. WP love him (I'm no exception) Anybody know why?

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  27. Jas0nburns said...
    "For some reason this doesn't seem to apply to Will Smith though. WP love him (I'm no exception) Anybody know why?"

    Flip Wilson didn’t scare whites- neither does Bill Cosby. Both comedians had a large white following. Will Smith is amiable, and fun-loving; he honed his career by being ‘white friendly’. He wasn’t too vulgar- he was neither confrontational nor angry; moreover, he wasn’t thuggish. Others in his age group went the hardcore route, grimacing at the camera as if they were mad at the world. These young black men made their bones with black audiences by frightening whites, but Will Smith fashioned himself as an everyman. He has mainstream written all over his career.

    To most whites, he doesn't fit their narrow definition of the average black man. (Hardened/Thuggish) He’s approachable- he has a baby face and therefore whites aren’t threatened by him. Furthermore he's paid his dues; polishing his craft to become an actor in his own right. Notice how Ice Cube has toned down his hostility/militance to become less threatening to whites. Now he’s doing mainstream family oriented movies. That’s a long way from ‘Niggaz With Attitude’.

    First rule of Thumb: If you want ‘Mainstream Success,’ don’t scare white folk. President Obama knows that better than most. M.C. Hammer; comes to mind as well. You can’t scare white people when you have your own cartoon.

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  28. This was a truly awesome post and thread. :)

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  29. RE: Will Smith

    Nonthreatening yet they still won't let him have a white female love interest. Lately the thing is to pair him with a light skin Latina so its not a "black movie" but she is light enough for white's to relate too without directly encouraging BM/WW pairings

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  30. @ The Girl

    Nikki is my favorite Slayer, hands down. I also love that her boyfriend was Asian.

    OMG - I keep forgetting about that!

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  31. I loved Angela in Strange Days. I remember Supernova. And actually, in that linked YouTube teaser I think I recognized Mr. Wilson Cruz. I loved him in The People I've Slept With. :)

    I need to rewatch Supernova. I have no memory of that movie whatsoever. And loved Sanaa in Alien vs. Predator.

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