I was an 80s baby and a 90s kid, obsessed with comic books and superheroes, in particular Spider-man. Being female, however, I also craved female characters to look up to. I wanted to be able to imagine myself there up on the screen. Sure there were female led movies around but there were very few which had a kickass female lead who was the focus.
People might hastily point to such characters as Ripley from the Aliens franchise, or Sarah Conner from Terminator, but my parents never let me watch horror movies when I was little, because they were responsible like that. Superheroes were allowed though, so at the age of 12 there were only three women I had that I really looked up to from the Superhero genre, Red Sonja, Supergirl and Tank Girl.
Red Sonja began life as a Marvel Comics character and is currently under the Dynamite Entertainment label. In 1985 they made a movie about the character, loosely tied in with the Conan films, and if you’ve seen it you should know why my parents probably shouldn’t have let me watch the movie.
Forgetting for a moment the awkward rape scene at the start of the movie, which me as a child had absolutely no clue as to what that was all about, I saw Red Sonja as a pure badass. She was tough, she beat up huge guys with a massive sword, she gave Arnie a run for his money, she killed Pat Roach, and the villain she was fighting was also a kick ass magical Queen.
Queen Gedren is probably one of my all time female villains, she means business, she doesn’t just want you dead, she wants to utterly destroy you.
For years there’s been talk of a reboot but it seems stuck in Development Hell, I doubt we’ll be seeing a new version any time soon, but the movie was very much of its time and I do wonder if this is the type of film that can be made in the modern age, and if it would still have the problems of the original.
I’m not daft, I know the original movie has a lot of problems critically speaking, but I am very happy to sweep those problems to one side because I just love and enjoy the movie so much.
My love of the movie led me to the comics, though the bikini armour is something I hate, I highly recommend giving Wrath of the Gods and Revenge of the Gods a read, or starting with the series Gail Simone wrote.
Everyone loved the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, I even liked the third one with Richard Prior and the utterly terrifying robot lady that’s created when Robert Vaughn’s sister falls into the computer and she comes out of the machine and directly into my nightmares.
Supergirl as a film has a lot of problems, like Red Sonja, but this time I had a hero to look up to who was in an Earth I could identify with. Supergirl could fly just like Superman, she beat up bad guys and rescued people, she was strong and good and kind, and just the kind of role model that young girls crave.
Part of the reason I utterly adore the new Supergirl series is its homage to the movie and the superman franchise in general. If Superman is the Boy Scout of the DC Universe, then Supergirl is the Girl Guide, I could spew praise endlessly on just how much affection I have for the character, but I’ll save that for another day when I can include Power Girl into the mix as well.
The film is full of wonder and grace, as is our heroine, it’s a film that I will cherish for always and a character who I will always aspire to be.
If Red Sonja was strong in the face of Hyborian masculinity, and Supergirl was brave in the face of insurmountable odds, then Tank Girl was as mad as a bag of cats.
Tank Girl came later in my childhood, but it’s a film I wasn’t even aware that anyone disliked until I reached adulthood. As far as I knew everyone loved the movie because Tank Girl was fun and crazy, she didn’t have super powers or super intelligence, she was cunning and street smart and didn’t give a fig about what people thought about her. Basically she was a Slytherin before that was a thing.
Tank Girl taught me it’s ok to be who you are, sure she loved her tank, but she loved Doris Day too, and that was ok. Tank Girl couldn’t be broken, no matter what Malcolm McDowell did to her. This film was also my first major Malcolm McDowell experience, happily setting the tone for Malcolm McDowell for the rest of my life.
Some people were just born to play certain roles, they already embody the character that they’re playing. Ryan Reynolds is Wade Wilson, Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Lori Petty is Tank Girl. Whenever I see her in another movie or a show I just know that she has a tank parked up in the parking lot and that’s how she’ll be driving home.
The only film I can think of that comes close to being as colourful and unashamedly fun is Guardians of the Galaxy. I think that someone could possibly remake the film and retain its colour and its crazy, but I can’t think of anyone who would embody the character as much as Petty. The studios would have to take a chance on an unknown perhaps, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Red Sonja, Supergirl and Tankgirl are the women I grew up loving, I wanted to be these women. I discovered others along the way, G.I. Jane, is another personal favourite but sometimes I really struggle to get people to not just dismiss these movies as ‘Chick Flicks.’
I had always hoped that women of the next generation, such as my niece would have more female heroes to look up to, but Captain American: Civil War had ten guys fighting with a token chick on each team. Thankfully tv shows like Marvel’s and DC’s current offerings are more balanced in their casts, but Suicide Squad and the upcoming Justice League movie – only one woman per team.
If you don’t think we still have a major anti-feminist problem in Hollywood, take a look at the Ghostbusters reboot. The most disliked trailer on YouTube. The original cast liked the script so much that everyone, except professional hermit Rick Moranis, came back for a cameo, and Harold Ramis gave it his seal of approval before he died. For months I’ve put up with every straight guy I know moaning about the movie, whether they had seen it or not, and not being able to give me one legitimate reason why they disliked it. I even hastened to add this particular section to this article through fear of the very specific and nasty backlash that comes with being a girl and saying you like Ghostbusters.
I’m not a person of colour, nor do I claim to speak for anyone who is, but the representation of women of colour is even worse. Everyone has a right to feel like they’re represented in some way on stage or on screen, we need more colour blind casting and gender blind casting. The world we have now is becoming more diverse than when I was growing up, but I want it to be better. Not just for me but for the little kids growing up now who are looking for a glimpse of themselves in the heroes they’re growing up with.
Don’t you want that for them too?