Apr. 23rd, 2011

heron61: (Default)
One of the older tropes of Western fiction is the young man who becomes a great warrior at a young age. King Arthur is one such tale – the original stories have him becoming a great warrior and war-leader at 15. So, as our era slouches gradually towards greater equality for women, it's worth considering young female heroes and how they are treated in mass media. The first positive portrayal of a young (as opposed to adult) female hero on movies or TV that I can think of is Buffy, who was also 15 and was an absolutely classic hero called to a destiny.

Of course, in far too many ways, Joss Whedon was a lone voice in US media. So what's happened since then? One disturbing trend I've seen a lot of recently is I think related to the popularity of rather ludicrous female characters in video games - the use of young female heroes are either cheesecake or shock value – trends that are (at least from my PoV) clearly expressed in the character of Babydoll from Sucker Punch and Hit Girl from Kick Ass respectively. Even just from the trailers, it was clear that both films were far more about the exploitation rather than the empowerment of young women.

However, a couple days ago [livejournal.com profile] teaotter and I saw the recent thriller Hanna, which is all about a young woman learning about her power and herself. It was an interesting and beautifully made film, with both deliberate fairy-tale elements and an obvious similarity to the first (and truly excellent) Jason Bourne film. It wasn't a perfect movie by any means, the ending was both rushed and formulaic, but its faults were typical faults of the genre and had nothing to do with the fact that the protagonist was a young woman as opposed to a man, young or older. One of the most surprising aspects of this film was that that fact that the protagonist was a 16 year old girl was an important plot element, but it wasn't used for shock or novelty value or in any sort of exploitative manner.

When Buffy first came on, and through its entire run, the fact that the superhuman action hero was a young woman was treated in much of the publicity and commentary about it was surprising and unusual. In contrast, some of the reviews I'm seen about Hanna focus on the protagonist's age and others on the exotic and disturbing way she was raised, the fact that the protagonist is female is much less of an big deal, and that's impressive and cool. Perhaps there is indeed progress in gender attitudes – it's difficult to say.

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