Posts Tagged ‘representation’

 

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1001 Knights

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Yeah I know we’re at least two years away from this being any sort of reality, but if Warner Bros. and DC Comics want to make that June 23rd, 2017 release date, then they’re going to have to assemble a cast some time soon. I’d say San Diego Comic-Con would be the best place for such announcing, but I’m not holding my breath. Anywhoozle, Featured_Batman-WonderWoman-Superman_EWwhile Gal Gadot’s acting prowess as Diana of Themyscira/Wonder Woman has yet to be seen, there are a number of actresses who would do a bang up job filling the ranks of Diana’s sister Amazons. While no one is certain how much time will be spent on Themyscira, it’s still important to feature the Amazons in some significant way. The Amazons, like Diana, can embody a wide range of archetypal and modern roles, but you need the right actresses to pull it off.

So, here is just a small offering of actresses who could grace Themyscira with their presence. This is only scratching the surface, mind you, because there are a lot of Amazons.

 

 

Gwendoline Christiegwendoline

Was there really any doubt that she’d end up on this list? One of the breakout characters on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne of Tarth has been responsible for a lot of “fuck yeah, Brienne!” moments as the character evolved amidst the War of Five Kings and her interactions with Catelyn Stark, Jamie Lannister, and Podrick Payne. Through it all, Brienne stubbornly maintained her core tenants of loyalty and honor, naming her sword Oathkeeper as a constant reminder of who she is and the promises she made to Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark. Christie’s work as Brienne has led to roles in The Hunger Games and the upcoming Episode VII of the Star Wars Saga, both of which have cast her in warrior-type roles. Casting her as an Amazon wouldn’t be that far out of left field and I can easily see her as a confidante to Diana or one her primary antagonists on Themyscira. Either way, a fight scene will ensue and it will be glorious!

 

 

Laverne CoxSophias1promo2_crop

The breakout star and personality of Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox has proven herself to be an amazing actress as well as a compassionate and compelling representative for the transgender community. The presence of Cox in the ensemble cast of women emphasizes the importance of media representation and acceptance of who she is rather than dictate who she should be. The fight for complete LGBTQ acceptance continues, but it would say so much if Laverne played a character who stood side-by-side with Wonder Woman in battle or counseled her on Paradise Island, not just as a transgender woman but also as a woman of color. Of all the characters in the DC Universe, Wonder Woman has the most love and compassion for all living beings, but especially women, and certainly the solo film should find a way to display that whether through actions or dialogue. So far, Warner Bros. and DC have been proving their openness to casting people of color within their ensemble tv shows like Arrow, The Flash, and the forthcoming animated series Vixen and spinoff miniseries Legends of Tomorrow. The casting news for the movies have followed suit with Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. There is a willingness on the part of WB and DC to diversify and the Amazons would certainly embody such a philosophy.

 

 

Gina Torresginatorres_8497

Probably everybody’s first choice for Wonder Woman, especially if this had been back in the days of Firefly. Had WB actually put the green light on Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman script, Gina Torres’ casting in the lead role would have been a moot point because “duh”! Unfortunately, we don’t live in that reality, but that doesn’t mean Torres can’t have a role in shaping the Wonder Woman universe. The epitome of the “strong female character”, Torres has had a number of roles that make her casting as an Amazon a no brainer. From Nebula on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys to Zoe on Firefly and Jessica Pearson on Suits, Torres is a powerhouse actress with a loyal fanbase that would lose their minds if she showed up on Themyscira. Plus she already played Super Woman in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, the evil equivalent of Wonder Woman. She’s got this, so, yeah, WB get on it!

 

 

Tatiana Maslanyorphan-black-cast

If you’ve been watching Orphan Black, and I’m pretty sure you are, then you know exactly why Tatiana Maslany should be an Amazon. Playing no less than nine separate characters as part of Project Leda, Maslany has given each clone a distinctive voice and personality, which one really can’t appreciate until one clone has to impersonate another. Trust me, it’s brilliant. Her ability to fluidly transition from psychopath to soccer Mom is amazing and I’m pretty sure Warner Bros. would be missing out on a huge opportunity if they didn’t attach her to one of their DC movies. Wonder Woman makes the most sense right now, but who knows what movies lie in the future? There’s no shortage of potential for Amazon movies or build a movie around her amongst the myriad magical characters currently in need of an actress to bring them into the forefront.

 

Michelle YeohMichelle Yeoh in a scene from CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, 2000.

I love Michelle Yeoh! Even when she’s in mediocre movies like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, I still love her because she’s often the best part of those movies. A dancer turned martial arts actress in China, Yeoh gained fame from Western audiences after her appearances in Tomorrow Never Dies, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s worth noting that Pierce Brosnan referred to as the “female James Bond” because of her professionalism and skills as a combat actress. Yeoh was also in one of my favorite movies, Sunshine, where she gets a beautifully shot death scene if I do say so myself (and I do). Yeoh’s presence in Wonder Woman, especially on Themyscira, would further show that the Amazons are a multicultural society and a safe haven for those lost at sea.

 

 

Nikki Beharie and Lyndie Greenwoodsleepy hollow

All the Sleepyheads out there will agree that one of the best things to come out of Sleepy Hollow has been the relationship between estranged sisters Abbie and Jenny Mills played by Beharie and Greenwood respectively. More so than Mills and Ichabod Crane’s bond as witnesses, Abbie and Jenny’s reunion and their slow climb towards forgiveness and understanding has been a highlight of the show, for me at least. On their own, Beharie and Greenwood kick all kinds of ass defending Sleepy Hollow from the forces of evil, but whenever the two share scenes together it’s a wonderful display of actresses feeding off the other and elevating what could be considered very campy material. I believe that they would bring that same energy and elevation to Wonder Woman, working together or separately.

 

 

Rila Fukushimathe-wolverine-yukio

Yes, I know she’s already played Katana on Arrow and Yukio in The Wolverine, but here’s the thing: she was the best part of The Wolverine. Really, every scene she shared with Hugh Jackman was worth watching and I would’ve loved to see a movie all about the various adventures of Yukio and Logan, especially when the movie indicated that might happen towards the end. Then they did the Days of Future Past tag and all my hopes and dreams were dashed. As far as her role on Arrow, the WB has confirmed they have no plans to connect their movies and television shows, so why not put Fukushima on Themyscira? She can fight, she can deliver a good one-liner, it’s really just a matter of time before someone casts her in a franchise-related role. I can’t think of any better place than an island of Amazon warriors, can you?

 

So those are my picks, but who do you think should show up on Paradise Island? Let me know in the comments!

Before we begin: Okay, I know I’ve been a bit light on articles lately. All I can say is I’m working on a few things right now that will keep me preoccupied through the month of June. There are still podcasts lined up, but op-eds and most in-depth articles, at least from me, are off the table until July. So, to fill the great hole that has no doubt formed in your hearts, I figured some quick Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Imperator-Furiosa-Fulland easy lists were doable.

Cool? Cool.

Anyway, with the recent release of Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron’s amazing Imperator Furiosa has sparked a fantastic following of artists, cosplayers, and just fans in general who see a kindred spirit in the rebellious driver of the war rig with her shorn head, dieselpunk prosthetic arm, and desire for redemption. Aside from the brilliant action and over-the-top insanity of the movie, many a blogger and critic see the importance of having a character like Furiosa stand out and attract so much positive attention. Hollywood is still struggling with all kinds of representation issues and yet here we have a movie where, arguably, the main character isn’t the guy in the title but the physically disabled female lead. And she kicks all kinds of ass! Seriously, even without her prosthetic, Furiosa still manages to best Max with her stump arm and at no point in the movie is she questioned as a leader, driver, fighter, or as a woman. She just is, no justification necessary. Again, this is extremely important as far as representation in media goes. So, in honor of the newest addition to the pantheon of badass women in sci-fi, I thought I’d put together a little list of other badass characters who just happen to be missing an arm or a leg. Or Both.

 

Hiccup – How to Train Your Dragon 1&2

 

Gobber should also count, but I’m trying not to cheat on this one. How to Train Your Dragon is one of those films that was How-to-Train-Your-Dragon-how-to-train-your-dragon-19498379-900-506utterly charming, emotional, and did something I can’t recall any other children’s film in Western animation doing: it maimed its main character. For all of the Disney films I’ve seen where the hero and heroine get their happy ending, HTTYD made sure that Hiccup was changed on all levels philosophical and physical. The scene where Hiccup wakes and discovers he’s lost his leg is so well done I get emotional just typing this. Everything from the silence to the expressions to Toothless providing strength and support is so well done. Best of all, the culture of Berk is one that doesn’t look down on those who’ve lost their limbs. Though Hiccup’s new leg is meant to parallel Toothless’ lost tail fin, he’s never thought of as handicapped by the injury. This extends into the sequel where 20-year-old Hiccup thrives as a young adult but his prosthetic is never used as a means of limiting him as a rider or a leader.

 

Misty Knight – Marvel Comics

 

One of those characters you wish Pam Grier could play now in a live action tv show or movie! NYPD officer Mercedes “Misty” Knight lost her right arm during an explosion but didn’t let a little thing like having one arm stop her from helping people. WitMisty_Knight_Heroes_For_Hire_-7-560x281h the help of Tony Stark and a bionic arm, she became part of the roster of Marvel heroes. Misty was created during the 70s when blaxploitation films and the kung-fu craze were at their peak so it’s fitting that she’d end up associating primarily with the Hell’s Kitchen cadre of Heroes for Hire that also produced Luke Cage and Misty’s on-again-off-again love interest, Iron Fist. The bionic arm may have endowed her with some super strength, but Misty is a capable fighter all on her own, which makes her the ideal hero to have on speed dial if you’re in a pinch.

 

Cherry – Grindhouse: Planet Terror

 

Laugh all you want but at least when you go into a movie directed by Robert Rodriguez in the style of a Grindhouse movie you know you’re going to be entertained. Planet Terror is a ridiculously entertaining film and at the center of it is Rose McGowan’s395dfd151dd2d232b82acd8717028cd1 Cherry, a former go-go dancer who finds herself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Grindhouse movies are all about sex appeal, horror, and gore and Planet Terror definitely delivers on all fronts. But for all of the exploitation going on the heart of the story is Cherry’s rise as a badass leader. Amidst the chaos of civilization literally crumbling before her eyes she loses her leg but gains a ton of confidence. And a machine gun for a leg. Surprising how something like that can be a real self-esteem booster. Again, you can laugh at the ridiculousness, but when you saw Cherry shooting all those zombies with her machine gun leg you were ON. BOARD.

 

Ash Williams – Evil Dead 2 & Army of Darkness

 

Few actors can carry a film on charm and wit alone, but Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams showed us exactly what the future Titan of B-movies was capable of. An expressive and physically gifted comedic actor, Campbell had to sell audiences on a lot of the insanity of Evil Dead and Evil Dead II with the limited budget he, director Sam Raimi, and producer Rob Tapert were working ash-williamswith. The result? When Ash’s hand gets possessed in Evil Dead II, we believe that the hand is in control and kicking Ash’s ass! So when Ash has to CUT OFF HIS OWN HAND we’re not only rooting for him, but we’re also cringing as blood splashes in his pain-filled face. The silver lining, though, is the extremely awesome montage of Ash gearing up to fight the remaining demons and our boy leveling up. Before Cherry got her machine gun leg, Ash had his chainsaw arm! This extends into Army of Darkness where Ash is still pretty capable using his stump but once he realizes his chainsaw isn’t going to do him much good in Medieval Times he fashions himself a new, more metallic hand for everyday heroics.

 

Edward “Ed” Elric – Full Metal Alchemist

 

The only double amputee on the list, Ed lost his arm and leg (and his brother’s body) when the two youngsters attempted to resurrect their mother with alchemy. The Law of Equivalent Exchange, however, demanded much of the brothers but the Elric’s don’t go down easy. After a year’s recovery in which Ed received automail prosthesis for his limbs and Alphonse got his soul attached to an armored body, the two managed to become state alchemists with Ed receiving the call sign of the “Full Metal” tumblr_m73sj4nkLm1qazawzo2_1280alchemist. Throughout both versions of the anime, the writers always found time to focus on the price Ed and Alphonse paid for their hubris. Primarily, Ed’s automail drives a great deal of discussion about the amount of pain he suffers from physically and mentally but it’s very rare that any of the other state alchemists or his enemies believe the automail is a hindrance. Sure, it gets broken quite a bit, but Ed treats the damage like an annoyance and when his automail mechanic Winry steps in to repair the physical damage, she doesn’t treat him with kid gloves. They act like regular teenagers around each other, for the most part. If anything, he gets more digs for being short, which you really do not want to bring up around him. Trust me.

As a global consumer culture one of the first things we’re introduced to is media. Television, books, movies, and music all contribute to how we perceive and relate to the world around us. The Modern Age of comics has seen the saga-bannerdeconstruction of superheroes, the rise, fall, and rise again of comic book movies and television, and the elevation of geek culture. This has all been in conjunction with the proliferation of the internet where vocality is king and the biggest hot button topics sure to come up when any new movie, television show, or comic book comes out are representation and visibility.

We want to see aspects of ourselves in the media we consume but it’s painfully clear that Hollywood and media in general skew towards the straight, white male demographic. Denying anyone who isn’t part of the preconceived audience doesn’t just eliminate them on a visual level, it eliminates their voices and stories that could be told from the perspective of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. This paints an inaccurate picture of our society, which many demand changed. Hollywood has taken some sluggish steps forward, but a Renaissance of representation has occurred in comic books, at least in the smaller publishers. Marvel and DC Comics have made some strides forward, but it’s really in publishers like Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and Boom! Studios that stories not predicated on decades worth of continuity are allowed to flourish under the writings and artistry of creators actively concerned with making their comics relevant to modern readers. One of those books is Saga.

SkishIn Saga, Alana and Marko, lovers from warring worlds, flee the war, marry, and have a child, Hazel, whose future self narrates the story of her family as they’re pursued by her parents’ peoples as well as robotic royalty, bounty hunters, ex-fiancés, and journalists across the galaxy. That’s as simplistic as the explanation gets without going into the complexities of the story, but suffice it to say that writer Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad) and artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, DV8: Gods and Monsters, Archie) purposely set out to make Saga a book without limitations and, by their own admission, difficult to adapt.

First released in March of 2012 by Image Comics, Saga has since received as much critical acclaim as it has controversy. It should surprise no one that the bulk of the controversy concerns the art, which is understandable since comic books are, first and foremost, a visual medium. For all of the critical analysis of Saga’s narrative through Vaughan’s writing, it’s Staples’ art that grabs our attention. The fully realized sci-fi/fantasy landscape of war, sex, magic, technology, and family is as much a product of Staples’ imagination as it is Vaughan’s scripting.

Vaughan’s writing on Saga has received high praise, especially from this author, for his criticisms of art, war, and media, much of which stems from what John Parker of ComicsAlliance refers to as Vaughan’s examination of the anxieties of post-9/11 America where the genre serves as “the delivery system to explore significant real-world issues.” Interestingly enough, Saga is one of the most diverse books regarding gender, race, and sexual oriFiona and Brianentation but never brings attention to it because, in the world of Saga, these aren’t issues.

Vaughan is certainly no stranger to casts of characters with a high female count. Saga continues this predilection, sporting an ensemble cast of at least seven female characters in play, as of the current run, compared to the roughly four or five male characters that appear. It’s the diversity of race and sexual orientation, however, where Saga earns major points with readers. While both Vaughan and Staples have pointed out that race and skin color have no correlation in Saga, Staples was instrumental in the multicultural design of the characters, creating a book where only one of the main characters, out of roughly twelve, who could even be considered white (hint: it’s The Will). According to Vaughan at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con:

“When I was pitching to Fiona, I said, ‘I don’t care how Alana looks, but no redheads. There’s a glut of redheads in comics.’ And Fiona was like, ‘Well, she doesn’t have to be white either.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, right.’” [Source: Hero Complex]

GwenThis revelation from Vaughan shows the importance of diversity amongst creative teams alongside their books. Would the story have changed if Alana was white? Probably not, but by not defaulting to white, Staples gave Saga its own default and a galaxy enriched by diversity. Said Staples:

“Representation and diversity in comics is something that’s important to me, and I also think it just makes a more realistic universe when you’re constructing a brand-new world and you want it to feel authentic. Most of the people on Earth are not white. Why would this galaxy be?” [Source: Hero Complex]

The same is true for the visibility of LGBTQ characters. Though Alana and Marko are the straight couple at the center of the story, the Saga universe is far more fluid when it comes to sexuality. Gwendolyn, Marko’s ex, is most likely bi-sexual since she lost her virginity to a woman named Velour. Upsher and Doff are journalists and a committed gay couple trying to put the truth out about Alana’s defection. And Hazel’s babysitter Izabel recently talked about her girlfriend Windy with whom she loved and lost after stepping on a landmine. Sexual orientation is incidental to upsher and doffthe characters of Saga. The more pressing concern is the struggle for love amidst the tragedy of war.

When asked why he wrote so many strong female characters, Joss Whedon infamously answered, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” The same is true for Saga. We still have to keep pointing out just how diverse it is because there’s a dearth of comic books like Saga for readers interested in anything other than what mainstream publishers think is “diverse”. Thankfully, more comic books are beginning to emerge in the same vein as Saga, giving readers a playground of characters where they can see themselves without having to rely on surrogates due to lack of options. I’d like to be able to say things will change as time goes by, and I’m confident it will, but for now we’ll have to rely on Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples to continue delivering in their gorgeous, poignant, and heart-wrenching space opera.

saga-volume-3-geek-out

This article was originally written for Comics and Human Rights week on Talking Comics and the London School of Economics.

 

With shooting due to start sometime this year, we’re finally getting some news regarding who will fill the roster for TNT’s foray into the superhero genre with Titans. Based on the Teen Titans from DC Comics as well as New Teen Titans, and just simply Titans if you’ve followed the team up until the New 52 reboot, Titans, according to the leaked script, will feature Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Barbara Gordon/Oracle?, Hank Hall/Hawk, Dawn Granger/Dove, with Titansappearances towards the end of the pilot by Rachel Roth/Raven and Koriand’r/Starfire. The late appearance of the final two is most likely due to not wanting viewers overwhelmed by so many characters, or the pilot is a two-parter so as to give the characters room to breathe. Fingers crossed.

It’s definitely an interesting mishmash and not a lineup I was expecting at all. It’s essentially a combination of Teen Titans and Birds of Prey since Barbara will be in a wheelchair and acting as Oracle, though her hacker identity isn’t featured in the script. The exclusion of Cyborg and Beast Boy, based on the popular lineup for the Teen Titans cartoon, is probably because Beast Boy’s ability to change into any animal would be too costly for the show’s budget and Cyborg has been deemed hands off because of the up-coming Justice League movies and his solo film. If that’s the case with Cyborg, it’s still odd considering he’s so well-known for being in the Titans and Warner Bros. doesn’t seem to have a problem with two guys playing the Flash in the movie and television universes. Of course, that doesn’t mean the characters won’t birdsofprey12658appear in the show, but it may be in the form of supporting cast or guest appearances. However, with the exclusion of Starfire, the cast could use a person of color because it’s not looking all that diverse; the exception being the 4:2 ratio of female to male cast members.

Believe me, it’s very rare for a superhero cast to have more women on the team than men unless the book or show is specifically an all-female team. If you were to take a look at the casts currently on television, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the most balanced cast of about 4 female regular leads and 5 male regular leads; Arrow comes in next with 3:4, The Flash with 2:5, Agent Carter with 2:5, and Constantine with 1:3. Gotham would be the equivalent of Agents of SHIELD with the addition of Morena Baccarin putting the cast at 6:8, but the ensemble usually favors the male regulars since the cases revolve around Jim Gordon, meaning characters like Selina Kyle, Ivy Pepper (sigh), or Renee Montoya end up taking a backseat for several episodes. So it’s worth noting that Gotham has more female characters than any of the other shows but doesn’t use them as often. tumblr_nezyn6sS9v1t7nmyno1_500

My biggest worry about the inclusion of Barbara Gordon is the love triangle that seems inevitable between her, Nightwing, and Starfire. In the comics, Babs was never part of the Teen Titans. After getting shot by the Joker and ending up paralyzed from the waist down, she created the Oracle persona in order to continue fighting crime by being the eyes and ears of practically the entire DC Universe. Eventually this led to becoming leader of the Birds of Prey, an all-female team that occasionally had some men on the roster. In lieu of Cyborg’s usual role as tech expert on the team, Barbara makes sense to replace him, but if the intention is to have her there so the show can tease will-they-or-won’t-they between her and Dick or Dick and Starfire, then that’s gonna get old real quick. Babs, Dick, and Kori are all great characters in their own right and they deserve good writing and character development. I’m not saying there can’t be tension – the comics have been teasing both couples for so long it’s not out Nightwing-and-Starfire-dc-comics-14486473-300-455of the question – but it has to be more than Babs and Kori fighting for Dick’s affections or Dick waffling between the two. There’s history between all of them, which can make for great stories that don’t have to have a romantic bent. But this is only speculation based on cast lineup, so the show could very well prove me wrong.

Also worth noting is Titans will be the first live action debuts for Nightwing and Oracle. Granted, this will be true for all of the Titans, but Nightwing and Oracle are fairly special cases because of the fanbase and the characters’ history in media. Because of the longevity of the character, more people associate Dick Grayson with being Robin because they read the Golden and Silver Age comics or watched the Batman TV show from the 60s. The cartoons often default to Dick as Robin too, utilizing the contrasting personalities of Dick and Bruce to form the Dynamic Duo. It wasn’t until Batman: The Animated Series was revamped as The New Batman Adventures in the late 90s that we saw the first appearance of an animated Nightwing. Since then, almost every cartoon with Dick Grayson features either a glimpse of Nightwing or a progression from sidekick to solo hero. The movies, thus far…oh there’s not much to talk about.

Oracle has been featured even less. As far as iconography goes, Babs has always been Batgirl outside of the comics and any chance of her going through the violent circumstances that make her Oracle are either sidestepped or Nightwing-Titans-Togethermissing entirely. Aside from the Birds of Prey TV show from 2002, only The Batman in the episode “Artifacts” has featured Barbara as Oracle. It’s a step in the right direction to feature a handicapped superhero because, right now, representation and visibility are paramount. DC Comics got a lot of flack for making Barbara Batgirl again, so perhaps Titans can offer us a kickass Babs who just happens to be in a wheelchair.

Despite some of the misgivings I have, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Titans when it premieres. There are a lot of heroes and heroines in the DCU that need some time and attention and hopefully this show will do right by a few more. And with this particular roster, there’s room for a lot of characters to show up.

Also, was this the role Steven R. McQueen was hinting at?

Two years and four seasons, with plenty of bumps along the way, and here we are at the end of Korra’s legend. At least the part that’s animated. We’ve seen Korra grow in so many ways – as a person, a woman, and as the Avatar. From adorable prodigy to well-intentioned, though naive and hot-headed, teenager to mature adult, Korra’s journeybook four has been fraught with multiple crises. But in her persistence and resolve to prove herself Korra, and by extension her creators, have given us a story of triumph over insurmountable odds; one that embraces mature themes of class equality, spirituality, revolution, and the price paid for being guardian to an advanced world. While The Legend of Korra owes its very existence to the popularity and fantastic storytelling of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the sequel series has, in my opinion, exceeded the legacy of its predecessor, carving out its own space as an iconic piece of Western animation.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko in 2012, Korra was originally a one season exploration of the world created in Avatar: The Last Airbender through the eyes of the next Avatar in the cycle, a girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra (Janet Varney). Had the show only run for the one season, I’m sure we would have looked at it as a fun trip back into the realm of fantasy where people bend the elements and the Avatar thwarts yet another nefarious plot in order to restore balance. The subsequent seasons, however, became the show’s proving ground. After some backtracking in season two, Korra forged ahead with an agenda that challenged the status quo of storytelling in animation and what is ostensibly viewed as “children’s programming” while still being an entertaining and engaging action-adventure fantasy series.

korra-all-the-avatarsThe Legend of Korra is a multifaceted show that defies simple categorization. Over the course of four seasons we’ve seen this work to the show’s advantage as it essentially grew up under the scrutiny of a generation steeped in internet culture. Avatar: The Last Airbender began and ended before Twitter, Tumblr, and a number of websites were in heavy rotation, but Korra was born within the epicenter of social media and the blogosphere, a place where representation and visibility were, and still are, of the utmost importance. But even with a woman of color as the lead, Korra wasn’t a guaranteed success especially in an environment where anything with a female lead was considered “tricky” or some kind of magical unicorn never to be seen twice. Two years later and the attitude of viewing audiences have towards properties like Korra has changed for the better and yet remained frustratingly the same. DiMartino and Konietzko, or Bryke as they’re affectionately called, aren’t responsible for all matters concerning representation, but they still took it upon themselves to make certain that Korra resonated with her audience despite consistent network interference. By ending the series with Korra and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel) holding hands and staring lovingly at each other as they enter the Spirit World for a much-needed vacation, The Legend of Korra solidified itself as a program indicative of its time and place. Having a queer woman of color in the lead role of a Korrasamifantasy action series put Korra in the unique position of taking a small, but still huge, step forward in the nuanced portrayal of women of color and the LGBTQ community in Western animation and children’s programming. Yes, I’m well aware that anime has been doing this for quite some time.

The uniqueness of the show also stems from a combination of storytelling and character development that, again, isn’t seen a lot in Western animation. For instance, the show follows patterns reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”, but goes to even greater lengths to examine those tropes through the lens of Eastern storytelling. From the beginning, Korra has been a character who embraced the call to action. In fact, it was the central conceit of the pilot and the starting point for the series as a whole. Korra is a more proactive character in her approach to being the Avatar; where Aang tried to find the peaceful route first, Korra was always ready for a fight and the storytelling reflected those traits. Avatar: The Last Airbender was all about the overarching plot of Aang and friends going up against the Fire Lord while The Legend of Korra had contained arcs for each season, which allowed Korra to go up against multiple villains. The advantage for Korra lies in the character growth achieved through her battles with Amon, Unalaq and Vaatu, the Red Lotus, and Kuvira. It’s also another means of showing that the hero’s journey is hardly a linear model with a definitive beginning and end. If legend-of-korra-series-finale-korraanything, the hero’s journey is an ongoing process with multiple starts and stops along the way. The destination is still important, but the journey matters more in the long run and Korra’s journey has been all about growth and change in a world going through the same process.

As a character, Korra has an inherent connection to the struggles of the world she protects. Throughout the series her internal doubts and conflicts are reflected externally. Season one was about elitism and equality in a technologically advanced world, season two the lack of spiritual connection as a result of these advancements, season three the chaos of adjusting to rapid change, and season four the need to control in order to combat the turmoil of chaos. All of these hardships belong to Korra but they are just as present in Republic City, the four elemental nations, and in her enemies. This grounds Korra and gives her personal stakes in the fate of the world regardless of her position as the Avatar. Even if she turned away from the problems facing the world they still live within her. That’s incentive enough to act, but Korra’s peace of mind only appears to be fulfilled when she and the world are in balance.

Season four was a dense playground of themes and ideas, the most poignant being the Buddhist philosophy of suffering. At the end of season three, Korra is poisoned and nearly killed by Zaheer (Henry Rollins). She survives but is broken by the latest in a long line of battles. For three years she attempts to regain her strength and force herself into readiness, but only by accepting the trauma, and learning from her enemies, does she truly begin to heal. Suffering leads to perspective and wisdom, which ultimately allows her to triumph over Kuvira (Zelda Williams); not through the awesome power of being the Avatar but through sympathy and empathy. It was the worst kept Legend-of-Korra-The-Last-Stand-10secret that Korra and Kuvira were reflections of each other. Hell, Bolin (P.J. Byrne) practically spells it out for the audience and I’m fairly certain that the name Kuvira was chosen to be just similar enough to Korra so we wouldn’t miss it. The point being that the similarities between the two in attitude and demeanor forced Korra to go beyond her training as a fighter and find another angle of approach. While the two have some intense and amazingly animated battles thanks to Studio Mir, their conflict ends only when Korra offers a sympathetic ear, something that season one Korra wouldn’t have considered because she didn’t have the experience needed in order to understand Kuvira’s position or her plight. By resolving the situation as peaceably as possible, Korra comes into her own as the Avatar, and the person, she wants to be.

What is specific to Korra, but still a point of connection between her and the audience, is the idea of relevancy. The entire series hinges on a single question: Does the world still need the Avatar? By series end, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” All the mecha suits, spirit kaiju, and political haranguing aside, Korra is still relevant, still necessary to the world around her. But just as importantly, Korra and other shows in the same vein are needed and necessary to the viewing audience. Korra offers something we don’t see as often as we want in the television landscape: a place where women are valued.

beifong womenI’ve written before about the amazing cast of female characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, but the final season of Korra presented a plethora of women offering sage advice or kicking ass – both in Toph’s case. While Korra had plenty of male teachers and enemies, seasons three and four tipped the scale in favor of the show’s female characters. It doesn’t make Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), Mako (David Faustino), Bolin, Bumi, or Kai irrelevant, but it shows that the creators wanted to celebrate women as heroes, villains, mothers, sisters, friends, lovers, leaders, scientists, spiritual guides, and everything else under the sun. The fact that Bolin’s hero is Toph still makes me happy because it isn’t often that we see male characters on television, animated or otherwise, showing unabashed hero-worship for a female character. Bolin, more than any male character in the series, has been the ultimate cheerleader for women. He’s the first to believe in Korra, laying out all of the qualities that make her amazing, he worships Toph, and he defends Kuvira’s cause because he wants to see the good in it before the reality of his situation sets in. Through Bolin, Bryke found their own surrogate to tell the male audience that the Avatar universe is a world of celebration for women and men. Yes, it’s a realm of fantasy, but fantasy has a way of influencing reality.Bolin and Mako

Is it a feminist agenda? Of course, but the seeds have been there since Avatar. Making the next Avatar a woman as well as the reveal that the Avatar is a literal avatar for Raava, the female spirit of light and peace, are choices on the part of the creators to enrich their world as they see fit. By emphasizing the importance of the feminine spirit alongside the extensive female cast, DiMartino and Konietzko have crafted a realm where girls and women are equal in every way. The Legend of Korra accomplishes this without ever having to explicitly state the obvious in-universe compared to the first season of Avatar that went a long way to get the point across that women could fight just as well as men. The women of Korra are, without question, active agents in their world. Youngsters like Ikki and Jinora make just as much impact as the older Lin (Mindy Sterling) and Suyin (Anne Heche) Beifong. Age doesn’t denote skill or importance, giving girls of all ages in the viewing audience a contrasting image of how to define their own value and self-worth as they grow up.

So what’s next for Korra? Not sure. Hopefully a comic book is in the works a la the continuing adventures of Avatar: The Last Airbender that bridged the two series. After the series finale and the ending that will definitely be talked about for some time, it’s clear that there’s plenty of unexplored territory to cover. As Korra says to Tenzin, she’s not done learning. But if this is the last we see of Korra and company, then it’s definitely a legend worth telling.

Cast-edited

Mabel

Before Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra gave us a glut of charismatic and realized female characters, before Steven Universe brought us diverse, retro-futuristic superheroes like Garnet, Amethyst, and Diamond, and before Gravity Falls and Bob’s Burgers gave us silly yet poignant characters like Mabel, Tina, and Louise respectively (two of which are voiced by Kristen Schaal), there was the first wave of female cartoon characters that influenced a generation of children, girls and boys, and paved the way for the latest Renaissance of animation where more gender and racially diverse casts are becoming the norm. Representation in media may not seem like a huge deal to some, but we often forget (some more than others) that, as children, the media we consume imprints on us in ways we don’t fully understand until well into adulthood. The goggles of nostalgia being what they are, the current generation is benefiting from what my, and the generations before me, lacked.

Animated cartoons as a medium of entertainment have roughly been around since the turn of the 20th century when the 1908 French film, Fantasmagorie, featured the first instance of traditional, hand-drawn, animation. From there, animated shorts began appearing as experimental films themselves or as shorts before features. Walt Disney and Warner Bros. both developed their signature styles and characters through these shorts. But it wasn’t until 1958 that we got the first purely animated half-hour show featured on television, Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound. Two years later we got The Flintstones and the rest, they say, is cata_bettyboophistory. But like the history books we read, the figures dominating the scene were mostly male and white – though I have no idea what the racial breakdown is amongst characters like Wally Gator, Snagglepuss, and the cast of Top Cat.

Female characters in early animation and even in the classic cartoons from the 30s on down were largely used as nagging wives, wide-eyed innocent dimwits, or sexual objects. The 60s and 70s gave us some marginal steps forwards with Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby-Doo, but the ad hoc mystery-solving teen plus animal sidekick shows rarely produced memorable, let alone influential, female characters. As for depictions of race in cartoons, yeah we all know why Disney and Warner Bros. keep a lot of those locked away. Though kudos to Amazon and iTunes for adding a disclaimer to the Tom and Jerry cartoons. It’s a necessary step in educating people on how cartoons, like any medium, are the product of their time and what was considered acceptable.

So why am I bringing this up? Why am I adding historical context to what is ostensibly a list of favorite female cartoon characters from the 80s and 90s? Because we need to understand how the cartoons kids and adults watch now got to this point. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the continuing tropes of the Smurfette Principle and Tokenism in many cartoons airing currently, but now more than ever are audiences likely to voice their opinions and demand change. Furthermore, creators of these cartoons are more likely to purposefully craft these new cartoons because they understand the changing climate and the need for greater representation and character types. And when you start looking at where the seeds of change were planted, it’s only a few decades back when impressionable kids like myself got a taste of what was yet to come.

 

Babs Bunny (Tiny Toon Adventures) and Dot Warner (Animaniacs)

For all intents and purposes, Babs and Dot share very similar character traits. For one, they’re both voiced by the incomparable Tress MacNeille, but they’re also characters who, like their male counterparts, are just as silly, if not sillier. It’s not a case of them being “just one of the guys”, Babs and Dot are active participants in the shenanigans of their respective shows. And they’re funny as hell!Babs

Though Babs is the epitome of the Smurfette Principle on a visual level (right down to being pink), the writers of Tiny Toons made her a character in her own right. She’s obsessed with perfecting her impressions and goes to great lengths to show her mother just how funny she is despite the lack of attention. There was also a very touching episode called “Fields of Honey” where Babs laments the fact that she has no mentor the equivalent of Buster to Bugs or Plucky to Daffy, though she ends up finding a mentor in the made up Honey of the Bosko and Honey cartoons from the 30s. It’s a bit of commentary on the fact that the Looney Tunes lacked female characters save for Granny, Witch Hazel, and the poor cat often harassed by Pepe Le Pew. Tiny Toons may have created some female counterparts to their male characters, but they made sure they were distinctive. Elmira, anyone?

dot and melDot, like Babs, somewhat embodies the Smurfette Principle, but like her older brothers she’s just as capable of being the voice of reason as she is being an instigator of their torturous fun at the expense of others. Adorned in a little pink skirt and a bow on her head, Dot also has the added dimension of acting “girly”, often proclaiming to others how cute she is, but never lacks in hilarity because of it. Her cuteness, the frequent catchphrases of her ridiculously long name, and the monstrous pet living in a tiny box, all create a complete package. And she’s just as prone to exhibiting the “female gaze” on attractive men as her brothers are on women even if the phrase, “Hello, Nurse!” doesn’t apply in Dot’s case, though that makes it even funnier. This was, of course, a play on what male characters in the Warner Bros. cartoons would do when faced with a sexualized female character, but in the case of Animaniacs, Dot could be just as obsessively attracted to someone as Yakko or Wakko. Babs definitely had her moments like this as well, but most of her efforts were put into getting Buster’s attention. Dot had no ongoing “love interest”, she was just interested.

 

April O’Neil (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)april-o-neil

Though she’s gone through as many iterations as her terrapin friends, April is usually the grounding element for viewers in case a title like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t completely prepare you for what the show was about. It’s through April (voiced by Renae Jacobs) we learn the origin story of the turtles and it’s through April that the turtles usually have reason to get involved with the plot. Saving April from whatever mess she’d gotten herself into was part of the formula of the show, but that formula also showed us that April was the type of reporter who would do anything to get her story. The whole reason she meets the turtles is because her continued investigation into the Foot Clan puts her face to face with Shredder’s goons, driving her into the sewers to save herself. Though Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was considered a boys cartoon, their main source of information and connection to the city above was an ambitious woman willing to put herself in danger because she believed in doing the right thing or getting the best camera angle.

 

Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)

LydiaBased, and I mean loosely based, on the movie of the same name, the cartoon version of Lydia (voiced by Alyson Court) was a breath of fresh Gothic air in the cartoon landscape. Keeping the bright, pastel settings of Tim Burton’s suburbia, Lydia continued to stick out with her black hair, pale skin, and purple eyeshadow in comparison to the perpetually tanned and blonde-haired girls that populated her middle school. Her story is not that dissimilar from other girls whose interests and looks deviate from what it considered “normal”. She’s isolated and alone and not even the well-intentioned platitudes of her parents make the loneliness go away. Fortunately for Lydia, she has a place she can go to escape the world that ineffectively forces her to conform where a friend awaits who truly understands her and cares about her for the person that she is. In the Neitherworld, Beetlejuice’s home, Lydia can be herself and through her friendship with Beetlejuice she comes into her own as a girl of intelligence and spirit willing to play along with her friend’s schemes and have fun in her topsy-turvy home away from home. It’s what we all wish for, the ability to escape for a while and spend time with a friend who brings out the best in us. Being Goth, however, though it ostracized her from the other people in her cookie cutter community, was never depicted negatively. In fact, it’s what made Lydia distinctive, an individual with a mind of her own. She paved the way for characters like Sam Manson (Danny Phantom) and Marceline (Adventure Time), showing that Goth girls are more than just heavy eyeliner and an interest in spiders. Though that red outfit…man, do I want that for Halloween!

 

Gosalyn Mallard (Darkwing Duck)gosalyn

By all rights, and I swear I’ll fight you over this, Gosalyn Mallard is the perfect example of a tomboy in cartoons. There’s honestly no other character like Gosalyn (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh), that I can think of, who exhibits the same traits and sports the same attitude. A ball of energy and spunk, Gosalyn is the adopted daughter of Drake Mallard, better known as Darkwing Duck. And while most superheroes struggle with balancing home life with their heroic activities, one of Darkwing’s greatest obstacles is keeping Gosalyn away from danger. This is a girl who thinks having a superhero father is the greatest thing ever and isn’t afraid to jump in the sidecar of a motorcycle and follow him into the fray. Gosalyn is Darkwing’s biggest fan, always encouraging him to take down the bad guys no matter how many punches it takes – to them or to him. She’s smart, quick-witted, and ridiculously adorable when she needs to be, which all feeds into her desires to sidestep Darkwing’s rules and be an active participant in taking down the criminals of St. Canard. Gosalyn has even joined Darkwing as a hero in her own right; as Yucky Duck, the Crimson Quackette, and the Quivering Quack, though never for very long. It’s also the father-daughter relationship that maintains the emotional core of the show, another aspect that isn’t explored all that often in cartoons. Many episodes made sure to show how much Darkwing and Gosalyn love each other, including an episode where Gosalyn’s accidental trip to the future showed a darker version of her father obsessed with extreme order and justice because he thought he couldn’t save her. Without Gosalyn, Darkwing isn’t the same hero, showing how important her presence and her encouragement are to the “terror that flaps in the night”.

 

Gadget (Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers)

gadget2Yet another character voiced by Tress MacNeille, this one you could say is my bias poking through because people probably remember Rescue Rangers for the catchy theme song and its titular characters than they necessarily remember Gadget. But if you do remember Gadget as being more than “The Girl” of the group, then you’re also aware of how a character like her could be inspiration to young girls who might have dreams of going into fields like science or engineering. Gadget is a genius and the resident inventor of the group, always ready to MacGyver a piece of machinery out of what we might consider junk to help save the day. Granted, her inventions didn’t always work as planned, but Gadget was always quick on her feet to repair or alter her inventions when need be. Still, she suffered from the occasional bouts of self-esteem, especially when it came to her usefulness and her place on the team. One of the more well-known episodes deals with Gadget suffering from an identity crisis after her inventions repeatedly fail, leading her to join the Cola Cult in order to find a place to belong. Of course, by the end everything works out. This is Disney. Still, episodes like “The Case of the Cola Cult” are important to fleshing out characters, even if we don’t notice it as much when we’re children. It showed Gadget on another level, a girl who could experience self-doubt yet still find a way to overcome it. Despite her failures, Gadget keeps trying.

 

Detective Elisa Maza (Gargoyles)Elisa Maza

Like April O’Neil, Elisa Maza (voiced by Salli Richardson-Whitfield) serves the purpose of being the human connection between the newly woken gargoyles and the modern world. A detective for the NYPD, Elisa is the second human Goliath encounters in New York, but she proves to be the most influential, showing him how Xanatos and Demona are using him and his clan for their own purposes. Though she often acts as the voice of reason and a source of sisterly comfort, Elisa is just as prone to impulsiveness and obsession when it comes to her job in the police department. She’s not afraid to confront those more powerful than her, especially when she sees them abusing their power at the expense of those incapable of defending themselves. Dealing with the mob, monsters, and her own family are just about on equal footing in Elisa’s world, though she’s never one to back down from a fight. And while it shouldn’t be a significant factor, Elisa’s mixed-race heritage was a huge step in the right direction for female characters and cartoons in general. Elisa is half African-American and half Native American, though she and her siblings seem to favor one race over the other instead of an actual mix. The point, however, is that Elisa being the product of a mixed-race family is important for the greater themes of representation in media. The default for female leads can’t be “white” anymore than it is for male leads and children need to be able to see themselves in the media they consume. We can all identify with a character who’s different from us, but we also need to see ourselves reflected back, to know that we’re just as important. And Elisa got to be that character for some kids.

So, yeah, that’s a lot of words about a few characters but they’re characters I believe shouldn’t be discounted for how they potentially influenced a generation of children who would or will grow up to be the next wave of creators in animation and media in general. Their impact, great or small, is still an impact worth noting.

So, who would you add to this list? I know there are more out there, but these were the characters most memorable to me. Let me know who and why!