James Cameron STFU!: Strong Women Do NOT Need Men’s Comparisons

Sarah and Ripley Shushing Cameron
By Axel Medellin –used with permission*

**Spoilers for both the first two Terminator movies and Wonder Woman….just in case you need them ***

James Cameron really needs to stop making feminist fans feel embarrassed to love Sarah Connor!

Because that’s what he’s doing with this tone-deaf attacks on Wonder Woman. Cameron apparently fancies himself to be Ares, as he sees Wonder Woman as his archenemy. Or more likely, he just thinks he’s God’s gift to “strong women” movies and just can’t take any competition, especially from a female director, while he’s apparently veiling for the Most Misogynist Faux-Feminist Male Filmmaker crown, currently worn by Joss Whedon

After that first attack on Wonder Woman in August, when Terminator 2: Judgment Day got a limited run in 3D format, Cameron was schooled by WW director Patty Jenkins. It’s clear he still doesn’t understand, as he double down on his statement a month later and got schooled by Wonder Woman (and Madame President) Lynda Carter. Never mind the absurdity that he is complaining about Wonder Woman being too sexual and an appeal to “….appeal to 18-year-old males or 14-year-old males…..” when he is promoting his future sequels that feature the females of a non-mammalian species as being half-naked with “tits.” Something he himself has said makes no sense but he felt was necessary, and very in keeping with the exploitative sexualization of native women which such White Savior Among Noble Savages trope movies like Avatar are centered on. Because, you know, at least it makes some sense that Diana has breasts, those weren’t just added in for those teen boys (many of whom seem to bitch that they aren’t big or shown enough….because, you know, for a costume based on the iconic strapless bathing suit, it’s pretty much Hoplite armor and there isn’t even any cleavage, yet you still recognize that its WW which was a great compromise and maybe one of the best things to come out this movie in the long run, as DC artist now are running with the idea)

To be honest, while I lost interest in Cameron’s work with Titanic, although my issues started with True Lies, complete with Jamie Lee Curtis’s character forced to do a strip tease, but I was won back by the underrated Strange Days directed by Kathryn Bigelow. But it was Avatar that completely made me lose any real respect for him. The racist, colonial, misogynist stereotypes are so blatant and so wrong that if we want to talk about steps backwards…well, he is the one actually running, blindly backwards. These are not the movies of the 21st century!

While he claims to want “strong female characters” he is making movies for those 14 to 18 year-old boys he thinks a pretty female lead in armor is meant to draw. T2 was really a fluke when it comes to him having female fans. And he’s losing us fast, here, because NEWS FLASH! a lot of female fans who are into T2 because Linda’s Sarah kicked ass and want to be excited for her return also enjoyed Wonder Woman and do not appreciate being told by some man that we are wrong to!

I was never really all that thrilled that he was involved at all with the upcoming Terminator reboot. Yes, I love the first two Terminator movies, but they do fall short of what they could have been and that, I believe, is completely at Cameron’s feet. I am glad he’s not hands on in this, but the problem is that he has instead built a team of all male writers, at least one of whom made a damn mockery of the character of Sarah Connor, a male director and left it to be run by two producers who also made a mockery of Sarah Connor, even though at least one producer is female. So while I’m glad Linda Hamilton is coming back as Sarah, I’d be much happier if it were with Gale Anne Hurd and William Wisher along with some female writers and a female director anxious and able to show that Jenkins success is not a fluke. I am really not hopeful this is going to be a remotely good movie. I hope she’s got an escape clause if she decides it sucks. Because with the team they have and talk of “passing the torch” I’m afraid it’s going to. I will watch it for her, right up until they kill her off.

Cameron’s insistence that he, and only he (and maybe these other men he’s gathered for TReboot) understands “strong women.” But, of course, his  mansplaining (because that is what it is) of “strong women,” only proves he does not understand women, strong or otherwise, fictional or real. A man who does isn’t going to go around telling female fans they are wrong for loving a movie that he just is not able to understand. And he obviously doesn’t.

Wonder Woman 1941
Wonder Woman in the beginning

Cameron doesn’t even seem capable of understanding that Wonder Woman/Diana is a this is a 76 year-old comic book icon that millions of girls and women have idolized all our lives. Some for 76 years even! That it’s a big deal that it took that long for the character to get a title movie or, for that matter, only got featured in a male-led DC movie just a few years ago. When Superman and Batman, the other two big name DC superheroes, have had many movie incarnations. That this movie was called a failure by many comic book movie fanboys long before it came out, on every conceivable social media forum. That we’ve been battling to get women-led comic book movies and told that they will fail, because Catwoman and Elektra, which were badly written crap (but so have been many male-led ones), failed so badly over a decade ago. That it was even under promoted until just before it’s release and yet it smashed records! Highest grossing action film directed by a woman. It is just $1 million shy of 2002 Spider-man for a comic book movie and is the highest grossing comic book origin movie of all time. That means no Batman, no Superman, not even Batman vs. Superman with Wonder Woman thrown in, has done so well.

And it is problematic that in 2017 all of this is newsworthy, is a big deal. It shouldn’t be and Terminator 2 should have led the way to change in the ’90s. But it didn’t. Perhaps in part because it was not a female-led action movie, Sarah Connor who was the protagonist Final Girl in the first, took a back seat in T2 to the story of a boy and his pet Terminator. There are no other strong female characters (“prepper” Jolanda is off hiding unarmed with her kids instead of teaming up with her husband to flank the intruders, which would make far more sense) or even any actually developed female characters at all.  This makes Sarah a Not Like Other Girls/One of the Guys trope (yes, a problem with WW after they leave Themyscira, too) The feminism of T2 is actually shut down by the badly written feminist rant that is, then, shut down by her little boy scolding her! While Sarah finished off the Terminator in The Terminator, she requires a last-minute rescue at the end of T2.

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah Connor’s arch from Final Girl to Warrior was an awesome thing. Obviously! I’ve been obsessing on Linda’s portrayal for 26 years, for crying out loud! But the movie wasn’t perfect and those imperfections make Cameron an utter hypocrite to say a single word about an actual female-led movie. Especially when there are things that are very problematic with Wonder Woman that are not the things he’s noting and things that he hasn’t done a remotely good job with. Like the Not Like Other Girls trope and lack of other, diverse, intersectional female characters after they leave the island.

It’s a big deal for there to be a blockbuster female-led action movie when female-led action movies in 2016 were at 3%, in a year that had a record-breaking, “huge” (sarcasm quotes) 29% of the 100 top grossing films being female-led, 37% over all.  Yeah, today, it’s still a big deal when women lead films at all, let alone action films. But, remember, Cameron did not make T2 female led. So….he has no business opening his mouth on this.

With such a small number of female-led action movies, we already do not have the diversity that male-led ones do.  But Cameron seems to feel that strong women only come in one type, that they should all be Sarah Connor knockoffs. This view is simplistic and one-dimensional, the idea that while male action characters can be, obviously, very varied (unless someone can find me where he said Superman shouldn’t be wearing that sexy, form-fitting costume), strong women must all be exactly alike. And, apparently, totally broken and mothers looking for redemption (he had to turn Ripley, a character he did not create, into a guilt-ridden abandoning mother who finds a second chance with an orphaned child). NEWS FLASH! the mother thing is the least interesting thing about either Sarah or Ripley for some of us.

What is interesting to me about Sarah is that she was a “normal woman” Final Girl who twisted the Final Girl trope at the end of the first movie by heading out to prepare for the future because she knows that the real monster hasn’t even been created yet. Whose arch into Terminator 2 show her as a determined survivalist. Here was a woman who had trained, prepared, organized to prepare her son for a horrible future, and then sacrificed herself in an attempt to keep him from having to face that. I fell in love and identified in many ways, sans the entire mother part, with Linda Hamilton’s Sarah. I thought both Linda and Cameron, as well as co-writer William Wisher and producer Gale Anne Hurd, were utterly awesome. I still have those feelings for Linda, Wisher and Hurd (and it doesn’t hurt that Wisher and Hurd both kindly supplied auction bling to help my chief Terminator Spotter get surgery! Thanks to The Terminator Fans. I am eternally grateful to all three! <3)

That Cameron is so focused on how beautiful Gal Gadot is has a certain creepy quality as he is comparing her to his ex-wife. But it is true that Sarah was not “dolled up.” That her hair got messy, that her clothing was practical from a modern standpoint (unlike the original bathing suit, Diana’s costume in the movie was, as I noted above, totally practical from an ancient Greek standpoint). She showed a lot of skin, though, for all the better to show the muscle (and, yes, I’d have loved to have seen more muscle on Wonder Woman, along with a beauty queen face as is standard in the comic today).

Sarah was also a “real person.” You know, as far as action film characters go. Like, say Kyle Reese. Wonder Woman/Diana is a comic book super-powered superhero, like Superman. Not even like Batman whose only super-power is that he’s rich and dysfunctional. In fact, while Superman is an alien, Diana is a fucking Goddess. Okay, the Goddess part is a recent addition to the character in the comics, but even before she was revealed as a Goddess she had been bestowed with “the strength of Hercules, the wisdom of Athena, the speed of Hermes and the beauty of Aphrodite.” So being Diana's battle-perfect hairbeautiful is a canonical part of the character, although how she was drawn did change with the ideals of beauty at the time. And as either supernatural Amazon or Goddess, if she wants to come out of a battle with perfect silky hair, she can and always did.

Being a supernatural super-powered superhero, her life story is also vastly different from Sarah’s. Sarah is, I think, far easier to relate to having some sort of vague average American upbringing in the original movies. Diana was born to save the world, in the version used in the movie. Actually, Diana is far more like John Connor than Sarah, born to save the world with a sort of “otherwordly” father, but their upbringings with this understanding were different even beyond one being supernatural and the other being Earthly paramilitary survivalist and if I were to compare Sarah with anyone in the movie it would be with Hippolyta. (Something I will probably do and have now done).

Now I am personally more drawn to Sarah’s “realness”…a mortal woman of our time who turned herself into a warrior and survivalist. Because that’s what I have tried to create in myself even before Terminator 2 came out.  Diana was someone I wanted to be back as a child. Hmm, actually at the time she didn’t have superpowers, but had lost them and took up karate, although I also had some older ones. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the higher fantasy of Wonder Woman or understand that that might appeal more to other women. Especially with the great, if brief, Amazon training scenes at the beginning.

Bottom line is, many women are fans of both Sarah Connor and Wonder Woman. And Ripley. And The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo. And Furiosa, the Wives and the Vuvalini of the Many Mothers. And General Leia, Rey and Jyn Erso. And others still too few, and sometimes not all that great. And we want more. More Sarah Connor from Linda Hamilton. More Wonder Woman and not just DCEU version. More comic book super-powered female heroes. More down to earth and messy haired and variously flawed mortal female heroes…some who are butch, some who are femme, some who are women of color, some who are queer, some who are trans women…..

Yes, we want it all!

And we don’t want men telling us that we don’t fucking understand strong women. It’s insulting. We do actually know a bit more than you do about strong women.

We are strong women!

 

*Sketch of Sarah Connor and Lt. Ellen Ripley shushing James Cameron on behalf of Diana/Wonder Woman was drawn by Axel Medellin, who kindly granted permission for use here, and  was originally posted Tumblr 

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