Final Girl or Action Hero: Will This Finally Be an Actual Female-led, Feminist Terminator Movie?

First official photo of  Natalia Reyes as “Dani Ramos,” Mackenzie Davis as “Grace” and Linda Hamilton as “Sarah Connor” in Terminator 2019

So, as a feminist running a physical feminist fan site (that would be the one you are on right now) for Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, I have to break this to you and often to myself:
The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are not actually feminist movies.  They are not really female led, either. Yeah, it sucks. I truly wish I could tell you differently, but I’ve been dealing with this fact for years. Those of you where have been reading recently probably have picked up on this with some of my recent posts.

But, but Sarah Connor is the lead, right? Well, only kind of.

The title character is, obviously, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. It is pretty standard for monster movie titles to be or to allude to the monster, which was the case of The Terminator which was a Final Girl horror piece with a twist a the end.  Sarah doesn’t breath a sigh of relief that it’s all over after she crushes the monster, Sarah and Maxwhile the audience knows better, she heads off to prepare for the fact it’s just starting. She’s also pregnant because the movie also broke the usual virginal requirement for Final Girls. Final Girls are only kind of the lead character, she does win, after all, but really the monster is the star. The Final Girls can even change in each movie.

Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is again the title character, now a franchise name, in Terminator 2, this time as the hero. It’s, of course, handy that it as the T1000 is also a Terminator, the monster still gets in on the title (this, of course, means there was a female title character in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but as awesome a person and actress as Kristanna Loken is, there was no saving that movie). While Sarah is shown as tough and capable and, for many of us, felt like the lead, this time she doesn’t even kill the monster in the end like a Final Girl. She comes close, but is short that last shell that might have driven the T1000 over the edge and into the molten steal It is the Terminator who has to take the final shot. She does then get to kill this reprogrammed ally, but it’s somehow not the same as watching her crush the monster that tried to kill her and did killed everyone she loved, “you’re terminated, fucker!” And now that she is not a Final Girl, being the only fully developed female character in the movie, she sadly fits in the One of the Boys mode far too much.

While some of us, of all genders, where hooked by the transformation of Sarah Connor, a lot of the male audience was focused on the Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, whether it was  the monster of the first or the hero of the second. Some seem to, disturbingly but not surprisingly, identify more with the monster. This demographic was where Cameron likely saw the money coming from, the myth of the young white male target audience that is even harder to kill than a Terminator (although recent box office successes of Wonder Woman and Black Panther are giving some hope). It was certainly where merchandisers saw their money coming from. While there were multiple, many unrelated to the movie in any way, Terminator figures as well as a John Connor one, made by Kenner between 1991 and 1997 there was never a Sarah Connor figure. We did not get a Sarah Connor figure from T2 until McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs 5 came out with three variants 13 years after the movie. Surprise, they did well enough that several other figures have been made since from the truly horrible Sideshow one in 2007 to the outstanding Hot Toys 2009 and N.E.C.A. 2015 figures.

Hot Toys Sarah Connor, Dryad Designs Morrígan

When I’m not writing about pop culture “strong women” or fitness, I research and write about warriors and gender issues in Old Irish literature and culture. My educational background is in Celtic and women’s studies and it’s been something I have continued to research seriously for over 30 years now. This may seem like an aside, but it definitely connects for me as there are layers of similarity in studying women warriors in both modern media and Old Irish literature. One big one how there are few women warriors in either early Irish or modern stories, yet many, including many feminists, declare that those few mean that women are so well represented that we should just shut the fuck up about it now.

Which, of course, I’m not. Because counting off two, three or a dozen “strong female characters” actually does more to demonstrate that there actually are not that many compared to “strong male characters” which are, of course, usually just called “characters” because male is seen as the default and physical strength is something considered normal for men but exceptional for women. You can’t make similar lists of all the “strong male characters” in either the Irish literature or modern movies and television so easily, there are just too many. Instead people will list their favorites or the best know. And also ignore all the dozens of supporting characters that are male and in roles indicating strength, while even in the background there are few such women. If we need further reminding of the issue, we just need to see how white cis-het men get so defensive about being “erased” when there are “too many” characters (or writers or directors…) who are not white cis-het men. That’s because there are some who truly believe that that white cis-het maleness is the Default Human and everyone else is Other, so they must outnumber everyone all the time.  One woman (or PoC or LGBTQ+ person) is “equality,” two is “really pushing it,” more than that is “Feminazi SJWs* Ruining My Childhood!” Even though, you know, the world doesn’t work that way, so why should fiction? And if your world really does work that way, you have created a safe little bubble for yourself haven’t you? Guess what? That means that both your childhood and your current bubble need ruining. Time to join the real and very diverse world.

The other reason not to step back is that we’re usually having to find these characters in works that are non-feminist, even misogynist, and even when not that heavily so were created by men and not from women’s points of view. This is extremely obvious in the Old Irish literature, which we have not only written down by male clerics but most of the translations we currently have were done by men during the Victorian era. The point of view we get these stories from is very male and often hostile towards women. Which, oddly, is part of the reason why the fantasy of women warriors and women’s “strange” equality in early Irish culture is still believed by many, despite the evidence that women were not equal and any living female warriors wold have been outside the culture which is actually the very focus of what I write about on that subject. “If men wrote about them it must be they existed.” Except that it doesn’t work that way, either, and the actual presentation of female warriors in these texts is actually very negative. They are usually the enemies of the hero, sometimes monstrous. If positive, they are veiled as Otherworldly, Outsiders, and serve the hero of the story as teachers who are only warriors to pass the skills on and sometimes sacrifice themselves for his future. Well, kind of like some view Sarah’s role with John and maybe Dani now, which at least is a positive change regarding the gender of the student but it’s making some of us really worried about the possibility of that sacrifice aspect. (blatant self-promotion, this is all total simplification, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing you can visit  Scáth na Feannóige)

Yet, while the viewpoint, the lens, that male writers might have see these female characters in was often down right misogynist, some of those women seem heroic to women today. In feminist literary studies there is the concept of looking at how different readers/listeners/viewers of a story see the story through different lenses, only some sharing the same point of view with the writers. Irish literature, among other forms, is being studied through this theory. Women, like Queen Medb of Connacht may have been written in a bad light, but women today and possibly women of early Ireland, often feel empowered by the story of her “unwomanly” ambitions and actions. (for those interested this is my review of what I consider to be the most thorough study of Medb’s story using this theory. Several of my papers on my site linked above as well as the blog linked here examine others)

Whether we are discussing ancient tales or modern movies, the story itself does not have to be written as feminist for us to find feminist messages. James Cameron did not create Sarah Connor as a feminist icon, that is clear in where the movie falls short. Like Medb is now made a feminist icon by feminists own vision of her, feminists, including Linda Hamilton through her amazing performance, made Sarah Connor a feminist icon. That’s our lens, we don’t need to pretend Cameron had the same one.

Today, men still tell most of the stories about women. It’s 2018 and it’s just now that we are really seeing an effort in film and television to even the playing field for women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folk. Oh, just as with characters in movies and literature, yes, we can name women who have held power in Hollywood, including Gale Anne Hurd who played such a vital role in bringing The Terminator to us both as writer and producer, and doing the leg work to sell it, to begin with.  But white cis-het men still control things. Some of these men have worked to uplift women, POC and LGBTQ+ colleagues by consciously hiring and centering their voices. Others, as we have seen, continue to treat women directors and writers as if they are mythical, as satirized here. The San Diego Comic-Con had a panel of female filmmakers discussing  the very real issues of working in Hollywood today.  Some women who have made progress are definitely lifting other women up behind the camera, like Marvel’s Jessica Jones show runner Melissa Rosenberg hiring only female directors for season 2 and again for season 3, which will include the star Krysten Ritter’s directorial debut.

We are now seeing more female writers and directors in action movies, especially comic book based ones which is coming up as we’re finally getting female-led comic book based movies at all.  Wonder Woman, which, remember, Cameron infamously attacked as “not really feminist,” was initially written by men, but put in the talented directorial hands of Patty Jenkins who co-wrote Wonder Woman 1984.  The upcoming Captain Marvel movie is directed by Anna Boden with Ryan Fleck, both are co-writers along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet (who also co-wrote Tomb Raider), Nicole Perlman, Liz Flahive, Meg LeFauve and Carly Mensch. The treatment for Black Widow was written by Nicole Perlman and it will be directed by Cate Shortland.

Hurd actually co-wrote The Terminator script, as well as producing the first two films. She has been given “characters by” writing credit on Terminator 3, Genisys, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and some of the video games. We’ll see if she gets them with the new movie or not. She should  William Wisher is the only other writer credited on Terminator 2, as well as having writing credit on the first one with Cameron and Hurd.  But for Cameron’s return to the franchise, he and co-producer David Ellison hired a roomful of writers. All men. And he hired another man to direct. While attacking Jenkin’s Wonder Woman as not as “feminist as T2,” Cameron somehow forgot to include any actual female presence anywhere behind the camera of his supposedly feminist new movie.

I’m not going to say that men can’t write and direct Strong Female Characters or even express feminist ideals. And Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is a strong character, in both the first movie when she’s thrown into a situation she has no preparation for (and was co-written by a woman) and the second where she is more obviously the epitome of the trope. But she is alone as a major female presence in T2.

Since then some men have clearly learned that the Strong Female Character doesn’t have to be One of the Boys and exist only in the company of men. Notable cases in recent times are, of course, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Black Panther, all were written and directed by men (with women among the production staff, at least), but all featured multiple, diverse (including older) strong female characters that spoke to and worked with each other. Of course, all were were both subject to toxic “fan” attacks over this aspect (as well as over race in Black Panther, which also was an issue they had with TLJ). Both Kelly Marie Tran and Daisy Ridley of of TLJ were driven off Instagram due to these “fans'” harassment. A group of such “fans” claimed responsibility for that attack had also attempted to undermine the success of Black Panther and failed spectacularly.

These are the movies I had thought we had coming back in the 1990s, strong, capable and, yes, muscular, women following in Sarah Connor’s footsteps. But more of them in any given movie or show. And diversity in strengths, characters, sexuality, race, size, appearance.  Ah…how naive I was.  We are still only barely getting this now, despite the examples noted above, despite how upset so many misogynists are. The reality is that in all movies, but especially action, women are still not equally represented, no where close.

Terminator 2 should have been a game changer, Linda’s portrayal of Sarah certainly did push boundaries  in the hearts and minds of many women. Her physicality, her toughness, her organization, her prepping, even her psychotic break from knowing the truth and being gaslighted by…everyone…was stupendous for a female character.  But it didn’t really change the game in movies to the extent it could have. This is likely because for all her strength, Sarah was alone, therefore such a breakthrough was not even considered by filmmakers at the time.  And she was presented as primarily the future hero’s mother for all her muscle and skill, with no alternative non-maternal fighting women involved for balance as she was the only fully realized female character in the entire film. Add the cringey faux feminist rant that is shut down by her son and that she needs rescuing in the end, Sarah is a “strong female character” that doesn’t challenge fragile masculinity all that much. Therefore any progress stopped there, where we see similar characters, well, it’s usually clear that she’s One of the Boys.

If we needed more evidence that T2 wasn’t female-led nor feminist, it’s the fanboys who are right now crying over the inclusion of two more female characters and the release of a photo of the three as the first official photo, many who are claiming “T2 was real feminism, this is fake feminism.  Because 1) they think they have the right to proclaim what is or isn’t feminism and 2) they think that equality means that men outnumber women at least 3-1. I will note that it’s not just men, there are women out there who even call themselves “feminists” who gladly support this delusion and join in on the attacks. Like the “Sarah alone was real feminism, if there are other strong women for her to work with that fake feminism” I was informed by a guy that he had it on the “creds” of YouTube “feminists” that “SW: A New Hope with Leia alone was real feminism, while four prominent women in TlJ as fake feminism ..and totally erased the men.”  So, yeah, it’s not just men who are the problem, some women gladly attack and we are seeing that with Terminator now as well. But we can look at the actual numbers, to see exactly how feminist ANH was in comparison to all the SW movies through TLJ really were; even TLJ fails at reaching 50% of the dialogue being by women. Yet some very fragile men see that as erasure. Meanwhile, I would love to see such a count on T2 and the upcoming movie.

The toxic misogyny has certainly showing up in the Terminator fandom since this movie was announced, primarily at first in the form of ageism because Linda Hamilton is now 61. Mind you, Arnold Schwarzenegger is 71 which has prompted some ageist remarks, but far fewer than towards Linda. The photos of Mackenzie Davis have been attacked since the beginning, often with misgendering or vile tr*nny attacks. There were murmurings of “this better not be Feminazi SJWs* Ruining My Childhood!” again.  The release of the photo at top, the first official photo for the movie, of course, has verified that’s what it is for this type and the attacks have been standard. Natalia Reyes had mostly been ignored in the English and other non-Spanish speaking media and social media until then. As she looks more conventionally “feminine” at this point, may save her from some attack. It does make me kind of glad that Hamilton does not do social media (seriously, folks, none of those profiles or pages are her or official, most are straight forward, but at least one person has accounts everywhere claiming to be her, they are not) and Davis does not seem to either. Otherwise, they might end up driven off by the shit like Ridley and Tran were.

But in a way, I’m taking this hysterical vitriol as a good sign. Change is coming, slower than some of us might like, but the tantrums over it make it clear that it’s happening. So it makes me hopeful that despite the lack of women behind the scenes, with three strong actresses playing strong roles, Terminator 2019 might just take major steps towards being an actual feminist movie….as defined by a middle aged feminist with a background in women’s studies who doesn’t really give a flying fuck whether actual feminism hurts certain men’s feelings or not. And if it is and does hurt those fragile feelings, all the better. Women, non-binary and non-fragile men spend money too, and again and again it’s being shown we will fill those seats that the misogynists won’t. And given that Mackenzie Davis appears to be at least part machine, given her apparent surgical scars and therefore may qualify as a Terminator, this may have a female title character.

I am hoping that what we are seeing does indicate that the female fans of Sarah Connor are a considered fanbase this time. That we will, indeed be seeing these three characters be well developed and featured. And that THEY DON’T KILL OFF SARAH CONNOR! I also really hope that we get action figures of all three right off the bat!

*Social Justice Warrior being used as a pejorative is one of the most Bizarro World things I have seen in all this mess. But, see, I’m old enough to remember the term being used as a positive descriptive and consider the idea of fighting for social justice being negative one of the fucking stupidest things I have ever seen. Obviously, I am using it ironically to mock those who use it as a slur here.

“Terrible Mothers:” Sarah Connor and Hippolyta

*****SPOILER ALERT for what is supposed to be a major spoiler for Wonder Woman, although it seemed pretty obvious. Also a bit spoilery for T2 but given that you are reading this that probably isn’t an issue at this point ****

One of the things that struck me about James Cameron’s tone-deaf rants about Wonder Woman, was that in the first one he said of Sarah Connor “…,she was a terrible mother, ….” This seems a bit odd as it certainly has nothing to do with comparing her to Diana who is not a mother. It does bring home the fact that James Cameron for all his claims of being Sarah and John“feminist” does seem to be a bit fixated on women as mothers. Especially as “terrible mothers.” Remember, he turned Ripley into a “Terrible Mother” who is guilt ridden over missing her daughter’s life and finds redemption in taking care of an orphan. This is just another problematic issue.

First, I don’t really think that Sarah is a Terrible Mother, as such, but rather she’s a mother faced with a overwhelming task to raise a child she knows must face absolute hell and who she also knows she must prepare him for it. This certainly turns her into a dysfunctional mother in many ways, she was not a warm and cuddly mother, at least by the time we see them in Terminator 2. Sarah is not gentle with John, she speaks harshly to him, a harshness she knows is nothing compared to what is waiting for him  She may well have never baked one fucking cookie out in the jungle. She might have at one time. She may have once tucked him into bed with a story, but she undoubtedly included stories of how he was the Savior of Mankind, rather than to convince him otherwise. She loves her child, but she knows the truth, she’s the only one who does, and it refocuses the way she raises her child.

Before T2 happens, Sarah decided she could not have her son face such a horror, nor could she let humanity face it if it could be stopped. She set out to try to stop Judgment Day before it happens. “She tried to blow up a computer factory but she got shot and arrested.” This, of course, means John ends up with another terrible mother as well as terrible father in his foster parents. It cuts Sarah off from John when she knows he is now being told that all she taught him was a lie and that he is even more vulnerable. She wanted to stop what was going to happen to him, but failing that needs to make sure he can still grow up to be the Savior of Mankind.

When they are reunited it is with Sarah’s greatest fear not only happening but walking right  into the asylum. Primal terror kicks in to her already high adrenaline drive and she doesn’t seem to register that her son, who she is so desperate to get to and protect, is walking right in with her nightmare and her first response is to flee. It’s only her son who can bring her back to the present and allow her to adjust to the actual information that this nightmare is there to save them and a greater nightmare is now after them. She never responds lovingly to her reunion with her son, his moment of hope that she might is actually a check for Sarah scolds John after checking for injuriesinjuries followed by scolding him for risking his life for hers. It’s her job, after all, to risk hers for him. She’s on overdrive, she’s still in primal instincts which now have returned to being about protecting her child and assuring he is so far okay. It seems cold, but, honestly, it’s also understandable to me. Apparently, not to James Cameron.

Of course, Sarah returns to the decision to stop John’s (and the rest of the world, all the other children) hellish future. She doesn’t make the greatest choice for that, but she moves forward immediately, leaving her son with a guardian she believes can protect him better than she could. She likely saw herself even more expendable now that a machine can guard him.

Everything Sarah does is to protect her child but also protect the world. He must be protected and prepared to save mankind if she fails, but she will do everything she can to try to keep him from every having to face doing that. She might not be a typical mother, but I don’t see that as terrible.

Hippolyta was charged with exactly the same task, raising a child, Diana, who is the Savior of Mankind. Rather than a time traveler sent back by her child the messenger and father is the God Zeus. Like John, Diana is meant to be trained and prepared for the task ahead and if she fails it could be the doom of humanity. Hippolyta deals with this mission rather differently than Sarah.

Hippolyta lies.

Hippolyta might not bake cookies either, but I’m sure she has a servant who does. Despite being queen, she does seem to be a warm loving Mommy who cuddles Diana and tucks her Diana tucked and and being told the storyin at night with bedtime stories. Bedtime stories are designed to gaslight this Savior of Mankind into believing she anything but. To lie to her about what the God Killer is. To try to convince her not to want to train to prepare for a battle she doesn’t even know she is supposed to face. Hippolyta tells Diana the story of the Amazons, of the war between the Gods, of Ares’ vanquishing but also that she, Diana, is made of clay with no father. And she speaks of the God Killer as if it were a thing, a sword wielded by the mightiest among them, “and that is not you, Diana.” She is gentle and is dooming her child and all of humanity through her gentleness.

Hippolyta lies. I am far from the only one who has noted that Hippolyta is one of the villains in the movie.

Unlike Sarah, despite not wanting her child to face what she must, Hippolyta never chooses to try prevent it by facing Ares herself.  Unlike Sarah, Hippolyta refuses to train her child for Hippolyta and young dianawhat is to come. But fortunately, also, unlike Sarah she is not alone in knowing that Diana is the Savior of Mankind. All the other Amazons know it, but even her sister cannot turn her around, choosing to add to lies by training Diana in secret.

Even after Hippolyta catches them training and is then convinced to allow it, even while she does tell Antiope to train her to be better than even herself, she still does not reveal the truth to Diana. At every turn she claims that the more Diana’s ready to face Ares, the sooner Ares will find her. Even though the less Diana is ready, the more likely she is is to fail. She continues this even as Diana is leaving to seek out Ares not knowing she is the God killer or the real extent of her power.

Both these mothers have a horrible burden to raise a child who is meant to face horrors to save the world. Neither wishes this on their child, but it is their fate as well as humanity’s. Yet while Sarah does everything she can to make sure John is able to fulfill his destiny, then tries to prevent it by putting herself on the line to try to stop Judgment day; Hippolyta does everything she can to prevent Diana from fulfilling hers, yet never tries to take on the burden herself. Sorry, James Cameron, Sarah has nothing on Hippolyta when it comes to being a Terrible Mother.

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 

The Real Sarah Connor is back!

Now don’t just kill her!

So, I was wrong about it being clear Linda Hamilton would not be brought back as Sarah Connor in the Terminator reboot. On Sept. 19, 2017 James Cameron announced that she will be back. I like being Sarah, heading outwrong about things like this, it’s one of the great things about tending to be a pessimist, I am pleasantly surprised more often than horribly disappointed. You might think I’m completely thrilled and you’d only be a little wrong about that.

I am. But, given my nature as I’ve just pointed out, I’m also only cautiously so. There are several things that make me feel this might not be as great as it could be. Again, I do hope I am pleasantly surprised…but I think there will need to be some changes from information we have for that to happen. It, of course, doesn’t help that for 26 years I’ve wanted this and can imagine what would be perfect….and perfect becomes harder to match once you’ve built it up that long. ~:p

So here are a few things that bother me and/or hopefully will be worked on.

  1. It seems that Cameron is using the phrase “passing the torch” an awful lot in regards to bringing back both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda. He noted an (oddly phrased) “eighteen-something” actress being sought for the lead during his announcement that Linda was coming back.
    While it’s awesome to have another, even more than one (preferably more than one, really…female action characters are still often token even when they are leads still,) new female character, this sounds an awful lot like Sarah will make a brief, probably Swan Song, appearance and then be done. Or at the very most kept way in the background.  But, yeah, killing her off somehow seems likely with the whole “passing the torch” emphasis. This is not what we want!
    I can’t speak for all SCCS members, but I’m sure that most want what I want which is to see Sarah centered in this new trilogy, in the entire thing. Yes, with other strong female characters…and some show of diversity. He’s taking about the importance of a older seasoned warrior, but needs to remember that doesn’t mean it’s time to kill that older seasoned warrior. We want new characters and Sarah!
  2. Where are the female creators?
    At this point we have production designer Sonja Klaus and producer Dana Goldberg, a Genisys producer appear to be the only women behind the scenes.  There is not a single woman in the writers room! Not one! So still far from a balance and the number of those involved in horrid sequels that need to be forgotten is higher to.  “…no, not like that!” And still all men in the writer’s room.
    We have two female characters mentioned, hopefully more and not one female writer? I can tell you that without input from women female characters tend to fall flat. Yeah, even Sarah Connor could have been better written, although I think Linda’s ability to play her fixed much of what could have gone sour with a weaker actress, in the first place. That Cameron doesn’t even really get women is clear in his assessment of Sarah as a “terrible mother” instead of a mother whose need to protect might have made her less nurturing that he seems to think mothers should be. And he sort of missed the other arch, where she and John find each other again.
    If you are going to get another male writer how about William Wisher?
    But along with some women!
    Seriously, get some female writers! And while you’re at it….
  3. Get rid of Josh Friedman!!!! Now!  I mean, fine, let him “Dance with Smurfs” there’s nothing there for him to damage it’s a bad, racist idea all around, but get him away from Sarah! What he did to the character of Sarah Connor was horrific and yet not surprising from a man who said “The flinty heroines played by Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton in the Alien and Terminator movies were well done, but they’re outdated. They’re the first evolutionary step in the female-action genre. I want to see women respond to danger and solve problems differently than men. Otherwise, what’s the point.” (Philadelphia Inquirer June 14, 1995) He should never have been allowed near the character and certainly should not be again!
  4. I also do not want to see all the strong women who are prominent in this be white. Also let’s not have all the writers be white either (I do not know all of these men, so I don’t know whether they are or not at this point, but some WOC are needed to write WOC).
  5. Cameron’s comments about Wonder Woman also bring up concerns which relate directly to the issue of there being no female writers and Friedman believing all women should think the same way and that that is different than men. And that is any idea that all women should be the same ….specifically all “strong women” should be the same… even if these two men are somehow working together while having opposing views of how all women should be. Let Sarah/Linda be Sarah as she’ll have evolved. Let other women be themselves.
    Get some women to help figure out how women might actually be rather than what men think they should be.
  6. On the flip side, don’t pit different strengths against each other. Cameron’s WW rant also makes me concerned that we’ll see the “women can’t get along with each other” trope as well. With Friedman involved, maybe even make it about how a woman “who is strong in different ways than men” is better than the “flinty” Sarah.
    Just do not fucking do that!
  7. Give Sarah and other female characters a lot more depth than Cameron indicated, in his WW attack, he can understand women have.  Sarah wasn’t a “terrible mother” she was a mother focused on protecting her child rather than on nurturing him because of the extreme circumstances. Again, give Sarah a lot of fucking screen time to develop her and ….hire some female writers to help you out with that.
  8. Just don’t forget that there of the multiple fanbases for the first two Terminator movies women who are focused on Linda as Sarah Connor are a strong and loyal one. Many of us were waiting for a hero like her back in our 20s and 30s and found her an inspiration. We still want a hero like her, well,we want her, our age or older now that we’re middle age. We still know we can kick ass and we want to see someone like us on screend doing so.  Younger women start to figure out that they will get older, too, and love to see older women kicking ass so they know the always will be able to.
    Many of us loved the Vuvalini of the Many Mothers in Mad Max: Fury Road. We loved Robin Write as Antiope and other middle aged (although younger than some of us) Amazons in Wonder Woman, which we’re not happy Cameron felt a need to diss. And we were overjoyed to see Carrie Fisher back as General Leia in the new Star Wars movies, I mean, words just can’t express it (especially now, having lost this not only talent actress but a outspoken, ass kicking woman all around).
    But we don’t want to just be cheering briefly for such characters and see them mostly fade into the background and, often, die (of course, most of us want a respectful and heroic death for Leia, but wish fervently that she could have lived through the end of the trilogy). We have no intention of fading into the background ourselves, so we want to see Sarah Connor centered in these three movies.
    Kill her off and most of us will not be back for the rest of the movies. It’s that simple. Sarah Connor is the only reason some of us are fans.

Seriously, this could be the greatest thing in movie history for me. Or it could be a shit show.  Without women having direct input from behind the scenes, I think it’s likely to end up the latter, even with Linda.

 

20 years since Judgment Day

Today, when I start this (but likely not when I post it), is the 20th anniversary of Judgment Day.  On Saturday we went to see Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 3D, a rather big deal as the theater was 4 hours away. Also cushy with recliners.  And nearly empty so it was almost like having a private viewing with the only awareness of the handful of others a few rows behind was their laughter during quiet funny scenes.   I felt the 3D effect was well done, but then I am a big fan of 3D….it does help get my ADHD brain focused, it seems.  Something that might have helped given that I’ve seen T2 hundreds of times by now,  and usually watch while working out rather than lounging in a comfy recliner.  It was a memorable event.

Unlike, it seems my first viewing. Which seems odd for a movie I am so obsessed with. I realized this last year, when I thought about writing something for the 25th anniversary of the movie. It is one reason I didn’t, although the greater one was my focus on trying to save my dogs which meant I wasn’t writing much of anything. It seemed odd. I saw it several times that summer, but I don’t remember the first. I don’t remember if I saw it alone or with someone, although I remember seeing it with several other people at various times.

Mind you, I remember the first time I heard about the movie.  A few years ago I wrote this in my personal blog when examining the influence Sarah Connor had on my spiritual path, in the context of discussion going on in the Pagan blogosphere about pop culture in Paganism.

Never having seen The Terminator, I didn’t pay much attention when a friend, a mentor on the warrior path, and his roommate were talking about the second movie about to come out. I seem to remember them focused on Arnie and machines. *yawn* Later that day, I was a bit surprised when I visited other friends (at the time) who were not, AFAIK, Arnie fans anymore than I was, to find that they were all excited about Terminator 2 as well.Then they showed me her photo in a magazine (remember those things? ah, yes, tell me the machines aren’t taking over, after all). Linda Hamilton, dressed in black and with all that muscle.

You know how you don’t know you were looking for something until you find it? Yeah, one of those moments. Or rather it built, I sought out the first movie, got to the new one the first chance I got. The first moment when Sarah is on the screen doing chin ups was probably when it really hit. This was something I was looking for, I just hadn’t known it.

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 2 Warrior Cults and Charm Schools

I was into fitness before I saw the movie, working to become as strong as I could, walking a warrior path that I still strive for. To see real muscle on a female character in an action film blew me away….before I saw the movie. So just learning about it apparently superseded the actual first seeing of it….which then gets blurred with all the others. The chin-up scene is inspiring, every damn time, so the memory of the first…it just got lost in there, I guess.

Sarah's ionic chin upSeeing the scene in 3D, especially after so many viewings on my poor ancient TV that is in the gym, and the poor ancient VHS playing the poor ancient tape that I bough used as soon as it was available after renting it so many times (yup….the DVD player is in the living room….but it might get moved as the T2 tape really is on its last legs…and I do have two different DVD editions) was amazing, all the same. And from there it almost felt like it was the first time….except that I do know it line for line.  ~:p

26 years later and Sarah Connor remains my ultimate pop culture icon to this day. When it came out I did think we were about to have a great influx of physically strong female action leads in movies on a similar vein. And we really didn’t. We got a few, but most were not as relatable for various reasons.  We had super powered Buffy, corny Xena, potentially fun but not what I was looking for (tbh, the Buffy from the alternate reality appeared like she would have been much more appealing to me). We had quirky Tank Girl, which I liked but didn’t become fanatical about. It wasn’t until recently when Mad Max: Fury Road gave us not just the kick ass Imperator Furiosa but also the Vuvalini of Many Mothers who she came from and also allowed the “victim” wives to reveal their own strengths. And, of course, the new Star Wars movies offered more, including showing the strength Leia which was somewhat overshadowed in the first trilogy despite Carrie Fishers own strength and talent.

Looking back, T2‘s Sarah Connor really should have been more of a step than it ended up being because we needed to move forward from it. I love it, I love both Sarah and Linda Hamilton….but even before seeing it so large and 3D, I knew the movie itself failed its potential as far as the character could have been. Largely this is due to the need for Schwarzenegger to be the hero. While The Terminator, in classic Final Girl fashion had Sarah start off helpless but be the one to kill the monster in the end and then twist the Final Girl formula by showing her having already started the journey to become a warrior and heading on to continue it, T2 ended with her falling short of saving her son and herself and the T800 needing to come in to save them. To be honest, I think T2 without Schwarzenegger might have been far better, to have the Terminator who helped them not be top billed, not be the hero at the end. Sarah should have been the actual lead, but was not.

The movie also fell into the Not Like Other Girls/One of the Guys trope. To some extent as this was a sort of “nuclear family unit” (you can take or leave the obvious pun in there as you wish) thing that is understandable. However, it could have been circumvented a little by more background women in roles that were not so “motherly.”  Oh, you have the security guard, but other wise you have Janelle, not a good mother but still considered by the authorities to be better than Sarah, obviously, you had the nurse and you have Jolanda.

Jolanda was, actually a poor portrayal from a survivalist stand point. The oldest child was old enough to hide with the others and be ready to defend them if his parents were taken out.  Jolanda should have flanked the three intruders when Enrique confronted them. That alone would have been a huge step. Or, you know, at least have her come out from hiding securing a long gun.

A few obviously female cops might have helped. It looked like there might have been a couple in the stand off outside Cyberdyne….but all recognizable cops were clearly male. There really were female cops in 1991.  Hell, there were in 1984 but it was made clear that all the ones in the station in The Terminator were “men with families, children.”  Given no real substantial female roles other than Sarah, I feel it fails the Bechdel Test although it’s been given a disputed pass.  After all, “Open it or I’ll pump him full of this shit!” is still talking about a man and the guard doesn’t seem to be named.  I don’t think “Get on the floor, bitch. Fucking down now!” really counts either. Her greeting with Jolanda is kind of “to the side” and not really a conversation but is the closest thing to giving it a pass.

Of course, despite Jame Cameron’s attack on Wonder Woman (something I may or may not comment on more at some point), it’s been made pretty damn clear that Terminator 2 was never about Sarah Connor lately. Even more so than it always has been. This is an Arnold movie, all following movies were Arnold movies including the one he wasn’t in at all. Sarah was incidental. The only time I have seen her character brought up while all the talk of the 3D release and Cameron’s upcoming reboot of the series has been, yeah, when it was used to attack an actual woman-led movie directed by a woman. Otherwise you’d think Sarah Connor wasn’t even in the damn movie. She certainly won’t be in future ones, instead Cameron is making sure that Arnold is in the first to pass it on to new characters. We certainly never will get anything like the once hoped for William Wisher script bring Sarah Connor back and “closing the loop.”

There are multiple Terminator franchise fandoms, really. I think the two that are hardest to reconcile are the ones focused on Future War and the one, such as the SCCS is part of, that focuses on Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton as the real lead of the first two movies. We clearly dreamed, when we still had dreams of good sequels (something some FW fans still might dream of, but I think those of us who are only in it for Sarah and only as played by Linda have given up), of far different sequels. Sarah’s story was best told in a continued battle with time trying to reset, with pushing the date of Judgment Day further into the future but still having to fight to keep it from happening. We did get a few okay, if not great sequels in that vein in comics and novels. We got one really horrible TV series attempt.  It’s clear by omission that Cameron has no interest in this sort of future for the franchise.  Of course, the reset is needed to be considered….we’re now closer to the date when the Terminators and Kyle Reese came through than we are Judgment day.  But no Sarah. No Linda.

Coming back from seeing T2 again on the big screen, 26 years older than i was when I saw it the first time. Still in awe of Linda’s strength, inside and out…and feeling a bit old, to tell the truth …I remember a long time debate with myself about the alternate ending showing Grandma Sarah 30 years after a Judgment Day that never happened.  Of course, I question the possibility of a Senator John given his mother’s felonies and his own involvement….I suppose it’s possible, he would have been seen as a kidnapped child.  But given the blame likely to have fallen on Sarah not just for what she did do with reason but also for murders committed by the T1000 and by the police (Miles Dyson’s death would be put on her and her vanished accomplice, obviously), would she ever be free and not in hiding?  Well, that might be workable.  We’ll never know.

First I was glad it wasn’t used, it could have been used to end the franchise and I had hoped for at least one sequel not long after T2 with Sarah fighting to keep the Future War from happening. And, yes, one without Schwarzenegger. But, well, we know what happened instead so. …  Then I wished to Gods they did end it there. But now I see how much of that was caught in my relative youth. Wanting to see this in my 30s with a 30something Sarah, because by 50 we’d both have withered away, right?   ~:p

So thinking about this now, just 10 years from that ending, I can’t help but think how utterly awesome it would be to have had this ending and ….go from there! To have all this “it’s completely over, all is peaceful(ish)” and then time starts to finally try to reset. And Grandma Sarah and Senator John have to find their inner warriors, and we probably find out that Grandma actually has kept prepping and kept fit all along, and fight Terminators from the future.  After all, now that I am over 50 and I am still prepping and still training, I so damn much want to watch 60 something Sarah kicking ass!

But, i can guarantee you that James Cameron is not waiting for my advice on this.  Not that he seems to be someone who listens to anyone, anyway.  But…damn…yeah, this is the sort of thing that is my total fanon now.  So I am going to leave this at that thought.  I hope those who want to see this and haven’t are able to…in the US some AMC theaters are running it tonight and tomorrow.

 

Saigh’s bio

Sarah Connor and Other Action Heroines will Kick Ass at the Artemis Film Festival!

So yes, we’ve sucked at doing this regularly but….I had to come on here becasue I couldn’t help but get seriously excited when I heard of the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival happening in Los Angeles April 24-26, 2015!

They have been fundraising to make this happen at WomenKickAss.com and now have the funds for a single screen so it is a go!  They are trying to raise enough for at least a second screen and maybe a third!  Please, if you can, help out, if not snag that link and share it around!  The fundraiser ends on March 19!

ETA: And there will be a Twitter Party on March 19 from 7pm – 8pm PST!

Because this is important!  If we’re going to get more movies with women action leads, we need to support and celebrate the effort and show that we are an audience to be reckoned with!  And it’s vital that we have more of these movies out there, because it’s not that we just want them, its that we need them!  At any age and we especially need this to grow so young women and girls can see women as equal, in all ways! We need this festival to thrive!

There will be competitions for films and screenplays and women of action films will be honored!

This includes Linda Hamilton receiving the Artemis Action Icon Award! Well, who else would it be?  Because for so many of us, even after more than two decades she just really is The Icon!

Actress, stunt woman, author Angela Meryl will be receiving the Artemis Stunt Unsung Heroine Award and stunt  woman  and stunt coordinator Maja Aro will be receiving the Artemis Stunt Warrior Award.

You can see a message from festival founder, actress and stunt woman Melanie Wise in this video.  Please remember that the Women Kick Ass fundraiser has been extended to March 19 and therefore you still have three days to join in and make this event really take off!


The Women Kick Ass Project from Artemis on Vimeo.

Of course, if you can help out and actually go to it ….well, if I could I would! So do it! 

(cross posted at Shadow of the Hooded Crow Blog)