Tag Archives: Female Protagonists

E3 Reactions — Vanessa Tottle’s Top 3

Rise of the Tomb Raider

by Vanessa Tottle

When I was growing up, I had a lot of games. I think my parents gave me them because it kept me distracted and away from them for long periods of time. I loved the ones where I could play as women. Instead of watching someone else with perfect hair on a California sound stage kick the shit out of supernatural creatures, I could do it myself.

In Lara Croft, I found a woman who did everything the men did in action movies, but I got to shoot the guns, climb the ancient ruins, and drive the motorcycles myself. I do what I do now (paleontology) in part because I got to be a woman in short shorts and climbing shoes when I was just a kid who thought the world ended at the edges of my hazy town and couldn’t always be sure it would start again the next morning. Yes, Core Design expanded her tits in every sequel until Crystal Dynamics took over the series, but games were the one experience I had in having agency over anything, and Tomb Raider gave me the best games in which I had that agency as a woman. That opened up what I thought I could do in the world.

I have only been watching E3 for a few years, but Ubisoft blew the doors off this one like no other company before: their lineup included Assassin’s Creed Unity (AssU for short), Far Cry 4, The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege, The Crew, and Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Then they were asked why AssU and Far Cry 4 lacked playable women in the multiplayer. An innocent enough question. Ubisoft could have said female playables didn’t fit their vision or that they wanted to focus on some male-driven theme. Not perfect answers, but at least it would mean they had considered the possibility. Instead, they insisted animating female characters would have doubled their development time. Which is bullshit. Which their former animation lead came out and said was bullshit. Which, for a game being developed by nine studios, like AssU is, is especially bullshit.

So forget them. Why?

I’ve got an H.R. Giger Alien to face off against using only a motion sensor and a crème brulee torch. Alien: Isolation looks like everything I want in a horror game: dark and moody, a focus on sneaking around an overpowered opponent, survival against a constant threat instead of victory-by-shooting gallery. All set against a late 70s vision of our technological future and the vast emptiness of space. Its protagonist? Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen. Good thing, too. Like in Aliens, I don’t know that your average man with 20 guns could hack it. A woman with a blowtorch and a schematic? The Alien doesn’t stand a chance.

Why else? Because Faith is my Batman. The heroine of the first Mirror’s Edge returns in the second, which for a very long time looked like it wouldn’t get made. Faith slows down when she picks up a gun. It’s extra weight, and she has to use her hands to aim. In a first-person parkour game, that means death. She’s much better at navigating the architecture of a level to beat someone up, avoid combat altogether, or bypass conflict. Imagine playing a game that lets you be Jackie Chan. This is it.

And finally, Rise of the Tomb Raider. When Crystal Dynamics rebooted the franchise in 2013 with Tomb Raider, it kept the supernatural elements of the series and grounded everything else. When you fire a gun, it feels powerful. When you jam a pick into someone’s skull, it takes effort and feels revolting. It was more survival game than shooter or platformer. Lara’s world was no longer glamour and ritz, it was dirt and grime. She’s a woman who gets beat up by her opponents and her environment, but who gets back up again and again, always in the service of helping someone, discovering something new, or solving a mystery. If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know why that speaks to me.

So go back to the 18th century, Ubisoft. The rest of us have fucking games to play.

Vanessa is getting her PhD in vertebrate paleontology, with a special focus in geochemistry. She has participated in digs on four different continents. Eat your heart our, Lara Croft. You can read more of her work here.

Wednesday Collective — Female Protagonists, Hospital Horrors, Orson Welles & Kate Mulgrew

Does Hollywood Make Less By Sidelining Women?
Walt Hickey

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

When the newest Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, latest in Marvel’s Avenger series, exploded across the internet – despite Blue Swede’s “ooga-chakas” and a lovingly crafted CGI mutant raccoon superhero – I couldn’t help but see at the center of the story yet another fratty, 30-something old male displaying the kind of disrespect for authority that’s typically only acceptable for Wall Street bankers to show in the real world.

For once, we did have a female superhero in the mix – while the raccoon gets to shoot people and the muscly male alien gets to clobber heads, Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned Gamora clearly displays her power of taking off her shirt and appearing semi-nude. Marvel’s only franchise that seems to know how to treat women is Captain America. I fear the launch of another series will show that the Captain isn’t an evolution, but an exception.

FiveThirtyEight is a website that cut its statistical teeth changing the face of political polling and reporting. Since it left that particular arena, it’s focused on sports and media. This latest article lays out a box office analysis that shows which movies make more money – those in which women are central to the plot, or those in which women are only sidekicks to male protagonists.

“Hospitals and the Horror Writer’s Brain”
Jesse LaJeunesse

Hospital lead

Friend of the blog Jesse LaJeunesse is a horror writer. If you spend much of your day thinking up ways to scare yourself, it can feel surreal when life visits a real terror on you. Spending the night at the hospital while a loved one undergoes a variety of tests, for instance, can make the imagination run wild. Funny thing about imaginations, though…even if you’ve trained your brain to turn everything into a horror scene, those scenes can still be a comfort that keeps life’s real terror at bay.

A Blind Man in a Movie Critic’s World
Aaron Aradillas

Peggy Sue

A few years back, I had an allergic reaction to my contact lenses. Even after I removed them, I began to lose my vision and I felt like I had shards of glass in my eyes. I took a test once, years back, that said I’m ridiculously oriented toward being a visual learner – I’m in something like the 1%, but damned if I can remember what you just said to me out loud.

Eyesight is how I understand the world – I’m a movie critic and a filmmaker and a writer. I need to see to do the three things I love the most. I was terrified, but I went to the ER and the situation was addressed over the next few days with some droplets. It turned out to be a bump in the road, but I remember that initial feeling as my vision blurred into indistinct shapes. I knew it would probably be addressed, and that I’d likely be fine, but there was still that lurking threat in the back of my head that it might be something worse. Since then, they make contact lenses out of different materials – silicon instead of plastic, I believe – but I trust my glasses more.

Movie critic Aaron Aradillas underwent a terrifying experience earlier this year in which he lost his eyesight. His situation was far worse – he required surgery and spent weeks not knowing if he’d regain his vision. He still doesn’t know how long he’ll keep it, but he writes a touching piece about revisiting the movies of his youth, picturing iconic movie moments in his head as he heard them play out, and on the effect visual storytelling has to shape us, to make us empathize with others, to teach us how to cope with the horrors of health scares, of loss, and of everyday life.

The Lost Film of Orson Welles Re-discovered
Joseph McBride

Too Much Johnson

The myth goes that legendary director Orson Welles stepped directly from radio broadcasting into directing his opus Citizen Kane. Like most myths, however, there’s much more history to it than that. Joseph McBride writes about a recently re-discovered farce Welles directed before Citizen Kane, called Too Much Johnson.

McBride discusses the rediscovered film and what it helps reveal about Welles’ influences and his transition from theatre and radio to film.

Wait for the White Cop, I’m Just the Comic Relief
Nick Stockton

Cops lead

Over at Quartz, Nick Stockton reports on a recent study that analyzes how movies use African-American police officers as the comic relief while their white partners get the job done. It’s a fairly damning article of the movie industry’s attitude toward minorities on film. They’ll be taking on the treatment of women in cop movies next.

How a Legal Battle Buried the Best Performance This Millenium
Eriq Gardner

Margaret cap

There’s a list I keep of what I consider the best performances I’ve seen. Peter O’Toole is at the top for Lawrence of Arabia. A gaggle of actors follow him – Anthony Hopkins (Titus), Charlize Theron (Monster), Roy Scheider (Sorceror), Bette Davis (All About Eve). Then I saw Margaret, a slow burn of a movie in which a young girl in New York tries to deal with the moral and legal ramifications of being partially responsible for another woman’s accidental death. Its beautiful, meditative tone progressively cracks as it gives itself over to the girl’s psychological crisis. I gave it some time to be absolutely positive. Then I added Anna Paquin’s name to that list, nearly at the top.

Barely anyone’s seen the film, despite being considered in critical circles as a masterpiece. The issue was that it had been involved in a drawn-out legal battle. During post-production, a single financier broke his contract and suddenly demanded creative control of the film. The battle that followed pushed one of the best films this millennium from a 2007 release and a potential Oscar push for Paquin toward a 2011 release that only saw 14 theaters. It was, effectively, direct-to-DVD.

The Hollywood Reporter covers the legal battle and its fallout from inception to settlement in a fascinating case study.

Kate Mulgrew Says the Sun Revolves Around the Earth
Sean O’Neal

Kate Mulgrew

The world’s foremost geocentrist and holocaust denier Robert Sungenis has manipulated public domain laws to cherry pick tidbits of footage that show prominent physicists apparently supporting his view that the sun revolves around the Earth. Well, they’re not really supporting it, they’re talking about other things entirely, but Sungenis is happy to show them standing in front of chalkboards full of equations as evidence that he’s right. Sungenis himself is an academic beast – he has a Ph.D. in religious studies he got from distance-learning institute Calamus Extension College in the Republic of Vanuatu. I’ll bet they’re very proud.

His “documentary” is making news because he seems to have tricked Kate Mulgrew into narrating it. She played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager and has been an outstanding voice supporting women’s involvement in science. She doesn’t seem to be as proud as I bet Calamus Extension College is, though. The A.V. Club runs down the entire story. As a fan of science, science-fiction, and Kate Mulgrew, I’d get upset if the whole thing weren’t really, really amusing.