In some parts of the country, the weather might not be taking the hint that it is time for autumn, but Hollywood is more than happy to leave summer (and its terrible box office) behind. As the wind turns crisp and pumpkin spice creeps into every consumable food imaginable, there are only two more chances for film studios to dip into the superhero money well for 2017. One of those sure bets is the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. The Marvel movie will concentrate on Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) fall from grace when Hela (Cate Blanchett) takes over Asgard, but it will also introduce Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Asgard has never been short on warriors, but previous entries in the franchise put the focus on Jamie Alexander’s Sif. Now director Taika Waititi is opening up the lore to include the Valkyrior, battle-hardened demo-goddesses who were once led by Valkyrie. However, adding pegasus-riding warriors meant a new landscape full of trope pitfalls. A minefield Waititi is well aware of. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, the Thor: Ragnarok director took screenwriters to task for their single-dimensional take on strong female characters.
“There’s one word I hate in all scripts in Hollywood at the moment in describing women, and that is the word ‘badass.’ That word has just crept into every script that is pushed around this town now. It’s terrible, because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a dumb male writer’s way of saying, ‘Ah, uh, she’s like, she, uh, she’s tough.’ Then straight after that it’s like, ‘She’s badass, but she’s got a beauty about her. And she’s sexy. Unconsciously sexy.”
I’m not sure if Waititi rolled his eyes when uttering the phrase “unconsciously sexy” but I sure did. The phrase is so loaded and overplayed that even One Direction wrote a song about it. “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” is an ode to the desire for women to be sexy but also have low self-esteem so that “average Joe” thinks he has a chance.
Hollywood has struggled since the start to create three-dimensional, flawed female characters. From the very first film starring the very first movie star (The Girl and The Outlaw starring Florence Lawrence) to today, the structure of “badass” women remains virtually unchanged. She’s “not like the other girls” and has a natural magnetism that captures the love of every man she meets, friend or enemy. Even if she’s more capable than those around her, a moment will come when she must be rescued by men (known as damseling) and, above all, she must be f*ckable.
Power structures such as Hollywood change from the top down, albeit only when the pressure become unbearable. The fact that a high profile director such as Taika Waititi is aware of lazy tropes for “strong female characters” indicates a sea change in how women are being written. Bring on the flawed women who are more than the sum of their physical traits. It’s about time.