GIRL POWER COMES
WITH A HEFTY PRICE
Copyright 2003 www.miami.com
[ August 18th 2003 ]
opening moments of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The
Cradle of Life, Angelina Jolie gets to discover
an underwater treasure trove, escape from terrorists,
punch a shark in the nose and ride to safety on
its fin. She's not to be messed with - nor are
the ladies of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle,
a trio of high-flying, butt-kicking women who
dole out punishment to anyone who deserves it.
Both summer movies provide a superhero picture
of female empowerment, an image of ''girl power''
that matches up with the manly deeds of male action
also provide endless grist for teen male fantasies.
Jolie starts her derring-do in a skimpy black
bikini and quickly switches into a skin-tight
diving suit, which, despite covering every inch
of her body, leaves nothing to the imagination.
The Angels - Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore
- do their share of titillating as well, and in
case the movie didn't do it for you, they posed
barely clothed on the cover of the laddie mag
Maxim. The caption advertises "a triple helping
of hot wings.''
that Hollywood has found a way to appeal to feminists
and juveniles at the same time. Let the gals beat
up the bad guys. But only if they can pass for
Playboy centerfolds. ''The problem with so-called
girl power in recent Hollywood cinema is the adolescent
quality of the notion,'' said Christopher Sharrett,
a communications professor at Seton Hall University
in New Jersey. ``There's a tendency to make films
about women that are in fact crafted for adolescent
there's more than one side to this equation. Women
have the right to be sexy on camera, and anyone
of proper age has a right to look. Anyone who
stars in movies is bound to be good-looking. And
there's no reason why young women shouldn't thrill
to the sight of heroines holding their own with
heroes on-screen. But the irony of Lara and the
Angels is still hard to miss. Like the Spice Girls
before them, they're selling sex to pay for empowerment.
was a time when female action heroes didn't have
to show skin. Ripley took no prisoners in the
Alien movies, and did she wear a bikini? ''Sigourney
Weaver wouldn't put up with that,'' said Susan
Douglas, a communications professor at the University
of Michigan and author of the book Where the Girls
Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. And
when Alien director James Cameron turned Linda
Hamilton into an action heroine in Terminator
2, he accentuated her biceps, not her breasts.
was then, and this is now. The age of soft-core
men's magazines, Bud Lite ads, ''Stripperella''
and scantily clad ''wrestling'' babes has blurred
the line between going off and taking it off.
These days, Hollywood's action heroines can strut
their stuff only if their curves stay lodged in
the minds of 15-year-old male viewers. ''We're
seeing a kind of post-feminist version of girl
power,'' Douglas said. "Post-feminism wrongly
suggests that women have achieved total equality
with men, and therefore, under those circumstances,
it's now fine to go back to what we used to think
of as sexist or objectifying portrayals of women.''
independent film world has found a way to meet
these challenges with brains and brawn. Last year,
Real Women Have Curves gave us a young heroine
grappling with issues of body image and family
expectations. And in 2003, a pair of successful
indies feature heroines who don't need outlandish
fantasies to make their marks, who can get tough
without almost getting naked. Bend It Like Beckham
and Whale Rider have captured audience imaginations
by featuring young women who maintain their femininity
and still manage to go where the boys are -- to
lead and compete with them, not to arouse their
is a sports saga for the Title IX age, with two
attractive young women (Parminder K. Nagra and
Keira Knightley) showing their mettle on the soccer
field and in life. Sex is part of the story line,
but Beckham steers way clear of drooling, juvenile
fantasy. Like Beckham, Whale Rider is about a
young woman who has to overcome limited views
of what a young woman can do. Twelve-year-old
Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is in line to become
chief of her Maori tribe in New Zealand. She's
tough, headstrong and up against prejudice in
the guise of tradition. She isn't even allowed
to partake in her tribe's leadership lessons.
But she becomes a leader anyway. Lara Croft can
have the shark. Pai gets to ride the whale, and
it actually means something.
hope on the Hollywood scene may be Michelle Rodriguez.
She stepped into the ring with the fellas in the
indie Girlfight, and she has since become a favorite
of Hollywood action producer Neal H. Moritz (The
Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T.). Rodriguez is
sexy, but she's also tough as nails, and she's
never mere eye candy. When she curls that upper
lip, you know she means business.
come in infinite sizes, shapes and colors. But
the movie industry, as usual, has but one shade
in mind: green. Hollywood executives know that
teenage boys hold the keys to the kingdom. Their
disposable income and repeat business are as reliable
as death and taxes. And so action heroines still
have the potential to inspire teenage girls --
but they're certain to be a hit with their kid