James Cameron, acclaimed director of movies you’ve probably already seen and probably already liked, took to the stage recently to promote a rerelease of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s an insightful coming-of-age film about a troubled boy searching desperately for a father figure after his single mom has been institutionalized for believing in scary time-traveling robots. Also, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a robotic, disposable male, Robert Patrick as an evil faceless cop, Linda Hamilton as the psychotic mom, and Ed Furlong as the juvenile delinquent. The movie is considered by many to be better than its predecessor, and indeed, one of the best films of the 1990s—something of a modern American classic, where every problem is solved with car chases, explosions, and expensive showdowns in urban, industrialized environments where humor consists of little more than shallow one-liners.
That was a joke. It’s not actually that insightful.
Cameron decided to use his Terminator 2 as a counter-example to the depiction of strong female characters in action movies, leveling criticism at this year’s Wonder Woman for Gal Gadot’s being too pretty, or something. His flaccid comments about “objectified icons” and “male Hollywood” should remind you of the same silly rhetoric employed by Joss Whedon some time ago, back when Marvel attempted to stand on its diverse SJW-friendly cast in order to market The Avengers before it blew up in their face. And, with typical cannibalistic glee, Leftie-Twitter has already jumped on Cameron for mansplaining feminism in pretty much the same way Whedon was torn apart for putting Scarlett Johansson in a formfitting bodysuit.
But let’s take him at his word. We’re reasonable fellows at QNUW. Maybe he’s got a point. Maybe Wonder Woman is just empty posturing about a living Barbie Doll from a mythical island who fights Nazis or Germans or whoever the bad guys were. The truth is, we here at QNUW didn’t see Wonder Woman. Another truth is, Wonder Woman is a comic book movie, and it stands to reason that comic book movies are based on comic books—notoriously juvenile pamphlets of sexualized adolescent fantasies that range from space-faring motorcycle clowns to the titular bondage-inspired Amazon. And anyway, who in their right mind would want to cast an unattractive woman as a character whose superhero name includes the words ‘wonder’ and ‘woman’ in it? Despite his background in action movies, it’s started to sound like David Cameron has no clue what he’s talking about.
So let’s look at what Cameron actually considers a strong female character. Fortunately, we don’t have to look far! He sums it up all by himself:
“Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon,” he said. “She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit. And to me, (the benefit of characters like Sarah) is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”
So by his own words, we can create a simple chart comparing what James Cameron believes strong female characters are versus what they aren’t:
Strong female characters =
- physically strong
- mentally unstable
- terrible mothers
- not beautiful
Strong female characters =/=
- physically strong
- mentally stable
- motherhood capability undefined (probably pretty good though)
Ironically, being physically strong is on both lists, so it seems as though Wonder Woman at least technically fits part of the bill even by Cameron’s standards—after all, she jumps over fences and cuts soldiers up with a sword, while Sarah Connor can do pullups and shoot guns. And yet, when it comes to being strong in a literary sense, physical prowess seems like the last thing on anyone’s mind—particularly when you’re dealing with fantasy stories involving robots or Amazons.
“The benefit of characters like Sarah is so obvious,” he is parenthetically quoted. Sarah’s certainly a tragic character; there should be little doubt about that. But beyond serving the purposes of the story, it’s hard to tell what he’s trying to explain. Sarah is, seemingly by Cameron’s own admission, manly; she’s sacrificed one of her biggest defining female attributes in order to prepare for some vague and ill-defined horrible future: her motherhood. Nothing remains of the Sarah Connor of the first film, that girlish waitress doing her best to get by in an incomprehensible world wrought with strange men and dangerous predators; instead, a madly-driven, muscular, cold, and generally apathetic mental case took her place. The Sarah at the end of the first film was more mature than she was at the beginning of the film, obviously, but she also seemed to take a great interest in her unborn child, had not flipped off into the deep end of paranoia, and remained recognizably female. What benefit does turning Sarah Connor into a pseudo-madman serve even for continuity purposes?
Unless we take him up on his obvious implication. Not just fictional characters, but maybe Cameron is saying that strong women are supposed to be physically strong, mentally unstable, gritty, terrible moms who aren’t fun to look at. Then Sarah Conner isn’t such a tragic character after all, even if such a reversal twists Terminator 2 into the territory of the absurd. The movie is exciting not simply because it’s explosive and full of violence, but because it is the portrait of broken individuals doing their best to survive an impossible scenario. It speaks to a greater truth that sometimes life sucks and things don’t make any sense, but you’ve got to recognize who your friends are and make the best of it. But the sometimes life sucks is an important part of that message; holding their flawed semblance of a family up as a standard and citing it as a good model is insanity. If Cameron is suggesting that a terrible mom, delinquent son, and a literal robot for a father figure are things to aspire to, well… actually, it would explain a lot.
But we here at QNUW will try to pretend that this isn’t what Cameron is saying. We’ll pretend he’s just another Hollywood dilettante plugging his own twenty-year-old film by punching out one that came out this year. We’ll pretend that he’s just looking to make a quick buck and wanted to get into the headlines by namedropping Wonder Woman and making some vogue comments about feminism while he was at it. That’s preferable to believing that he’s a certifiable lunatic whose words imply open disdain for physically unimposing loving mothers of refined sensibilities and distinctive beauty. Because then he’d just be a philistine, and that would mean that one of America’s most cherished directors is an actual philistine.
And that’s just offensive.