- The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen
Initially a reader may wonder what images of a sword-wielding Uma Thurman, a dagger-thrusting Angelina Jolie, and a gun-toting Pamela Anderson have in common. Reading The Modern Amazons, one quickly learns that these figures are the primary subjects in a book that provides a serious and extensive analysis of images of "warrior women" in our popular culture. Covering movies from all decades and a few recent television shows, Mainon and Ursini's work is a compendium of images and analyses that addresses all major examples of "women warriors": cave women, historical women, vampires, spies, superheroes, science fiction characters, martial arts specialists, and Wild West women. All receive attention in this detailed address of a dominant theme in Western popular culture.
In order to clarify what the authors mean by "warrior women," the book opens with a discussion of this term and its connection to the term "Amazon." As the authors state, the "warrior woman archetype" addresses "female run societies in general" and societies where [End Page 246] women attempt to "fight the system or appear strong-spirited or rebellious" (2). Mainon and Ursini further develop the definition through the appearance of the "Woman Warrior Checklist," nine elements ranging from "she fights in an aggressive and physical manner when required," to "she is not merely a sidekick to a man," to "she displays some level of kinship and sisterhood with her own gender," to "she may be homosexual, bisexual, or simply not desire men" (11–17). All items in the checklist are then addressed in great detail and with well-chosen examples from film and television.
As a reader moves into the book, she will be struck by the breadth as well as the depth of coverage regarding the warrior woman archetype. The authors first discuss the importance of a historical warrior woman, Joan of Arc: "Joan of Lorraine was the first true woman warrior to be dealt with by the cinema and the only one to be so honored for the first sixty-years [sic] of movie history" (31). This historical section of the book then also addresses some of the women warriors who have transitioned from literature: women from the Conan series, women from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and women from the legend of King Arthur. To supplement this historical analysis, the authors also discuss the role of the warrior woman in early cinematic history through a discussion of Fritz Lang's Metropolis as well as a consideration of the importance of the warrior woman archetype in the original film noir films of Production Code Hollywood and the "new noir" films of today's cinema.
The breadth of coverage continues as the authors discuss popular female superheroes (e.g., Wonder Woman, Batgirl, X-(wo)men, Catwoman, and others), explaining the consistent use of the "cat" in connection with warrior women since "the cat seems to represent the mysterious and unpredictable nature of women" (129). The authors also explore the consistent appearance of the warrior woman in science fiction films such as Star Trek, Alien, Star Wars, The Terminator, and Blade Runner. The women warriors of science fiction, according to the authors, are especially important since "the science fiction genre is the one place where almost anything goes, in terms of switched gender roles, edgy sexual situations, and definitely the exploration of lost civilizations of warrior women" (169).
Although many of the examples in the book represent white women, the authors do not ignore the intersections of race and ethnicity with the archetype of the warrior woman. The authors discuss Pam Grier's portrayal of the "Black Avenging Angel" in order to demonstrate that Grier "was among the first African-American women to play a warrior woman within the genre of the action movie" (221). In addition to addressing representations of African American warrior women, the authors offer an extensive analysis of Asian women warriors such as those found in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; and House of Flying Daggers. As the authors...