Red Sonja Redux

on June 28, 2008 in Uncategorized

USA Today reports that Robert Rodriguez will be producing a new Red Sonja film, with an estimated release date of 2010. The script, he says, was brought to him by his girlfriend, actress Rose McGowan. As he told the paper,

“I was surprised when Rose brought me a script of Red Sonja that she liked,” adding, “I found it very entertaining. Sonja was strong, smart, cunning — just about everything she’d have to be to survive.”

Rodriguez wants to cast the slight McGowan as the red-haired warrior, saying

“Rose is a pistol. She’s whip-smart, has attitude to burn, is sexy, extremely strong, yet has a vulnerable side that would surprise her closest friends. That description also fits Red Sonja.”*

This isn’t going to be an adaptation of any particular comic book story arc, nor will it be a remake of 1985’s awesomely awful Dino De Laurentiis produced Red Sonja which starred a young and svelte Brigitte Nielsen in the title role.

Red Sonja became the final installment in a trilogy that included the fabulous Conan the Barbarian which was followed by the atrocious Conan the Destroyer, which unlike Sonja can’t even be described as “good bad.” And it’s so good bad that I had to go buy a copy. See what I mean – –

The characters of these movies were loosely based on the 1930s pulp writings of Robert E. Howard. Red Sonya had appeared in only one of his stories, “The Shadow of the Vulture,” as a pistol wielding Russian in the 16th century. In the 1970s, the character was adapted by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith for Marvel comics as a supporting character in their Conan title. The spelling of her name was changed from Sonya to Sonja, and her origins were moved from Russia to Conan’s fictional prehistoric “Hyborian Age.” Her deftness with a pistol was changed to mastery of the sword.

Sonja proved popular enough to support an eponymous title. In the original edition of The Superhero Women, Stan Lee refers to her as “the ultimate female warrior” and suggested that because Sonja is depicted as holding her own against any combatant—regardless of gender—“perhaps through the medium of the contemporary comicbook [sic], society may inch itself a bit closer to the time when we judge an individual on his or her own merit, rather than the accident of sex.”

I’m not sure whether the comic book Sonja accomplishes this (and I invite thoughtful comments on the subject) but the movie, though it has Sonja spouting pseudo-feminist rhetoric such as “No man may have me, unless he’s beaten me in a fair fight.” and “I don’t need any man’s help.” actually ends up putting Sonja in her rightfully gendered place by the end of the movie. (I go into detail about this in the book, and so only mention it here. Regardless of Lee et al’s intentions with the comic, the 1980s film focuses more on Sonja’s gender than on what should be her impressive sword skills.)

Still, it’s a Great God-Awful film, well worth watching. Although it’s a bummer to see Sandahl Bergman go from her portrayal as the glorious Valeria in Conan the Barbarian to playing the campy Queen Gedren in Sonja–a role for which she “won” a Razzie award.

Finally, I’d originally found the news of Rodriguez’s new venture over at Superhero Hype where the comments are filled with disturbing, if unsurprising, misogyny—most of it in this instance directed at McGowan.

A brief rundown includes such sexist gems as:

“She’s witch” who’s “plum bewitched Rodriguez.”

She’s called a “dumb Ho” and “Marilyn Manson’s leftovers” who is only getting roles because “she’s banging robert rodriguez so he got her another movie.”

She’s not only blasted as unattractive, but as a both a home-wrecker and career poison.

One poster “Wishes Rodriguez was back with his wife cause they have a ton of kids and I know that’s hard.” –an over-simplification of the situation—and another claims “She’s doing to Rodriguez what Nielsen did to Stallone. (Wrecked the first marriage, leading him into dopey career moves).”

One poster even goes so far as to praise the scene in Death Proof in which McGowan’s character gets “all broken and bloody.”

It reminds me of Violet Blue writing that at some point “every woman on the Internet gets called slutty and ugly and fat (to put it lightly) no matter what; all we have to be is female.”

Regardless of what one thinks of Rodriguez as a director, or even as an adulterer, and regardless of what one thinks of McGowan as a Beauty or an actress, the vitriol with which her attributes are addressed is alarming. These are not critiques of her capacity to fit the role, or take on this particular acting challenge, this is venomous rhetoric against women.

I don’t know whether McGowan can be a phenomenal Sonja, I do think she will be perfect in the couple’s remake of Barbarella and she was super kick-ass as Cherry Darling–a go-go dancer cum leader of her people in Planet Terror.

*This is all good, but I hate when strong women are praised for being “vulnerable” –as if it’s a necessary qualifier. You never hear the same adjective used to praise the strengths of a male warrior.

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