Wonder Women: Female Power Icons in Pop Culture At San Diego Comic-Con

by Michael Avila

One of the more interesting panels at Comic-Con this year not specifically geared to plug an upcoming movie was Entertainment Weekly’s forum discussing the role of female heroes in modern pop culture. Sigourney Weaver, Eliza Dushku, Zoe Saldana and Elizabeth Mitchell were seated on the dais before an enthusiastic standing room only crowd. It took about 20 minutes for someone onstage to realize Saldana’s and Mitchell’s nameplates were misplaced.

Before Buffy slayed, Lara Croft raided and Starbuck, er… drank, Weaver was bitch-slapping Paul Reiser and basically inventing the archetype for ass-kicking women as Ridley in James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi action flick “Aliens.” Five years later, Cameron would release “T2: Judgment Day” featuring another female action hero. Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, paved the way for the modern-day heroine who can balance motherhood with her need to pound skulls and work out.

It all started with Ripley. Weaver said when she did Ridley Scott’s “Alien” in 1979, she had no idea it would turn into a film series that stretched across several decades. “I got lucky,” she said.

Regarding Ripley’s place in action hero history, Weaver pointed out that MTV voted her the second greatest badass in movie history, behind Clint Eastwood. When she jokingly added “I think she could take him,” the crowd went nuts with their approval. Clint, you’ll avoid Ballroom 20 today if you’re smart.

After a quick explanation of the deliciously devious character she portrays so brilliantly on “Lost,” Mitchell was asked whether or not Juliet will back on the island for the last season. Proving she’s as smart as the character she plays, Mitchell said she was told to say it all depends on whether Jack’s plan works or not. She also mentioned that the pilot for her new show “Flash Forward” was being screened at Comic-Con Saturday. Sorry “Lost” fans. Doesn’t sound encouraging for a Juliet sighting next season.

When asked why Hollywood has so much trouble coming up with strong female action heroes, each actress had a different perspective. “To me, its really about character. Hollywood goes crazy wondering what you’re going to wear. I was lucky in that I could wear real clothes. I never thought about being a woman. I was just playing a person,” Weaver said, before cheerfully plugging her latest Cameron project.

“There’s a hero in each of us, which is what ’Avatar’ is about.”

Dushku said thatshe and “Dollhouse” creator Joss Whedon have always seen eye to eye on the balance between sex appeal and female empowerment. The actress says it is all very “feminine and empowering, but sex is a part of all our lives. Why run from it?”

Saldana, who plays Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” said it’s all about picking your battles. “Women in Hollywood,” she says, “are all united in finding better projects, in fighting for better interpretations and better roles.”

Saldana brought it back to Weaver, pointing out that Ellen Ripley was a role that could have been a man, but wasn’t. “Thank God for that,” she said. “We’ve come so far in the last 50 years. I mean, we have a black President, for God’s sake.”

Mitchell, who said she was a big sci-fi fan as a child, loves what the genre has allowed women to do. “I’m allowed to be as sexy or not sexy as I want to be,” she said. “There’s a code of honor [in science fiction], even among villains,” Mitchell said, which allows for more challenging opportunities for actresses.

Has it gotten any better for women in film and TV?

Dushku name-dropped “Buffy” in her answer, leading to a brief pop from the crowd. She said the lack of strong roles is what drew her back to Whedon’s world, because she knew she could trust him to come up with a juicy opportunity for her.

Weaver almost defiantly pointed out she’s about to turn 60, and said Hollywood is badly sagging behind the times in recognizing how women’s place in society has changed. She said TV is the place where far more complex female roles are found, pointing out her tablemates as perfect examples.

The last question had to do with Wonder Woman, and why this iconic hero still doesn’t have a feature film! Superman has a movie, and Batman. Even the Green Hornet has a film due out for Pete’s sake. Where’s the love for Diana?

Dushku made a sly reference to several people taking a pass at a Wonder Woman script, but she thinks too many people are simply scared of messing it up.

Saldana said filmmakers need to turn the heroine into a “Matrix”-style kung fu chick, and that they need to find someone with great buns and a great rack for the title role. The “Star Trek” star also gave the most honest answer of the panel when asked about the industry’s current It Girl, Megan Fox. Saldana said 65-year-old men are the powerbrokers in Hollywood, and those guys want to see 25-year-old hotties in their movies.