James Cameron famously invented the Strong Female Character when he made Terminator, and there has never been another Strong Female Character since Sarah Connor. As the leading expert on Strong Female Characters and the only person in the world whose opinion matters on the topic of women in action cinema, The Guardian asked Cameron about Wonder Woman, and Cameron, the only person capable of creating Strong Female Characters, said no, she isn’t as Strong as Sarah Connor, because Sarah Connor is an inscrutable badass and a sh*tty mom and ugly to boot.
For real though, what James Cameron actually said when asked about Wonder Woman is this:
“All of the self-congratulatory back-patting Hollywood’s been doing over Wonder Woman has been so misguided. She’s an objectified icon, and it’s just male Hollywood doing the same old thing! I’m not saying I didn’t like the movie but, to me, it’s a step backwards. Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. 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!”
The ”Strong Female Character” is a legit trope in cinema—also called “Trinity” after Carrie Ann Moss’s Matrix character—and while Cameron didn’t invent it, he did give us one of the best examples in Sarah Connor. But the Strong Female Character is a limiting ideal because it only allows a character to be one way, and women are not that one dimensional in real life. To say that an effective and strong female character can’t be beautiful, can’t be kind, or thoughtful, or compassionate, is essentially thrusting toxic masculinity onto a character with boobs.
The whole point of Wonder Woman is to present an action heroine who is physically superior and a capable fighter, but is also kind and compassionate. We can talk about whether or not the movie betrays Diana’s compassion by having her kill the villain in the end, but her thoughtfulness and awareness of others’ pain is demonstrated throughout the movie. And while Gal Gadot is a beautiful woman in a skimpy outfit, Patty Jenkins very deliberately does NOT allow her to be ogled by the camera. When Diana throws off her cloak and reveals that outfit, it’s not objectifying, but an empowering moment because it’s the realization of her heroic ideals. I have my issues with Wonder Woman, but objectification isn’t one of them.
If women can only be seen as strong if they’re stoic badasses, then we’re limiting what women can be and what “strong” means. Patty Jenkins’ reply touches on this:
James Cameron can take all the seats. As Jenkins says, he doesn’t understand Wonder Woman, and frankly, who gives a sh*t about his opinion? Who died and made him king of female characters? He writes one kind of woman on screen, and the one time he tried a softer female character, Rose let Jack die because she wouldn’t budge over. If I could re-ask Cameron for his opinion on Wonder Woman, it would go like this: “James, you’ve written some famous action heroines, what do you think about actual women getting to take over and represent themselves on screen, and how the result is a character that doesn’t have to be a stoic badass to be strong? Does this make you see your own limitations as a writer?”
In conclusion, James Cameron is the last person whose opinion on female characters, strong or otherwise, we should care about. Also, let us never forget that time everyone laughed at James Cameron: