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By Doug Brunell | May 20, 2004

Michael Medved may not get it, but the Kill Bill movies were total exercises in girl power. If you watch a lot of exploitation and indie cinema, females in empowering roles is nothing new. Russ Meyer was doing it decades ago, and his female characters still make an impression today. The Kill Bill series seems to be the first time mainstream audiences have widely accepted the idea that girls can be just as nasty as guys, though, and really hold their own in an action role. Yes, there was Linda Hamilton in “The Terminator” and Billy Bob’s ex-wife in those hideous “Tomb Raider” duds, but The Bride was unlike any of those characters. She had clit, wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and she didn’t need to look sexy while cutting throats.

I’m not that surprised that audiences have finally started to get the fact that females can be badasses like the boys. Videogames have been training our nation’s youth in this aspect for years. The female characters in

fighting games are usually the nastiest characters, and guys like playing as them. Eventually this enthusiasm for the female as the “a*s kicker” was bound to capture audiences’ imaginations on the big screen as well, and

that’s what “Kill Bill” did.

Critics examining this aspect of Kill Bill opined that the only empowerment females would take from the film was that they could be just as cruel and sadistic as men. I don’t think that is an invalid observation, but it’s also not complete. They can be just as cruel, sadistic, cold and brutal, but they can also be just as stylish and as unapologetic. Again, this is nothing new to genre/indie/exploitation films. Remember Baise Moi? For mainstream films, however, Kill Bill has done something “Thelma and Louise,” which was often cited as the first big female empowerment picture, couldn’t accomplish.

“Thelma and Louise” made an attempt to bring a new vision of female power to the masses, but ultimately failed. The movie, while empowering on some levels, was little more than a female buddy picture with a suicide, of

all things, at the end. The message of female empowerment was tempered with a vivid reminder of the empowered female’s only acceptable fate. And while there is something satisfying about not being taken alive, it continues to perpetuate the myth that there needs to be a harsh punishment if a female steps outside of her acceptable role. “Kill Bill” changed that, and there are some people who aren’t too happy with that twist.

If you, like many people, believe that women should be seen and not heard, the Bride’s actions will disturb you. You will think it brings out the worst aspects of women, and that it makes them seem more masculine than

they should be. For people who believe this, the only good contribution a woman can make to a movie is her looks. Women as “action heroes” will never fit into these people’s view of the world because they can never imagine a woman acting like a man … and they shouldn’t be allowed to act in such a way. Women are women, and men are men, and they do the things their sexes do and nothing else. Men don’t wear dresses, and women don’t pluck eyes out of people’s skulls.

If, on the other hand, you feel that women can do whatever men can do, the idea of women in roles like that of The Bride doesn’t cause you any anxiety; empowered women don’t scare you, and you respect them for what they

do. Seeing them in film is a bonus because it’s not often shown, and you wish more movies would use them for something other than eye candy.

The female acting as the aggressor doesn’t frighten me or disrupt my philosophical take on the world. I enjoy seeing women act in ways some people would find appalling, and I think it does wonders for young females who

happen to watch movies with those types of characters in them. Girls don’t always have the best role models in art and entertainment, but I hope The Bride will change that. Do I think it will drive women to go on murderous sword rampages? No, and that’s not the point. It will, however, let them know that they can’t be restricted by false boundaries put in place primarily by men, and it will show them that not every act of rebellion has to end in the ultimate act of defiance: suicide.

The Bride. The women in Baise Moi. Tura Satana. Coffy. These are some of the strongest female role models to ever be put on screen. The Bride, of course, is the most mainstream one. In the future, though, that list

should grow into the hundreds, while Michael Medved and his kind will (hopefully) be a sad footnote in film history.

Discuss Doug Brunell’s “Excess Hollywood” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>

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