The Thing I Like About …

The Deadly Bees: the fact that she takes pretty good care of herself.

The Deadly Bees is a 1966 British film about, well, deadly bees – ones that have been developed by the bad guy to wipe out his beekeeping competition. The hero is Vicki Robbins, a pop-singer who goes to the bee-infested island for a much-needed rest – that she never gets! (dunh-dunh-duuuunh)

She makes friends with both the bad guy and his competition, and learns more about bees than she probably wants to. When people start dying, she starts investigating what’s going on. When bees attack her in the bathroom (that’s where swarming killer bees usually attack) (at least in the movies), she uses her new bee-knowledge to smoke the bees to sleep. She does ultimately pass out from the smoke, but she recovers just fine (assisted by another woman). She also does spy-like detective work without looking like she’s never done anything this scary before … in fact, she looks like she’s always done spy-like detective work, and that it’s no big deal. When she realizes who the bad guy is, she stays perfectly calm, and, even when he approaches her with a bucket-load of killer-bee elixir (it makes the bees come attack you quicker than you can say “Aaaghgh!”), she just takes a step back and beans the guy with crockery. And then she runs away. On her own.

The most that anyone else does for her (besides trying to kill her) is carry her bags into the cottage.

And, other than having a highly animated nightmare about green-screened swarms of bees, Vicki Robbins is always cool, collected, and capable.

It’s not just that this is rare for a movie from the ‘60’s; it’s that it’s still kind of rare now – mostly because so many of the strong female roles (there are a lot more of them now, which is nice) are so angry, or vengeful, or dictatorial, or bittersweet, or ninja (which, while awesome to watch, is not necessarily an image the average girl in the audience can identify with). If you’re looking for a regular person who just sort of stays on top of things and rolls with the punches and remains calm and takes care of herself, there’s only (based on my admittedly hasty count of the “stuff-I-remember-watching”) Ellen Ripley, Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Vicki Robbins.

To the credit of everyone who has created a strong female role, it’s just as hard to find an ordinary guy; they’ve all got lots of guns, or superpowers, or vendettas/crippling losses, or they’re ninja. Some of them are overly sentimental; others are overly disconnected and brooding. Especially in action-ish movies – like horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and the killer-bee horror-sci-fi combo – it’s hard to find anyone who’s just a regular old ordinary person, who, using the skills we all (pretty much) possess, manages to stay alive during a crisis with both psyche and dignity intact.

Watching people like Vicki Robbins makes you think, “Hey, I could do that! I could get out of that predicament! I could be effective like that, without being anything other than myself.” It is a lot of fun to watch people be superheroes and ninjas, and blow things up, and get revenge for crippling losses … but it’s also kind of fun to be able to identify with the characters, and to feel like we could triumph – just ourselves – anyway.

Even against gigantic, green-screened killer bees.

The Thing I Like About …

Into Darkness:  Navigation Officer Darwin ( played by Aisha Hinds).

Star Trek is known for – among many other things – images of diversity.  Oh, sure, it’s had the usual images of aliens of all types and colours, with bizarre things dangling around their faces or extra eyes or whatnot … but that sort of diversity is expected in science fiction.  Star Trek has always offered actual diversity, presenting to a 1960s audience black women and Asian men working on the bridge of the Enterprise with white men and women.  The new movie, although perhaps not pushing as obvious a social boundary as Kirk and Uhura’s on-screen kiss, is continuing in its predecessor’s footsteps, not just by showing the usual exotic-looking aliens and allowing people with different levels of melanin to be romantically involved, but also by offering to viewers – particularly younger viewers – a very different image of women.

Carol Marcus does not allow Captain Kirk to ogle her.  Uhura – now as before – is not afraid to speak her mind, even to the captain.  And Darwin – clearly a female, and wearing the little feminine skirt and go-go boots that are for some reason the standard uniform – is not what has heretofore been promoted in our culture as a typical beauty.  She is not petite or scrawny; she’s bigger than Lt. Sulu.  She does not have flowing locks of hair; she doesn’t have hair on her head at all.  Like all the other  Star Trek women, she is given the same respect as the men around her, and she does her job competently.  Young girls – and boys too – can look at her and say to themselves, “So that’s what women look like.  That’s what women do.  That’s how men and women treat each other.”

When I consider how it affected me as a young girl to have Nichelle Nichols (“Uhura”) to look up to, I think all the kids looking at Navigation Officer Darwin are lucky indeed.  So bring it, heroin-chic bobble-head girls in designer-jeans ads.  We have an antidote now.