Toward the end of the presentation of “Django Unchained” at Comic-Con this weekend, a pale young woman dressed in a yellow track suit reminiscent of Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill" stood up to ask a question of director Quentin Tarantino.
The girl at the microphone blushed and read from her notes: “You consistently write films with strong, intelligent, assertive women when other directors struggle to avoid female stereotypes. How do you do it?”
“Great outfit,” said Tarantino before adding simply: “I dig strong chicks.”
Tarantino is a leading champion of kick-ass women, but increasingly he’s not the only one to get such heroines in front of the Comic-Con fan audience.
Paul W.S. Anderson brought the “Resident Evil” franchise to the convention, in which his wife, Milla Jovovich, has for a decade played “Alice,” a black-clad hard-driving zombie-killer (left).
The climax of the presentation was an excerpt from a nine-minute all-girl combat scene, with Michelle Rodriguez and several others battling Jovovich with jaw-dropping violence.
In a rollicking panel on Friday, Rodriguez praised Anderson for his open-minded attitude toward women warriors.
“It’s rare that an American man director would have that open-mindedness to have a female lead and pull that off. I give him mad props for that,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kate Beckinsale plays a hellion of a wife to Colin Farrell in the upcoming reboot of “Total Recall,” directed by her husband, Len Wiseman. The film was also featured at Comic-Con.
Said Beckinsale of her character, which reprises the role first played by Sharon Stone: “Contemporary audiences are more willing to see a woman without a right-hand man.”
Executive producer Alan Ball has put a fearless Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, right) at the center of his whacked-out Bontemps vampire universe in “True Blood.” The lady vampires in that series — Pam and now Tara, who has turned into a vampire — are anything but damsels in distress, and Paquin started out this season by killing Debbie, a threatening werewolf, in her kitchen.
And of course the “Hunger Games” franchise brings a new kind of heroine to the fore, one who doesn’t rely on a man to be her sidekick/savior.
Now granted, most of the Comic-Con fanboy movies are targeted at the male geek crowd – from the new “Superman” to “Pacific Rim” to “Godzilla” and “Iron Man 3.”
But the female fans are showing up in great numbers to cheer on those storytellers who want to place women at the center of their narratives.
A panel at the convention, “Powerful Women in Pop Culture,” a group of six actresses discussed the gains made by women – and the challenges they still face.
All of the panelists – Kristin Kreuk, Lucy Lawless, Nikki Reed, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Sarah Wayne Callies and Anna Torv (photo top) — noted positive change in the roles they are being offered and the number of female leads. (Their experience is not borne out in a longitudinal study tracking the number of women roles, which suggests that the change in genre films is not being reflected across the Hollywood spectrum. Read more here.)
And at various presentations, including the “Resident Evil” one, fangirls repeatedly stood up from the massive audience and thanked the actresses for setting an example of fierce female attitude.
At the “Django” presentation Kerry Washington – who plays the wife of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) – had a lot to say on the subject of female empowerment. Her character, she explained, is tied to the African-American experience in slavery, rather than a Comic-Con style story of self-liberation.
“This is a woman who exists in a time when black women had to be independently strong because the destruction of black people began with the breakdown of black families,” she said. “Her strength is to believe in love and one’s own humanity at a time when in our Constitution (blacks) are only three-fifths of a human being.”
She concluded: “It’s not kick-ass for the sake of kick-ass. It’s what makes this person strong. At a time when two people are not allowed to love each other, she believes she is lovable and deserving of that love.”
And to that, the normally talkative Tarantino could only say: Right on, sister.