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Gemma Arterton: The Lack of Romance in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Is “Liberating”

I’m going to be honest here: I’m not tremendously excited about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. It just doesn’t look good to me. But some comments made by co-star Gemma Arterton about her character in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex blog has left me with good feelings towards the actress, if not the movie.

Because, look. Even if Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters looks like a stinker, I can always appreciate some kick-butt ladies, whether fictional (Gretel) and/or real-life (Arterton).

Per Hero Complex:

“She’s not the damsel in distress, not the girlfriend,” Arterton said last week, speaking by phone from New York where she was promoting the film ahead of its opening Friday. “She’s a stand-alone character in her own right, very strong, very independent. That kind of role doesn’t come up very often, not having to be kissing anybody. It’s liberating.”

Preach it. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking lately about how rare it is for there to be a female lead—or any lead, really, but moreso with females—in a movie without a freaking romance subplot. There’s some kid’s movies, and Alien, and… help me out here, drop me a comment, I’m blanking.

But anyway. Kudos to you, Hansel & Gretel writers, if you’ve actually made a movie where characters don’t get distracted from kicking butt by making googly eyes at each other. (It doesn’t look like there’s romance from the trailers—and y’know, the two main characters are siblings—but you can never be sure whether they’ll sneak some secondary love interest in there.)

And kudos to you too, Arterton, for actually participating in said butt-kicking. Later in the interview the actress commented on the difficulty of fighting off evil hordes in an corset (I can imagine; I’ve worn one to a Renaissance festival before and it didn’t feel that bad to just walk around in, but extended, non-stop moment would have sucked):

“The costume was a bit restrictive at times,” Arterton said. “I actually used it to my advantage because the corset gave me a straight back, it stopped me from looking too boyish. I still wanted to be graceful.”

So, basically, female characters can still be strong (emotionally and physically) and feminine without having a love interest. OK, Arterton. You win. For now. I’ve never seen any of your movies (aside from Clash of the Titans, but that doesn’t count, everyone was bad in Clash of the Titans), but I like you.

(via: Hero Complex)

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  • Anonymous

    Female characters can be strong either way. Love stories do not make said female character any less strong nor do romantic subplots mean the woman should be taken less seriously.

    I don’t actually see a ton of criticism out there that implies that women without romance aren’t strong. What I see more often is the opposite: women who do choose to love men being called “sell outs” or weak.

    So I think this is awesome and I love Gemma. But I look forward to the day when a woman’s choice to pursue a relationship with a man or choice NOT to isn’t needed in the convo about liberation.

  • Sonya Williams

    Yah, I was kind of having low expectations for this ridiculous premise..but if I remember the fairy tale correctly..the way the siblings work as characters would be interesting to watch on screen….Gretel was the brains of the operation(she was the one that trick the witch into not eating hansel and her quick thinking kills the withc in the end.) ..and Hansel was the emotional support(whenever they felt that things were lost, like you know, when they hear that their mother hates their guts and is trying to convince their father to leave them in the woods…that’s some emotionally heavy stuff yo.) he would always think of something to give them hope…. so if they could balance that type of dichotomy without dumbing down eithier …I think I’d enjoy watching that movie…at a matinee, on a weekday, or on cable.

  • WonderScott

    I’m leaning more and more toward Gemma as Wonder Woman.

  • Katrina Lovett

    I was also glad when I saw the previews for this and thought “oooh…. broter and sister plot, which means no heavy romance. this might be good.” Then again, I feared I could also be wrong. Look at the Mortal Instruments series if you want creepy romance.

    As for other movies, would Sucker Punch count? I know there is a sexual element to the movie, but none of the ladies get moonie eyed and need rescuing from a man.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Absolutely, I agree that having a romance subplot doesn’t make the woman less strong.

    But I still want to see more movies/TV/books without romantic relationships in them—it does’t have to be a lot, but give me SOMETHING. Romance always seems to be shoehorned in regardless of whether it’s needed or is even good for the plot.

    I guess I’m just frustrated by the prevalent idea that every single story needs to have some sort of romance element to it. Main characters don’t have to have a love interest to make them interesting.

  • Anonymous

    “Love stories do not make said female character any less strong…” — Totally agree. Plenty (if not most) action movies with male leads include a romance subplot. If heroes can kick butt and Get The Girl at the same time, why can’t heroines? Cap, Thor, Tony and Bruce all got a love interest in their respective movies — why shouldn’t Black Widow?

    It’s possible to write a romance for a female character without shunting her into the secondary “Girlfriend” role. It’s just a matter of execution.

  • Aeryl

    Her performance in The Disappearance of Alice Creed is heartstopping, but the movie is triggery as all hell, so be forewarned.

    And yeah, looking at the previews there is a love interest for Hansel, some blond woman with a gatling gun. My daughter says she looks like the witches too, so maybe she’s a witch gone good or something.

  • Anonymous

    That’s one of reasons I loved Brave.

  • Anonymous

    There were tons of movies with male leads (or an almost entirely male cast) that didn’t feature a romance subplot last year – “Argo,” “Skyfall,” “Lincoln,” “Hitchcock,” “The Hobbit,” “The Life of Pi” (I’m guessing – I didn’t see it), I think the point is that it would great if there could be more movies where the story is about a someone doing something important, and she just happens to be a woman.

  • Anonymous

    What’s sad about that is, since there is a lack of romance or even some interest in the opposite sex, there news outlets and viewers who assume Merida is a lesbian. I don’t think its only a stigma against female characters though. The always crass but interesting Red Letter Media point out in their review of Star Trek that many of the male characters have a ‘case of the not gays.’ So if a male character isn’t kissing on a female than they’re talking about them.

    Apparently, knowing a characters sexual orientation is important to some writers/filmmakers as well as some audience members.

  • mellyhugs

    I agree. Hollywood seems to think that in order for woman to be a believable lead, she has to engage in some sort of romantic entaglement. That being said, I think that romantic subplots are completely legitimate so long as they drive the story in some way i.e.Salt. The protagonists romance gives her the initial motivation to seek revenge. I also liked Joss Whedon’s intimation of a relationship between Hawkeye and the Black Widow without making a defining feature of her character.

  • Zandypop

    A good example of the no romance sub plot to me is in I,Robot. When I was watching it I kept expecting them to fall into the the old “Sheltered but super smart (and hot!) scientist falls for the emotionally damaged but street smart (and hot!) cop and then bow chicka wow wow ensues plot. But they didn’t. And I found that very refreshing.

    And sure, there may have been a spark between them, but instead of emoting all over each other they concentrated on the important things. Like kicking robot ass.

  • Lisa Liscoumb

    Avengers doesn’t really have a strong romantic subplot, unless you count Tony/Pepper. Both Natasha Romanov and Maria Hill (although she’s not a main character) are strong women emotionally and physically in it.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I would argue that Hawkeye and Black Widow’s relationship isn’t romantic—or wasn’t presented that way—but I agree with you that their relationship was great.

    Keeping it in the MCU, I think an example of an unnecessary, poorly done romance was Jane and Thor. I love Jane, she’s great, but their whole “they fall for each other and she leads him away from his warmongering ways to be worthy of the Mjolnir [in just a few days]” was a part of the movie that never really fit.

  • Anonymous

    Well, first I gotta point out that Skyfall had not one but two love interests. And Hitchcock was (per trailers, at least) just as much about Mrs. H and their marriage as it was about him. Whether “marriage” means “romance” depends on the marriage in question, I guess.

    I don’t think female heroines should need compulsory romantic subplots. But I also don’t think romance makes otherwise strong female characters weak or unserious. I want my heroines to have All The Things — if the boys get love interests and sexy times, why shouldn’t the ladies?

    And sure, movies of the more serious variety are often better sans romance — Argo or, on the lady side, Zero Dark Thirty. (Maya’s lack of a personal life was perfect for both the story and the character.) But if we’re talking action movies, especially a popcorn flick like H&G, why not throw a little romance into the mix? Again, it all depends on how it’s written.

  • Anonymous

    I think we may have different conceptions of “love.” I don’t think Bond banging a supermodel in a shower constituted romance. If you’re arguing that Black Widow should have an equal opportunity for meaningless sex with hot guys, well, I’m with you there!

  • Anonymous

    Gah – you bring up a very good point, and one that’s always annoyed me as well. I think this might be a side-effect of the ubiquity of sexuality and romance in film.

  • Christina Morejon

    Going to watch this tonight as a sneak preview. was excited for Brenner but now even more excited to watch them both. Good riddance to the stupid subromance plot everywhere.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, that was a damn fast turnaround. “I love you, tiny mortal, and very suddenly see the error of my douchey ways!”

  • Anonymous

    LOL, yeah I suppose I went for the loosest possible interpretation. That sounds like an awesome Black Widow movie: saving the world, sex with hot guys.

    If it’s the idea that female heroines need to be stuck in primarily romance-driven plots that everyone’s reacting so negatively to, then I totally agree. That’s no fun at all.

    I just don’t want us to swing too far in the other direction, where our heroine has to be a Super Serious Action Nun. That doesn’t sound like much fun either!

  • Erin Carr

    There’s some romantic implication between Black Widow and Hawkeye, but they were both professionals and focused on saving the planet.

  • Erin Carr

    I think part of the fun in this movie is going in KNOWING it’s going to be awful. But it will be awesome looking. And this article honestly makes me want to see it all the more.

  • Anonymous

    Hee, hee – now I really want there to be a Super Serious Action Nun movie.

    I agree – there’s already a tendency in Hollywood for boring trends. We want MORE plot variety, not less!

  • Anonymous

    I think the problem that people assume will happen with female heroines is…what’s the point of romance? To land the guy, which leads to marriage, which leads to babies (especially in historical settings before birth control), which leads to the heroine staying at home to be a mama, which leads to no more heroism. I would LIKE this to not be the case, but it does seem like the inevitable outcome of long-term romance.

    For example, in books, I love the Bloody Jack series, about a girl who initially disguises herself as a boy to join a British naval ship. The series followed her adventures through the years, including romance…and we know the author can only put off the inevitable marriage to her childhood sweetheart so long. When THAT happens… it over for her? She even hints at it herself, not wanting to get married too soon lest she get pregnant at an unfortunate time while she’s at sea….and her long time love also hints that he wants her to marry him and then settle down to raise babies.

    Is this the fate of all female heroines unless they’re conveniently infertile or in a time period with birth control? Male heroes can have romance and still have adventures because they don’t have to worry about getting knocked up, it’s that simple.

  • Anonymous

    The only trope I’ve seen from the trailer in the theaters, is that apparently Gretel gets kidnapped towards the end. (Don’t know for sure until I see it of course, but I remember a conversation of “Omg, we must go save her!!11″) *sigh*
    Only reason I want to see it is because of the witches (and here’s hoping we come across a male witch………maybe). The effects look fun; I like seeing these movies for inspiration in table top games. And I’m a huge fan of going to the movies with the husband, plus movie popcorn…there’s nothing special about it, but I LOVE movie popcorn.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. And for reals, why does it take a woman to “lead a man away from being an asshole!” That goes hand in hand with the lie we feed to women, “Ya know, if you just stay with the abusive asshole, he’ll change For You!!11″ Ugh. Not to mention it’s insulting to men, like they weren’t capable of change themselves. Because Boys Will be Boys! So gross.

  • Emily Krebs

    For me it’s not an issue of romances making females less strong (though that seems to be the trend), it’s this stupid fallacy that Hollywood has forced on us for ages: That the ultimate meaning of life is romance.

    Ugh. There are so many other meaningful forms of love and relationships aside from finding your “soul mate” (another totally ridiculous notion). So I’m for any movie that explores something else if only because I’m sick of being told that the deepest meaning in life is chasing and then snogging someone.

    Heck! If you want romance, cool, but how about having a stable couple who’s already married from the get go? That’s sadly ridiculously rare, too. A marriage without fanfare is apparently something most of Hollywood can’t compute. Unless you’ve got a movie centered around kids. So it’s basically: “long winded dramatic romance” or “kids are our universe.” Really? That’s all that matters in life, is it?

    So yeah. For me, action-y film without romance is a nice change.

  • Jera349

    The movie Dredd had a strong female and zero romantic subplot.

  • Aeryl

    There’s Nuns with Guns

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I would ABSOLUTELY watch Super Serious Action Nun. Tagline: She’s having NUN of your shenanigans. Or something. My brain’s not in pun mode currently.

  • Jay, King of Gay

    it looks good in the sense that I looks like it might be pure fun candy.
    And, this is something like the “buddy cop” movie on it’s brother/sister.

  • Jay, King of Gay

    Did they say it was romantic or strongly hint at it? It read as coworkers/friends to me. Unless I missed something.

  • Briar Rose

    Well… history shows us that being pregnant and having babies does not necessarily preclude continued adventures and badassery. For a few examples, check out the “Real Life” examples of the “Pregnant Badass” trope on TVTropes. My personal favorite is Phung Thi Chinh, a female general fighting against the Chinese in Vietnam in AD 40, who “went into battle pregnant, gave birth on the battlefield, strapped the baby to her back, and fought her way back to safety.”

    For the vast majority of women throughout history, being pregnant and having babies was something you did in addition to the rest of your life, not in place of it. Women have been foraging and fighting and leading and exploring with babies strapped to their backs since long before Sacagawea. The thing that bothers me about most women in fiction these days isn’t that they have babies; it’s that the authors act as though they must stop doing everything else once they do. (Of course, I may be a tiny bit biased, as I’m working on a novel about a young woman who is pregnant during her entire epic quest to defeat evil.)

  • Briar Rose

    See, I interpreted the movie “Thor” in a completely different way than most people seem to have. I saw his romance with Jane as being the tiniest fraction of why he became worthy of Mjolnir. Being exiled and stripped of his powers as a result of his own warmongering arrogance was a start; then he had the moment of blank despair when he realized that he couldn’t even claim his own hammer. The defining moment to me was when he learned that (supposedly) his arrogance had led to the death of his father, and that his own mother’s grief and anger were so great that she never wanted to see him again. The way I saw that movie, the romance with Jane was a peripheral thing that happened in the background, far less important than the factors I just mentioned. He wasn’t “saved by love,” he was hit right in the face with the reality that his own arrogance and bloodthirst had destroyed his family and possibly doomed his people.

  • Anonymous

    I think a lot of folks, in particular a lot of writers, believe this is the case, so you may be on to something. But I don’t think romance plots have to go down this road. It’s more a lack of writerly imagination than a fact of biology, especially since we’re talking about fictional characters here.

    The point of romance can be SEX, and nothing more. And fictional sex between fictional characters doesn’t have to lead to babies…that’s the writer’s call. And like Briar Rose pointed out, mamas can still be kick-ass heroes.

    BUT if you’re right that hetero romance is an adventure-killer, then I would be totally fine with a bunch of kick-ass lesbian heroines instead. :-)

  • Jordan Ruttle

    The Avengers didn’t have a romantic subplot? Black Widow just went around kicking serious ass. Also Brave. I found it’s lack of romance sooo refreshing.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    You make a good point, but I would argue that that interpretation makes the romance between Thor and Jane even more of an afterthought. She deserved better than to just be (one of) the catalyst(s) for his character arc.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Exactly! Hollywood’s emphasis on romance makes me think I’m going crazy sometimes—is finding your One Twu Wuv so important that it has to be a part of nearly every story arc?

    Though I am amused by the fact that, statistically, most of the “soulmates” who get together by the end credits will break up eventually. Especially with teen stuff. Staying with your first love your entire life doesn’t happen as often in real life as it does in the movies.

  • John Wao

    That movie has Van Helsing written all over it.

  • Sam Boulden

    unless your asexual romance is a reality of life they just need to make it more realistic and important to plot

  • Briar Rose

    Oh, I don’t disagree at all. I love Jane as a character–she’s brilliant and driven and unapologetically passionate about her career–but I think she was criminally underused. It helps, for me, that “Thor” was just the beginning of a series of films, an introduction of sorts. I have hope that we will see much more of Jane being as awesome as I know she can be.

  • brandon

    Nice words from her. Still, it won’t keep the movie from sucking.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that women can continue being badass after childbirth, but unfortunately you’re in the rare minority of writers that recognize this. What I meant was that it seems to be the general consensus among writers that romance equals babies equals settling down.

  • Anonymous

    I’d love to see that too….but can you see today’s Hollywood going for a kickass heroine that’s the lesbian? Oh wait…they currently believe that any badass heroine that’s not into men is already a lesbian anyway (see: Brave).

  • Anonymous

    Sucker Punch also passes the Bachdel Test. That’s strange, considering it’s obviously an eye-candy movie made for dudes.

  • Briar Rose

    We are in full agreement on that! There are a couple things I would really love to see more in fiction: 1) female characters who are interesting people with full storylines apart from any romance, like Merida in Brave; and 2) female characters who have the romance (and, if they want, the kid[s]) and continue to be badass.

  • Sonya

    I saw the movie this evening and I was thanking my lucky stars that her character didn’t end up with the fanboy who followed them around. Plus 1 to you, Hansel and Gretel.

  • Anonymous

    Sadly nobody saw that movie

  • Laura Truxillo

    “Heck! If you want romance, cool, but how about having a stable couple who’s already married from the get go?”

    That’s one of the things I love about White Collar. Which isn’t a movie, but still. I love that an important part of the show’s dynamic is Peter and El’s wonderful relationship. It’s not the sort of thing I’ve seen around in any movie or show very much.

  • Laura Truxillo

    You know I agree with you about 99% of the time, because you’re wonderful.

    But I think the point isn’t that love stories make a female character weak, but that the female character ALWAYS has to have a love story. Arterton says that it was a unique experience playing a woman in an action movie who didn’t have to kiss anyone. That’s…that’s kind of sad. It’s just always expected that the Action Chick remind everyone that she’s female by being a relationship, that she be wooed by someone after much snarkery, etc etc. And it’s not terrible–there are plenty of great relationships in movies. But it really needs to stop being a requirement.

    Same-ish as the superheroine costume debate. Women choosing to wear what they want is aces, but a character isn’t a person, and doesn’t choose.

  • Anonymous

    It’s been tremendously successful on DVD, though.

  • Anonymous

    Gemma Arterton’s actually a very accomplished actress: she was great in Tamara Drewe (based on Posy Simmonds’ comic, itself a twist on “Far From the Madding Crowd”), Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Lost in Austen, and she’s one of the few decent things about the Prince of Persia movie. I’m looking forward to Byzantium (a vampire story from the director of The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire).

  • Edcedc8

    the machine girl, from what I can remember.

  • Jerilyn Nighy

    “Hogfather” had a female lead, without a romance subplot.

  • Jerilyn Nighy

    Agree, but fandom has a squick-worthy tendency to romanticize or slash-ize friendship or kinship relationships (see Thor & Loki).

  • Jerilyn Nighy

    In the books, Thor’s love of Midgard and it’s resident mortals is a constant motif, so she sort of encapsulates that.

  • Jerilyn Nighy

    I’m sure we’ll see Mockingbird at some point.

  • Meg P. W.

    If you’ve never seen the “Thin Man” movie series from the 1930s, I would highly recommend it. They all star a husband and wife team who solve mysteries, engage in witty banter, drink a LOT, and clearly love each other a great deal. It’s a shame how little of that sort of thing you see now. :(

  • Emily Krebs

    Awesome! Thanks for the recommendation. I shall look into them now. =)

  • Emily Krebs

    Good to know! I might have to give that show another try now. Yeah, the only other TV I can think of that achieved this is Medium. Not seen much of it personally, myself, but my sister was very much into it. And I know the leading lady has a husband and that their relationship is pretty stable. Actually, I think that’s one of the key reasons she enjoys that show. So yes, there need to be more of them.

  • Emily Krebs

    Ha! You know, you just raised a really good point about that. I never stopped to realize how often movies and shows do break-up their “soul mate” couples, and then they continue to claim that soul mates still exist! And the characters move on to find their next one. Oh the irony.