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Remembering Where You Came From, and Other PR Nightmares: Colombiana

Essay

An action movie with a strong, proven female protagonist is just the sort of fare The Mary Sue keeps an eagle eye out for. So, it’s no surprise we’ve been quietly buzzing in our cyberhive about the trailer for Colombiana. The forthcoming Zoë Saldana vehicle looks like fairly familiar and compelling territory; a wronged child of war-torn streets grows up to seek revenge from the other side of a sniper scope. At least, Colombiana‘s trailer seems to be selling it as a light-fingered, race-shifted lift of La Femme Nikita, an unsurprising turn, since it’s being produced by Luc Besson himself.

The film could very well turn out to be a thrilling, action-filled ride, or it could be a sad, deflated pass at the same old genre elements. Only time, and actual viewing, will tell, so wait with us as we trim the hedges on our bets, and watch this space for our thoughts further down the pipeline. What’s concerning this reviewer, as I drive around encountering billboard after billboard sprung up like mushrooms in the night, is the marketing campaign.

In case you haven’t caught a glimpse of the poster artwork for Colombiana, it looks like this:

And sometimes like this:

So we’ve got our favorite of Luc Besson’s old stand-by elements; a girl and a gun. And a flower.

And that slogan.

It’s that slogan that’s been squatting like a grumpy toad on the backend of my brainstem, croaking until I paid attention to it. It is not, as you have no doubt observed, the tag line you’d expect, given how many times they repeat “Remember where you came from” in the trailer. Annoying as that was on a first watch, I’ve come to terms with the idea, because I’d take it any day over “Revenge is beautiful”.

What’s wrong with “Revenge is beautiful”? A number of things.

First, the literal and obvious; revenge isn’t beautiful. If the trailer footage (and Luc Besson’s cinematic legacy) is anything to go by, the movie will no bones about that, either. Revenge is still going to be as bloody, as ruthless, and as righteously justified here as in any other action tale with a similar premise. Revenge is guns, blood, rage and violence. So it seems like an odd choice, if not a misleading one, to sell a bruiser of a flick.

But we all know that the literal isn’t the problem, but the precursor. It seems to us that the slogan is trying to reassure anyone shaking in their traditional gender role boots that, yes, she’s going to blow things up, but she’ll still be a woman. AKA, she’ll still be “beautiful,” she’ll still appeal to the male gaze regardless of whether the character’s attractiveness is a key element of the story (which, see above paragraph, doesn’t seem to be the case outside of the ads). Physical attractiveness, while a given for Hollywood action stars, is generally not of primary concern for the ad team when there’s a guy headlining the action. I’ve never, for instance, seen the advertisements for a James Bond flick (arguably the most sexualized male action hero out there, and I dare you to watch Daniel Craig and his tiny bathing suit walking up out of the surf in Casino Royale and disagree) going out if its way to reassure viewers that Daniel Craig would be handsome enough to earn their cash. (Oddly enough we were unable to find a simple list of James Bond taglines on the internet, and we had to take this quiz a bunch of times to test our theory.)

From a cold, hard marketing standpoint, there’s plenty of logic here. The ideal demographic audience for action movies is still seen as being the red-blooded American male, 18-34 years of age, if you please. It is still assumed by advertising decision-makers (yes, women and men alike), that the average male audience would not be as interested, in fact, might even feel threatened, by a truly neutral, completely powerful, female protagonist; a stance that is insulting to both women and men. This campaign is a way of getting around that worry.

But it worries me, it worries my female, action-movie loving friends, and the enlightened men who also want to see Ms. Saldana blow things up; and it should worry you, too. It says a lot more about how far we haven’t come, then how much we have, if we need to pair the possibility of an action heroine who can stand toe-to-toe with her male counterparts with a desperate confirmation of her sex appeal. In fact, we’ve already seen this worry proven true with low returns on the Angelina Jolie vehicle SALT, a movie no one knew how to market despite the fact that it was an action movie with Angelina Jolie in it. The second action heroine I (and the site’s editor) can think of that 100% wasn’t sold on her sex appeal was Ripley in the Alien saga, a series floated on its sci-fi premise that was made when most of the people working for this site were still kids.

This isn’t the 1980s, or even the 1990s. So shame on you Colombiana, for backing down out of fear instead of standing up.

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