Friday, November 8, 2013

The Erasure of Officer Anne Lewis and Women in Action


Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen)
The new trailer for the RoboCop remake was released yesterday, bringing us a vaguely closer look at the origins of OmniCorp’s program to bring robots to the American home front.

Whatever.

As a massive fan of the original 1987 RoboCop, I have yet to see anything in the trailers for the remake that is as fresh and clever as the entire original film. I’m also still angry over the apparent lack of Officer Anne Lewis: a dynamic and engaging secondary character in 1987’s RoboCop and one of my favorite examples of a woman in an action film.

According to the cast list of the 2014 version, there is no Officer Anne Lewis, simply an Officer Jack Lewis, played by the awesome Michael K. Williams. Great, he’s an amazing actor. But the removal of Anne Lewis is highly troubling to me.

Now, it’s obvious that women in action movies are not unheard of; there’s Ripley, Sarah Connor, Lara Croft, to name a few. These classic examples, however, are all pretty white women. Ripley is probably the only one that people tend to use as an example as a non-feminine female hero, though in Aliens, she becomes a mother figure. Officer Anne Lewis, while a blond white woman, is one of the few examples of a woman in the action genre that is not sexualized or sanctified at all. She is a police officer and she is really good at her job. She’s professional, tough, and not adverse to violence. She also wears her hair short, which, as an action fan and a woman, is a huge deal for me because film stylists don’t seem to realize that long hair, especially long hair in a ponytail, is incredibly dangerous and frankly stupid for a woman in an action film.

Furthermore, this is one of the few women in action I’ve encountered who did not have a romantic or sexual relationship with the male hero. There is nothing at all to Officer Lewis’ relationship to Officer Murphy expect professionalism and a dedication to her partner in a highly dangerous environment. Of course, there are plenty of signifiers to prove that Officer Lewis is, in fact, a woman. She wears earrings (tiny ones, luckily) and pops bubblegum, an act that is usually associated with teenaged Valley Girls. But by the end of the film, you remember Lewis as simply being a police officer, nothing more. And that, in and of itself, is profound.

Therefore, the erasure of this female character is worrisome. Have we really gone backwards since 1987 that a non-sexual, non-mother female figure cannot exist in our modern films? The trailers for the remake focus on only one woman and that is Murphy’s wife. She is repeatedly presented as merely HIS wife and the mother of his son. She is the young widow, the woman who weeps at his bedside after he’s injured and the only conduit Murphy has back to his humanity. At least, that is what the first trailer seemed to present.

I’m worried that not only will this remake simply be an attempt to turn RoboCop into a darker Iron Man but that it will dismiss women in action as merely being there for the male hero to grow as a character.

I know I should remain optimistic and wait till the film’s release in February. But I really don’t feel guilty being pessimistic at the moment.

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