Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre!
Not Just A Girl On the Taco Truck:
The Possibly Feminist Badassery of Michelle Rodriguez
Okay, since you’re twisting my arm, I’ll admit it. I completely lust after Michelle Rodriguez. Normally, I’d say that I was completely in love with (fill-in-the-blank, whoever it might be at the moment), but as I watch her snarl and sneer her way through the zombie apocalypse, or bust out of the back of an ambulance, clad in a black leather bikini and packing a bunch of really big guns, I’m not sure it’s love that I’m feeling. It’s honestly hard to say what I’m feeling about her. You see, I would like to be one of those amazing modern guys who marches in protest with his sisters of the world, raising a fist in support of feminism, all the while having too much respect to ever feel something so demeaning as desire for them. And I would also like to be one of those tough, badass dudes who drives a motorcycle on the highway without a helmet and leaps out of airplanes just for fun, since those kind of guys would probably appeal to someone like Michelle Rodriguez. But the fact is, she’s a ride-or-die kinda girl, and I’m the kinda guy who sometimes wishes that he was a different kinda guy.
Michelle Rodriguez was pretty much a badass from the beginning. Born in San Antonio, Texas, to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, she moved back to the Dominican Republic, then to Puerto Rico, finally settling into Jersey City when she was seventeen. A trouble-making Army brat, she was expelled from several schools before dropping out in the ninth grade. She later got her GED, started and then stopped attending business school, before pursuing a career in Hollywood. She had several experiences working as an extra, most notably on SUMMER OF SAM and FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME, but nothing with an actual screen credit. Then she went to an open casting call, beating out 350 other hopefuls for the lead role in the 2000 indie film GIRLFIGHT. It was her first real audition ever, and she nailed it. She also nailed her performance as Diana Guzman, the troubled teen who throws all of her anger into training to be a boxer. It was kinda like that Clint Eastwood movie about the female boxer, but a little more predictable (meaning that the chick doesn’t die in this one). As a matter of fact, despite beating the shit out of him, she even ends up with some lucky, black-and-blue dude at the end of the movie. Through it all, though, she is totally convincing, probably because she trained for nearly four months to get everything just right.
She snagged a bunch of awards for her efforts, helping the film to win Best Drama at Sundance, then went on to make a bunch of stuff that’s been less critically-acclaimed. You know, the kind of stuff that most people have actually seen. RESIDENT EVIL. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. BLUE CRUSH. S.W.A.T. BATTLE: Los Angeles. MACHETE. AVATAR. She’s been on the TV series LOST (playing a cop who pulls out her gun at least twice an episode), in music videos and video games, and made appearances as herself on numerous other series. In the FURIOUS flicks, she’s got better fight scenes than Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis have gotten in years. Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton might be the godmothers of the modern action heroine, but Michelle Rodriguez is one of the current rulers. She’s built a pretty impressive reputation, both onscreen and off, as a tough and independent woman, with a 2013 Entertainment Weekly article calling her “one of the most visible Latinas in Hollywood”. Her ultimate goal, from the first time she set foot in California, has been to become a screenwriter and director. It goes without saying that she’s got at least two screenplays currently in development, a story about “purity and animals and children” and a remake of a 1997 German flick called BANDITS.
All of this, and she’s a badass disc jockey on the weekends.
In an interview shortly after GIRLFIGHT, she said, “screenwriters keep going at it with the same fantasy formula, and it affects women because it’s the fantasies of these old white men. It’s all about satisfying their egos . . . it’s tiring, and it makes movies predictable.” Go ahead and say it, that her movies haven’t exactly been trailblazers either. You wouldn’t be wrong. When she gave that interview, she had been cast in the role of “a car racer’s girlfriend” in a movie called REDLINE. It sounds like she was already on the road to playing the typical roles offered to young women in Hollywood, except that this movie would become the first installment in the enduring FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, and her character would become anything but the typical movie girlfriend. She might have been written that way in the first film, but that wasn’t how Rodriguez played her. By the time her character had died, then miraculously come back to life, the series had cast her as an equal, rather than backup, to Vin Diesel’s testosterone-filled behemoth.
She has said that she was typecast as soon as she did GIRLFIGHT, but that she’s at least partially responsible for that. If she were in it for the acting, she said, then she would “go play some poor girl who gets raped or has a mental illness”. But she’s here to entertain us and make a statement about female empowerment. If you think that’s nothing more than a bunch of tough talk, just take another look at Letty Ortiz from the FURIOUS movies. Sure, there’s no shortage of flesh on display in this series, with at least half of the frames that aren’t drenched in gasoline and motor oil filled up by bouncing breasts and sun-glazed booties. Sure, most of Letty’s wardrobe consists of sweaty wife-beaters in various colors, and she’s frequently bent over an engine. But when it comes to exploitation of the films’ stars, it’s usually Letty stripping off Diesel’s overalls to reveal his slab-of-beef chest. I know, I wish it weren’t so too, but this woman is no one’s sexual object. In the first film, she gets positioned beside another driver, who seems to think she’s just going to cave under his flirtation. She quickly sets him straight: “You want a piece of ass, go to Hollywood Boulevard. You want an adrenaline rush, that’ll be two large.”
The first time we see her in RESIDENT EVIL, she’s just one of the many soldiers in gas masks trying to retrieve Milla Jovovich’s Alice from wherever-the-hell. We assume that the soldier is male, because that’s what we do. But then she pulls off the mask – rough and possibly even macho, but definitely no man – and says, “Blow me.” In the first movie of this lingering series, Alice is in the process of becoming a badass, but Rodriguez’s character isn’t becoming shit. She already is a badass. Whether she’s snapping a zombie neck, firing about a million rounds, or digging under her fingernails with a knife, she has pure badassery written all over her face. She doesn’t say anything in this movie as much as she sneers it, which can be sexy as hell. And yet there’s still something so damn feminine about her. Even when she’s racing around with a semi-automatic, doing things I can’t even seriously dream about doing, there’s that one errant lock of hair that keeps falling down in her face. It makes you want to reach out and brush it out of her eyes, but that kind of shit might get your arm broken.
The fact is that most women in horror movies don’t make me feel like this. Not that Michelle Rodriguez is best known for being a horror chick. She’s really only been in two straight-up horror movies (both of them part of the RESIDENT EVIL franchise), a fairly disappointing horrific thriller (THE BREED), and one exploitation throwback with a few horrific elements (MACHETE). She’s never really been the fabled Final Girl in any of them, meaning the virginal female who’s just a little smarter than everyone else in the cast. It’s been thoroughly documented how the average horror audience, which consists of mostly young men, will identify with the lone survivor even though it’s typically a female. Such esteemed film theorists as Carol Clover have explained that even teenage boys will find themselves, in some way, becoming the last girl standing as she faces down Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, or Freddy Krueger. There is no such phenomenon happening when I watch Michelle Rodriguez going up against flesh-eating monsters or killer canines. I still want her to make it through the movie, though I don’t feel like she’s going to need my help (not even when she almost always dies in her movies). But I do feel like I would want her with me if I was ever trapped by some kinda cinematic beast. Not because I wouldn’t have to worry about protecting her, but because she would end up saving my unworthy ass.
And, believe me, I’ve never gotten all hot and sticky over Jamie Lee Curtis, Dee Wallace, or even Neve Campbell in a horror movie.
She’s dated some co-stars, male and female, gotten flak for maybe being bisexual or maybe not, and finally just said, “Maybe by me opening up my big fat mouth like I usually do and stepping up and owning who I am, maybe it might inspire somebody else to do the same.” Whatever she is or isn’t definitely comes down to being her choice. That’s pretty powerful. She told Entertainment Weekly, “Men are intriguing. So are chicks.” She’s also said that she doesn’t really want to be thought of sexually, which is why she might sniff her armpits, refuse to shave, or belch out loud sometimes. Just to throw us off.
Regarding her role in the controversial Walter Hill film THE ASSIGNMENT, in which a twisted scientist (played by Sigourney Weaver) forces a male detective to undergo a sex change operation, Rodriguez said, “I never felt more like a woman than when I played a man.” It caught some guff for the role not going to a real transgendered person, which I get, but aren’t more people going to see a movie with Michelle Rodriguez? Sometimes it’s nothing social or sexual, even political, but merely economic, especially in Hollywood. Though it would be good to see them breaking some new ground, this was meant to be another throwback to those old-school exploitation flicks, somewhere between Roger Corman and Robert Rodriguez. There’s a greater sensitivity to many things these days, which is good, but sometimes it ends up being just another way to ignore them. Everyone ends up too PC, too concerned about stepping on toes, to really ask any questions. We end up showing more respect to each other on the surface without truly understanding each other. If someone like Michelle Rodriguez takes on a part like this, which probably isn’t that reverential of anyone’s feelings, or refuses to shave her armpits just to make herself prettier, maybe it opens up some new discussions. Maybe it drags us all a little closer to the fire, if only to do more gossiping. Maybe it leads to more than just social media snap judgments. Maybe not, but it’s something.
Rodriguez was on a 2013 Comic-Con panel when a male co-star (from a movie filmed in South Africa) commented that a girl wouldn’t be driving the car. She immediately shot back, “What are you, stupid? Want to race me, homie?” Obviously, the guy had not seen any of the FURIOUS movies, or any of her movies at all. “The dudes don’t get it,” she said, “They don’t see the beautiful women who climb mountains, the beautiful stunt doubles who do back flips into the ocean, who ride horses. We have to write about it because nobody else will.” She said that other women don’t always support each other either, that they are often bickering and fighting when they should be working together to balance out all the sexism in Hollywood. Equality to her doesn’t just mean that everyone is thrown into the same roles. When asked if, according to rumors, she was going to play the Green Lantern, she responded that it was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “Stop stealing white people’s superheroes,” she said, “Make up your own.”
I’d say that Shé is a good start.
When we first see her in MACHETE, the hellaciously bad (but terribly fun) Michelle Rodriguez movie that makes me pant the hardest, she’s just a girl selling tacos from the back of a taco truck. There’s all kinds of intrigue going on, with illegals trying to cross the Mexican border and the corrupt politicians who will do anything to stop them. Robert DeNiro is an outspoken, bigoted senator who wants an electrified fence, telling his flag-waving voters that “everyone who enters this country illegally is an attack on the nation, an act of terrorism”. Yeah, yeah, before you even start drawing all of the obvious comparisons, remind yourself that this movie is already seven years old now. The character of Shé is just someone in the background, an almost mythological figure who fights against corruption and bigotry, giving those who have nothing something to believe in. She has become a champion to the poor men and women who line up at the border each morning in hopes of being chosen for work that day.
And she is completely made up.
Luz, the girl in the taco truck, has been watching her people struggle and lose hope for years. Shé was a myth that they needed, so Luz created her. You see, Luz is more than just a girl in the taco truck, and Shé is more than just a fantasy. Shé was the salvation of an entire people. It’s only when the rich douche-bag played by Jeff Fahey shoots Luz in the face and leaves her for dead that she becomes this myth for real. When the titular character, a former border agent played by Danny Trejo, goes to battle whoever the hell it is that he’s battling at the end of the movie, an ambulance smashes into the scene. At first we think it’s only the regular, everyday badass women who have come to help save his ass. You know, the ones who hid him from the enemy, repaired a bunch of busted vehicles, and helped to restore his injured body. But no, the biggest surprise is waiting inside, the Ultimate Badass, who comes busting out of the back of the truck. With an eye patch, black leather, and guns blazing, she is vengeance and flat-out power-sexy sneering, beautiful badassery incarnate. And she never misses a single shot.
She is Shé, and you will hear her roar.
There are two posters that hang above the corner where I do most of my writing. One of them is a striking black-and-white print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, while the other is Michelle Rodriguez with the leather bikini, eye patch, and the really big guns from MACHETE. If she chose to retire from acting this morning, or spent the remainder of her career playing dowdy housewives in sensible clothing, this is still how I’m going to see her for the rest of my life. I try to reconcile this image, and the tingly way it makes me feel down below, with the gentle person who truly believes that we’re all equal, regardless of race, religion, or gender. I’m in no way a chauvinist. But this is the real Michelle Rodriguez in my mind: beautiful badass who will never need anyone as much as they might need her, who’s not afraid to say what’s what, and who stands up for what she thinks is right. Like she stands in the poster, against a backdrop of revolutionaries. It goes without saying that she does it all in a sultry way that rockets right past being called feminist. It’s not even a purely physical thing, but every time I glance up from the computer to see Shé watching over me, the words my own girlfriend said come back to me: holy shit, she’s hot.
So I guess this is feminism for someone like me. It’s badass, doesn’t need me at all, and it’s still hot as hell. I don’t know what kind of feminism that makes it, or what kind of modern man that makes me, but it’s the truth, and I think Michelle Rodriguez would probably appreciate that.