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Passing the baton: age, action and mentorship in three Hollywood films.

Van Raalte, C., 2024. Passing the baton: age, action and mentorship in three Hollywood films. In: Van Raalte, C. and Pheasant-Kelly, F., eds. Action Heroines in the Twenty-First Century: Sisters in Arms. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (In Press)

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Aging and the spectre of mortality pose particular challenges to the (literally or figuratively) super-human figure of the Hollywood action hero. Still more so when that figure is female, for, no matter how ‘kick-ass’ she might be, her identity is inextricably bound up with ideas of youth, beauty and sexuality. It is no surprise that the emerging sub-genre of ‘Geriaction’ (Crossley and Fisher, 2021) is an almost exclusively male province featuring vanishingly few female stars, withn RED (2010) and RED 2 (2013) being the most striking exceptions to date. In fact action narratives have long offered the aging male star a role as mentor to a younger successor - passing on, as it were, the baton of patriarchal power, with a spot of Oedipal sparring along the way (as, for example, in eg. The Rookie (1990), Live Free or Die Hard (2007)). His female counterpart, however, is largely absent from our screens. Indeed where our female action heroes have the benefit of a mentor (and they frequently do) that mentor is invariably male, (as in such diverse narratives as The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Terminator Genysis (2015) and The Protégé (2021) reinforcing a sense that the power wielded by the female action hero is inherently masculine and provisional. When it comes to the relationship between an older woman and the younger woman preparing to replace her, Hollywood is traditionally more likely to portray them as jealous rivals for the valuable commodities of male attention and male-controlled power, rather than allies. Such relationships are haunted by the spectre of the ‘wicked stepmother’, an archetype which, as Marina Warner (1994), argues is politically and historically contingent, but none the less dangerous for that. She remains a culturally pervasive figure, replicated in the cinematic ‘fairy tales’ of the modern age. Examples range from Monster-in- Law (2005) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006), films which Shelley Cobb (2011) has argued rehearse different generational models of feminism through their female leads, to the classic dynamic of All About Eve (1950), a dynamic predicated on the idea that there can be only one female star. Within the logic of the Hollywood action narrative the older female mentor is practically a contradiction in terms. In this chapter, I will explore how traditional patterns are disrupted in three female-led actions films – three films, incidentally, directed by women: The Old Guard (‎Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2020), Mulan (Niki Caro, 2020) and Charlie’s Angels (‎Elizabeth Banks, 2019). Despite the generic, stylistic and structural differences between them, all three, in their particular ways, challenge the trope of the jealous ‘older woman’ threatened by the usurping ingénue, and replace it with a narrative of mentorship and intergenerational allyship.

Item Type:Book Section
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:38830
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:17 Aug 2023 14:08
Last Modified:17 Aug 2023 14:08


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