Analysis: The Tropes of Women of Color in Sci-Fi – Version 4 (The Tragic Warrior)

Definition of the Trope: Unlike many of the other Tropes in question, The Tragic Warrior is one that hurts the most and smashes the dreams of viewers of color like a ton of bricks. Often times, Tragic Warriors are smart, intelligent, savvy, and strong. They tend to be the lead warriors on the front lines or leading groups into battle. Their skills are rarely questioned, their orders always trusted, and their instincts usually right.

Unfortunately, before the end of the show, the Tragic Warrior will meet an ignominious death at the hands of a treacherous enemy. This will usually happen before the beginning of the third act, when their skills would be at their most useful.

Why This Trope Fails: Usually, the death of this character is supposed to mark a change in one or more of the main characters (the surviving characters almost always Caucasian, by the way) behavioral tendencies. Yet, death of a Version 4 Trope Character is neither shocking nor poignant. And, far too often, the death of this character comes at a moment that was probably written to seem either ironic or surprising – or even brave; but comes off as being pointless the moment the character passes on (or away). And whatever posthumous honor you bestow on this character is equally pointless – the character, regardless of how heroic they may have been in the final moments, is still dead.

Additional Trope Notes: This trope tends to be inhabited more by Men of Color, particularly by Black Men (often referred to by its coined name, “The Magical Negro.”). Although the gender gets changed here, the end result is the same – the Woman of Color is scheduled to die so that the Caucasian character(s) either live on by the Woman of Color’s self-sacrifice, OR the Caucasian characters are “forced” to re-examine their own lives before taking up machine guns and blasting the bad guys to Swiss Cheese. Meanwhile, the show reduces its Characters of Color to the usual very small number it started out with – or, in the case of many Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror movies, the number will reduce to two, one, or (most often) Zero.

How to Avoid Falling for This Trope: Simple. Let them live. Women of Color get few roles with any kind of active participation and Character Agency as it is. Creating a Trope 4 character is reinforcement that a Women of Color who takes an active heroic role in the story and dying is no better than a Woman of Color who remains in the background doing nothing OR screwing things up for everybody else.

Big Bertha (CCH Pounder).  Strong, fearless, and decisive.  Chances of survival in Sci-Fi?  Slim to none.

Big Bertha (CCH Pounder). Strong, fearless, and decisive. Chances of survival in Sci-Fi? Slim to none.

Example of the Trope: Big Bertha of Robocop 3. When OCP began to force people of their homes in the Cadillac Heights district of Old Detroit, Bertha organized a resistance effort against the OCP “Rehabilitation Squads.” Their efforts were moderately successful – and those efforts were bolster when Robocop joined the resistance.. Unfortunately, she was killed when one of the members of the Resistance betrayed them and the Rehab squads invaded their base.

Kendra from "Buffy: The TV Series."  Can someone tell me why "Feminist Men" like killing (or sidelining) Women of Color?

Kendra from "Buffy: The TV Series." Can someone tell me why "Feminist Men" like killing (and/or sidelining) Women of Color?

Example of the Trope: Kendra of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Series. When Buffy died and found herself in hell, Kendra was ‘tapped’ to become the next “Slayer.” However, Buffy was not so much dead as she was “stuck” in Hell. But since the physical body was considered dead, Kendra was tapped with the power. Buffy, as it turns out, would come back – and start clashing with Kendra and just about everything Kendra stood for. The two would join forces, but Kendra ends up dead shortly thereafter.

Lorrain Katrin.  When you make a character that surpasses the show's Mary Sue/Gary Stu, they tend to get their comeuppance.  If they happen to be non-White, then they tend to die.

Lorrain Katrin. When you make a character that surpasses the show's Mary Sue/Gary Stu, they tend to get their comeuppance. If they happen to be non-White, then they also tend to die.

Example of the Trope: Lorain Katrin of Battlestar Galactica. When she was first introduced, she was initially an “Incompetent” (Trope 3) with a touch of drug addiction. However, it would come to pass that Lorraine surpasses Kara Thrace in terms of piloting ability. Unfortunately, Kara Thrace is the show’s resident Mary Sue character, so Katrin was slapped in Season 3 three with “Traitor” and “Tragic Warrior,” all in the same episode.

Lt. Dietre explaining a flight manuever she uses against the Cylons.

Lt. Dietre (Right) explaining a flight manuever she uses against the Cylons.

Notable Exception to the Trope: Lt. Dietre of Battlestar Galactica (Original). Dietre is smart, committed, an exceptional pilot, and a Colonial Warrior whose skills and bravery make her a match for any pilot in the Fleet. This means that she was not a victim of Tropes 1, 2, or 3. And because Larson and Company had her live by the end of the story, Dietre avoids Trope 4.

This entry was posted in Support Analysis and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Analysis: The Tropes of Women of Color in Sci-Fi – Version 4 (The Tragic Warrior)

  1. K says:

    Have to say that I’m gonna take a pass on Kendra as a trope. Because the actress who played Kendra was originally cast as Cordelia Chase. She turned down the role due to other commitments. From what I understand, Whedon liked her so much, that he asked her to play the role of Kendra just to have her on the show… however, briefly.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Understand why these pages exist.

      I know that Whedon has stated that he liked Bianca Lawson. However, he decided against casting her and instead leaves his “main” cast Whitewashed. He then brings Bianca back, and makes her a character to be mocked. Sure, there is a moment of reconciliation, but then her character is killed off. She could have been “re-assigned,” but she was killed specifically. Whedon himself has issues with people of color, particularly women of color and LGBTQ characters as well, but he tries to hide under a smokescreen of the Action Heroine Handwave.

      This kind of casting and scriptwriting behavior needs to be called out more often; it cannot be excused simply because of an author’s/creator’s past reputation.

  2. K says:

    Point taken. Just curious- could you provide more examples of what makes an Action Heroine Handwave trope and what doesn’t. I went back and read both the posts on the AHH and the Alice comment and while I understand what you are saying, I can’t think of a counterbalance to the AHH. I thought perhaps of Battlestar Galactica’s President Roslyn and Gina Tores’ Zoe Washburne. Am I on the right track to understanding?

    • Heavy Armor says:

      The point behind AHH is that all the other -isms of a series or movie are ignored to praise a (White) Female Action Heroine. A case in point is the movie “Aliens,” where the brownfacing, homophobia, and outright racism of the movie are virtually ignored by people looking to praise the Ripley character. Or, how about Terminator 2, where people literally gush about Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner character, but fail to mention how Sarah’s actions were merely a copy of the Terminator from the first movie, nor do they talk about how Sarah’s righteous indignation at Miles Dyson was about as bigoted as it could be (there was a team on scientists working on the project, and she seems to only reserve her hatred for Miles, not Cyberdyne).

      Or even Kill Bill, where, except for Bill, all of the Bride’s Hit List targets were Women of Color, and all of the extras who died were Men of Color. Or Kick A$$, where much of the feminist blogosphere gushed with praise and squeed with glee over Hit Girl, but somehow walk away from the racism, gender stereotypes, White privilege and bigotry of the movie. Rebecca of Chicks Who Kill Things called this movie out.

      In, BSG:Re, lots of praise for Kara Thrace and to a lesser extent Laura Roslin and Caprica Six. No mention of treatment of non-White characters in the show across the board, especially Black Men (who are patsies or criminals and nothing more). Asian men are non-existent in this series. The one Asian actress playing two roles, both of them are Sci-Fi tropes (Boomer is #2, Athena is #3). The Black Women and Latina women with (so-called) major roles are dead. But BSG:Re fans don’t acknowledge these people – and will attempt to denigrate those who try.

      Back to Buffy, which is still praised, but Kendra’s pointless death, especially in the face of the chances Faith gets to “redeem” herself, is rarely mentioned. In fact, most people didn’t take notice to Whedon’s problems with Women in general until the “Dark Willow” storyline. But most of his fans still handwave his issues with Men in general (but especially Men of Color) and non-White and/or cis-gendered Women to praise the “empowerment” that Buffy provided at the time.

      Basically, this happens far too often to be “coincidence.”

  3. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Robocop 3 | Loose Cannon

  4. tigerpetals says:

    Actually, Buffy wasn’t in hell. She was drowned and then brought back through CPR. Agree with the rest – Kendra dying bothers me whenever I think of it.

  5. Pingback: In defense of Mako Mori: a response | Whitney Thompson

Say What You Mean - And Mean What You Say

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s