“I just thought it was cool that a girl could do that.”
So says the young girl who happens to watch Jaime Sommers attempt to escape the Wolf Creek Facility in Bionic Woman (2007). While the line itself was a poor attempt at pandering to Girl (or Grrl) Power, it happens to encapsulate a mindset that permeates through many people, even in the face of some very real and otherwise unforgivable flaws in television shows, movies, comic books, and other published media.
I made a comment about it here at this review of Alice in Wonderland, when I began to crystallize the thought behind the Action Heroine Handwave, and have since come to realize that there aren’t many places where the Handwave does not take place.
Specifically, when I usually refer to the Action Heroine Handwave, it usually means that there is a woman, ostensibly White, is shown engaging in actions that described as being the domain of men. Here, it means shooting guns, using melee weapons, engaging in combat, and/or displaying prowess with powers or skills. However, the story will involve racial and cultural stereotypes for both non-White hero and villain alike – and that is when they are allowed to be in the story for more than five seconds. Also, as a staple of the genre, Women of Color, specifically Black and Latino/Hispanic women, are either not in the film at all, or eventually fall into one of the five tropes listed here.
But, even if the presence of such serious faults are overwhelming, reviewers looking for action heroines will overlook them altogether, minimize the impact on the story, or find a reason not to analyze the observations.
And this keeps movies running down the same path.