I was once asked in an interview who I would want to play Kayla if The Empress Game was made into a movie. My answer? Zoe Saldana. No hesitation there. Some people might be thinking, “woah. I pictured Kayla as white.” That’s a fair guess, based on the cover art. In truth, only 1 person in the entire novel has her skin color described, and that’s Divinya, who has skin as dark as the true definition of black, being “the absence (or complete absorption) of light.” Other than that, I couldn’t care less, which is why, as a writer, I don’t mention it.
When I hit “publish” on my post two weeks ago titled “Top Nine Fictional Female Badasses,” I realized right away that the list was too “white.” There are a lot of reasons for this, such as which actors/characters get more press/recognition (and thus stuck in my brain), who I tend to identify with as a white person myself, and so on.
That said, once I gave my list a second thought, there’s no reason for it to be so “white.”
Why, you ask? I looked at my list and determined that the badass characters I listed fell into 2 categories: 1) badass characters that made an emotional impact on me, and 2) badass characters in general.
In category 1 I have: Pocahontas, Sioned, Aeryn Sun, Elizabeth Bennet and Aviendha.
Everyone else is in category 2: badass in their own right, but I’m not personally engaged with them, per se.
That said, when I gave this question of “what fictional female characters are badass?” a second thought, tons of “diverse” character suggestions came to me. (I hate the term “diverse.” It’s so… “other.” I grew up in a family who was not concerned about race, so this is a new consideration for me. BUT, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t attack this problem of the lack of diversity in SF/Feminism with gusto.) So, I realized that this list of badass female characters needed to be reworked.
Here is my reworked list. It’s not a combo of a “white person list” and “other diverse people who should have been added” list, it’s a genuine integrated list. I’d like to point out that both Pocahontas and Aviendha are not “white,” for whatever that’s worth, so my “important to my heart” characters are 3/5 white and 2/5 “other,” not too shabby for not really thinking the list through.
Is it easiest for me to identify with white characters? Probably, considering the amount of media coverage they get and my own limited exposure to difference races and cultures.
Does that make it “OK?”
Not really. With one extra second’s thought I was able to dredge up plenty of badass non-white characters, and really, if we want to promote diversity in life, fiction, and everywhere, sometimes we just need to make the tiniest of efforts. Or the largest of efforts. Or any effort at all.
I want to keep making an effort to increase diversity in our culture on all levels until it is so ubiquitous that this doesn’t even need to be a conversation. It should just be, “Badass females. Period.”
That said, here is my updated list. I am placing the 5 characters listed above as being “category 1” at the top of the list because they are most important to me emotionally, race notwithstanding, but that doesn’t at all take away from the other ladies on the list. They are all badass.
Here we go! :)
Storm, as I remember her from the X-Men cartoon (which was awesome, btw!)
She is wise, a strong counselor for Professor X. He relies on her wisdom heavily. She was worshipped as a goddess in Africa when her powers manifest, but doesn’t let it go to her head. She embodies the ideal of “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”
The White Haired Witch (as played by Bingbing Fan)
This character is phenomenal. She protects her people with her amazing martial skills, determined to keep their kingdom free from creeping illness and betrayal. To be a better warrior, and at the urging of her now-dead master, she has sworn off love, convinced that it will always betray you.
Nonetheless, when she meets the man that completes her heart, she dares to dream that they could be one. Of course, that is not to be. Betrayal after betrayal assaults her, but in the end, she believes in her love, and sacrifices even that, her memories of their time together, in order to save his life. Talk about a strong will and a true badass.
Side note: When we watched this movie, I said to James, “Please don’t learn the Scroll of Apathy to save my life, and in the process forget our love.”
James’s response was, “Feel free to do whatever you gotta do to save my life.” ;-)
Number Three (a/b):
Neela (as played by Nathalie Kelley in Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift) and Letty (Played by Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast and Furious movies)
Both badass ladies who know how to drive. Is there anything more encouraging then seeing ladies rule in a “man’s world” arena? Neela drifts like a pro, and is in fact the one who teaches the hero how to drive/drift. Letty is amazing. She’s all in, an awesome driver, dedicated, full badass material. I loved both of these characters when watching the movies.
Zoë Washburne (as played by Gina Torres in Firefly)
I’m pretty sure this needs no commentary, but, just to be clear – Zoë was the most logical, badass, well-organized thinker of that entire crew on Firefly. Without her, imo, that whole shindig would have fallen apart. What I loved other than her total badassery? The way she was loyal to the captain as a soldier/comrade, and had a different/separate place carved out in her life for her husband. There was no, “oh no, I love both men!” issues. She was a boss. Business first, pleasure later, but yes to both.
Gamora (as played by Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy)
When I tell people “The Empress Game is space opera,” and they say, “What is space opera?” my answer is always, “It’s like Guardians of the Galaxy, or Star Wars.”
It’s no surprise, then, that I love Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s SO like Kayla in so many aspects: separated from her real family, trained to be a living weapon, on a quest…. It’s no wonder I love her. Not to mention that I love Zoe in every movie I’ve ever seen her in, including Center Stage!
(Guilty secret, Rhonda loves ANY movie with dancing in it!)
What else do I need to say here? Gamora should be as heralded as Black Widow is. Equal levels of badassery, imo.
Nikita (as played by Maggie Q)
This is one of my all-time favorite badasses. She was bred inside of an organization, “drinking the cool-aid” if you will, all in. She ran many missions for them, until, they took her one step too far- killing a little girl. Instead, saved the little girl, and started her own rebellion. A one woman army.
I ate this show up (as you might expect.) Maggie Q is AMAZING as Nikita. We’re talking precision technique, cold/emotionless delivery, mission-oriented, passionate about taking down a corrupt establishment…not to mention she’s hiding from the man she loves, who is trying to kill her….
The fight scenes are awesome, and the show is worth watching just for that. But the character of Nikita? Even better. (Side note: Hated Alex, the girl she saved who is supposed to be a protégée)
Also – a woman does NOT need to be sexy to be badass. BUT, I loved the way that Nikita (since she was) used that as a weapon. A true professional will use what she’s got in order to get the job done. I approve.
Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
This is one of my all-time favorite characters. She’s set in a time-period where women had very little power/say, but she is still a badass. She fiercely protects Jane (her older sister) when she realizes Jane’s heart has been broken. She is not afraid to spar verbally with a man above her station when he is condescending and rude to her, despite her interest in him. She does not shrink like a violet, thankful for any attention. She knows her own worth and stands by it.
When nearly forced into a loveless marriage, she rebels (and is saved from it by a doting father, thankfully). And when she realizes that she was wrong about the man she loves, she admits her mistake, and begs for her father’s acceptance of that man’s suit.
She is fearless and fierce, proud to a fault, but admits when she’s wrong. She’s a protector and she deserves every last second of happiness the book’s end grants her
Aviendha (Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series)
When I was reading this series, I couldn’t imagine a more badass character than Aviendha. I pretty much wanted to BE her. She was amazingly tough and loyal. Independent, strong, self-sufficient, important to her people… I love her. She would have ranked higher on my list if Jordan hadn’t neuter her and grouped her in with all of his other female characters who considered men “wool-headed” and so refused to communicate effectively. SIGH.
Pocahontas (As portrayed in the Disney movie of the same name)
Growing up, this version of Pocahontas spoke very clearly to my heart. She was nature-loving, as was I, and thought that was something of worth and the land worth protecting. I still feel the same way and am thankful to have married a wonderful man who shares my conservationist tendencies.
Why do I label her a badass? That’s easy. First, she’s independent and true to herself, even though she knows it’ll earn her censure. Second, she speaks up to the foreigner she meets who doesn’t understand the colors of the wind, and takes time to show him why the earth is worth respecting. Third, she’s not afraid to embrace love where she finds it, no matter how difficult, and fights for it. Fourth, she lets that love go when she realizes it’s the best for him.
Painful sigh! I sobbed with heartbreak at the end of Pocahontas. I’m not kidding, I was inconsolable.
Number Ten (A):
Aeryn Sun (As played by Claudia Black in Farscape)
So, I’m cheating, but numbers one and two are a tie, so I’m going with Numbers One (A) and One (B).
Aeryn Sun is perhaps my favorite character of all time, and if you look closely, an inspiration for both Kayla and the hero of my first ever fantasy novel, Tae.
Simply put, I love her. She is guarded, fierce and dedicated. She knows her role within her military and she fulfills it superbly. When that military turns on her for an act of humanity, she is stripped of all she has ever known and all she believes in. She’s devastated.
But instead of mourning her loss, she picks herself up, checks with her morals to confirm that she did the right thing, and soldiers on. She moves into a new, unknown world completely alien to her way of life, and maintains her own sense of honor while she navigates it.
She is arrogant and proud, but rightfully so (on the proud part) and diligent in her retaining her own strength. The love story between her and John is one of the most painfully wrought stories I have watched/read. She surrenders herself sliver by sliver to the trust of another being, never losing herself, and learning inch by inch that all she’s known has been wrong, and that she has to adapt.
She does this all without losing her skills or her warrior spirit. In my opinion Aeryn Sun is a model for girls who need to understand that you can love someone without losing yourself.
Number Ten (B):
Sioned (Of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince Trilogy)
I almost can’t speak on Sioned, she’s had that profound of an impact on me. If you ever want to know what makes Rhonda tick, where she learned to be so fiercely loyal to her loved ones and uncompromising on their happiness, you should read Dragon Prince. I read this as an adolescent in high school and it made such an impression on me that I remember it all, even after the thousands and thousands of books I’ve read since.
There has never been a woman more badass than Sioned. If you’ve read Melanie Rawn’s series, I can pretty much stop here and your head will be nodding. The strength of her love, her loyalty, her belief in herself, her powers… she is amazing. She’s confident, strong and willful, but utterly devoted to her love and her people. She is an amazing combination of personal power and social responsibility.
In all of my reading, I have never met so impressive a heroine. So real, believable, and heartbreaking.
If you enjoy fantasy fiction and you haven’t read the series now, run—don’t walk—to your local bookstore. (Then ask if they could order it b/c it’s an older series, and you want to support local stores instead of Amazon!)
If you made it this far, thanks for reading my list. I think badass women, in all their forms, be it kicking ass as an assassin, following orders as a soldier, defending their family on any turf, being a diplomat, or having the strength to treat the wounds of others as needed, makes women amazing. The more we write about them, even in this “first world country” that is America, the better.