The Legend of Korra is the new sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is one of my favorite series of all time. I’m really pleased they’re continuing the story with Korra, the new avatar. The first two episodes are currently available for free on iTunes. Like The Hunger Games’ Katniss, Korra will likely make a great, non-sexualized heroine. We need more central strong females in modern literature that represent individuals rather than sex objects, the latter category of which includes Lara Croft, Elle Woods, and Xena Warrior Princess.
In the animated world, Disney has come a long way, but most or all of their main female characters, while often possessing an independent streak, are still dependent upon males and the end point of the story is typically courtship and a readjustment into domestic female life that is reminiscent of the 50′s. It would seem that movie producers want to assure their audience that no matter how much independence or power their female characters establish, they will always end up in their “rightful place” as the female archetype. Mulan comes to mind – she was once very independent, but in the end, Disney assures us it was just a phase and everything’s OK. Disney’s recurring princess theme allows for some female independence and strength but a monarchial role presumes gender expectations, a role from which Disney (and Pixar) have yet to break free.
Studio Ghibli has done little more to break that stereotype, though Arrietty is probably their best work in this direction thus far (though the other female characters don’t offer much hope in this respect). Ghibli has performed better in the task of neutralizing male gender stereotypes, often using machismo as comic relief, but for the most part, their female characters still smack of damsel in distress.
Oftentimes literature speeds ahead of social constraints, but in this case, it’s still taking some time for film to catch up to progressive changes in gender roles. There is nothing wrong with an effeminate female character (or masculine male character for that matter), and diversity enhances literature – it gives the audience the spice of variety and forms the basis of conflict that is necessary to any story. It’s just that we haven’t seen many strong, independent women on the big screen who aren’t also portrayed as sex objects. There is a place for just about every character, and I praise The Legend of Korra for adding to a small but growing pool of such personalities.