Gender Focus welcomes new contributor Tracy Bealer! Tracy Bealer has a PhD from the University of South Carolina and currently teaches writing at Metro State University of Denver, where she regularly lets her students watch movies in class. She has published on Quentin Tarantino, the Harry Potter series, and sparkly vampires.
NBC’s latest conspiracy-driven sci-fi drama series reveals its interest in political radicalism with its title. Revolution imagines a post-apocalyptic America in which, fifteen years prior, all electrical power was mysteriously, suddenly. and permanently shut off, rendering cities overgrown wastelands, and driving citizens to small, rural communities where they scrounge out a meager existence and try to remain in the good graces of a totalitarian militia—the Monroe Republic. The third episode, “No Quarter,” reveals the existence of a band of rebels committed to overthrowing the militia and restoring democratic rule.
So far, Revolution’s women characters have been represented as not only nominally powerful, but crucial to the narrative structure of each episode. In fact, the only all-male sphere appears to be the villainous Monroe militia. Two women hold priceless information about the source of, and possible cure for, the blackout. The show’s main protagonist, Miles Matheson, also seeks out Nora, a female former comrade, to aid his niece, Charlie, to find her brother who has been kidnapped by the militia. When they find Nora in “No Quarter,” Miles and Charlie discover she has joined the rebel movement and follow her to the group’s nearby stronghold.
While camping with the rebels, Charlie, a young woman who was entrusted with her brother’s rescue as her father was dying, experiences a political awakening. In earlier episodes, her only interest was in ensuring her family’s survival. She expressed no interest in resisting the militia’s regime beyond getting her brother back. But, after witnessing the death of a young fighter, the episode implies that Charlie’s consciousness about the larger communal cost of political oppression is raised. She demands to stay and fight alongside the rebels against overwhelming odds, rather than saving herself and her uncle.
I’m curious to see if Charlie’s political resistance will be developed in further episodes, especially because of her similarity to another young female political radical in pop culture: Katniss Everdeen.
The transition from a narrow focus on self and family to a broader, political worldview is one also experienced by Nora, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy and film. Another common element these female characters share is an emotional trauma that serves as the catalyst for political radicalization (and a fondness for shooting arrows). Nora tells Charlie that she decided to join the resistance after losing an unborn child while fighting the militia.
Katniss’s commitment to undermining the nefarious Capitol, rather than merely surviving the Games to care for her sister, can be traced to her mourning ceremony for Rue, another Tribute. The titular Civil Rights activist in Alice Walker’s Meridian also suffers a similar foundational loss prior to an interest in radical politics.
I’m curious about the assumptions behind this common trope. What about the insertion of a personal loss or trauma causes activism for women to make more narrative sense? The same episode of Revolution reveals the genesis of Miles’ political consciousness, but he invokes universal concepts like justice and responsibility as motivators. Similarly, Gale, the politically active male protagonist of The Hunger Games has no specific emotional incentive to resist the Capitol other than a desire to end oppression for all the suffering Districts.
It’s satisfying—and long overdue—to see representations of women participating meaningfully in radical politics in television and film, but I wonder if there’s a way to narrativize that radicalization for women characters in a way other than through trauma?