So, I have just finished watching the first season of “The Legend of Korra”.
In some ways, Korra could end up being at least as revolutionary a protagonist as Buffy Summers, especially with regards to kid’s animation. She’s the title character, and unquestionably the show’s protagonist, just like Buffy was. She was deliberately designed to be muscular and athletic, and yet not drawn to be a male-in-all-ways-but-genitalia “butch” woman. She has a pretty face, an attractive look, and is drawn to have feminine breasts and hips. However, her body is never exploited for sex-appeal (no cleavage shots, for example), and she has a very normal figure — neither a Wonder Woman / Power Girl double-D bust, nor “flat and grumpy about it because the other girls have bigger ones”. She’s written as having a sex drive — she wants physical contact, and initiates it with her love interest, but is never presented as an oversexed fanservice doll for male viewers (coughNEW52STARFIREcough). She’s real enough for girls watching the show to relate to her, and more than powerful enough to inspire awe and amazement.
In an interview with NPR, the creators noted that they were very worried that boys wouldn’t enjoy watching a show with a female lead — but instead: “During test screenings, though, boys said they didn’t care that Korra was a girl. They just said she was awesome.” Clearly, the “conventional wisdom” that boys will never buy into a female protagonist is simply no longer true, and it’s about damn time.
She’s also not white. This alone is noteworthy for a series protagonist. It really shouldn’t be, but let’s face it — it is.
Her character gets put through the wringer over the course of this show’s first season — she experiences grief and loss, but also triumph and joy. When she wins, it’s HER victory — the plan to defeat the show’s villain is hers, and she’s the one that executes it. She doesn’t have to be rescued by her boyfriend — if anything, she saves him! She’s not invincible — she experiences setbacks and fear, but she also overcomes these obstacles in very believable ways.
Genre fiction, and quite frankly fiction of any type, needs to take some cues from all this. Because right now, our culture’s track record with female lead characters is not very good. Strong and positive characters like Korra could be, and should be, the way of the future.