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As part of a press tour for "Guardians of the Galaxy," Zoe Saldana spoke about her intergalactic resume. There are better roles, she said, for women in space. In light of the movie’s release and Marvel president Kevin Feige's lame attempt to explain why there are no current plans for a female-led superhero movie, Slate even made the argument that we already have one with "Guardians." Saldana’s Gamora is a strong and intriguingly complicated character, who certainly constitutes one of the more important and complex female heroes in recent history. Although, in terms of her normatively hot appearance (and that of all the ladies in the "Guardians" universe), not much headway has been made. Saldana is right about the expansive possibilities that come into play when a different galaxy is the setting, but shouldn’t a realm where there are endless aesthetic options allow for body diversity as well?
Painted green with red-to-black ombre hair, Gamora resembles a punk version of the Wicked Witch of the West. She has silver “scars” on her face, which mostly just look like accent lines that a teenager might wear to a rave using eye liner. Almost every other woman in "Guardians" is painted pink (part of a presiding species that can best be understood as basic). Other than that there is Glenn Close, who has a lot of hair, and Gamora’s sister, Nebula, who has modern art patterns painted on her face and is bald but is otherwise also normatively hot. Meanwhile, in terms of both additive space gunk and body type, the man aliens have such a range of possible looks that it almost contradicts the consistency of the galaxy of which Saldana et al are guardians.
Of course, this is not a “Guardians”-specific observation. Probably the only truly “freaky” lady creature throughout the history of space films is the opera singer from “The Fifth Element" (and even she is normatively hot in terms of body type, when you look at her silhouette). These films take place in a realm where someone can have tentacles coming out of their head, but the presiding concern still seems to be whether space ladies are do-able. Literally. Consider the fact that when James Cameron was designing the Na’vi for “Avatar,” he wanted to make sure Saldana’s Neytiri was a creature folks would want to have sex with. (According to iO9, he asked his “all-male crew over and over, ‘Would you want to do her?")
The idea that a romantic (as in “Avatar”) or vaguely romantic (as in “Guardians”) female lead would need to fit into this box of do-ability is totally slimy but at least makes sense on a consumeristic level. Why, though, can’t we at least get some extras or secondary female characters with some really freaky alien stuff going on? There is so much room for not just body diversity but also general funky space accoutrements here. When it comes to the male characters in these films that is half of the schtick. (You pan through scenes just for visually intriguing shots of a dude with a snake coming out of their face or multiple eyes or a mouth on their butt or whatever, but even the “extra” female characters are just "do-able" women who are painted pink? We don’t need to go to space to see that. That already exists at, like, Burning Man.)
What makes matters worse in the case of “Guardians” is that there was a prison scene, which included Gamora, and almost no other ladies. If space wasn't enough opportunity to broaden the lens, a space-prison certainly should have been. (There’s a quick glimpse at an older woman with tubes in her head chilling in the cafeteria, but she’s not that far a cry from Red without hair dye and lipstick on "Orange Is the New Black.") Ultimately, Saldana’s assertion that the boundless reality of space allows for more complex female roles is disconcerting yet astute. The fact that the limitlessness past our atmosphere allows lady aliens to be interesting but still requires them to be normatively hot is pretty damning for the all of the roles back on planet Earth.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca