Mad Max and I go WAY back. My dad was a big lover of science fiction, spread that love to me, and always asked “what if” questions about the future. He shared his love of movies like Postman and Waterworld and Blade Runner—movies that were all set in the future just far enough out to be able to still remember the past.
When I was younger, I remember watching a LOT of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I loved that movie. My sister and I would sometimes chant “’Memba this???” when telling a story, like the savage kids. Dad would explain a bit about why the world of Mad Max was the way it was—a post-apocalyptic future where resources were scarce, and people recreated their own form of civility and structure from what was left. I remember being fascinated by that world.
When I was older, I watched the other Mad Max movies that tell the arc of how that world got to where it was: Mad Max, Road Warrior, and Thunderdome. I’m a total sucker for a movie with interesting characters, and the world of Mad Max is full of them.
The thing I always love about Max was that he was cool without being above it all. And he was good without being ALL good (because no one is ALL good, right?).
And best of all, throughout the arc of all the movies, he didn’t just go in somewhere, guns blazing and save the day like some super dude. He got caught. He was captured. He was hurt. He made bargains. He made MISTAKES. He was human.
The movies were brutal, they were all about survival. And although there were some strong women, they didn’t always fare too well in the end. Sadly, you sort of come to expect that after awhile.
But the movies also had a sense of dark humor to them. Where somehow even after all the mess, you could find something as simple as a grunting feral child with a boomerang or a goofy Gyro Captain to at least make you smile.
So I was apprehensive about Fury Road. I mean it had to be good if it was George Miller, but what if it wasn’t? I’m all for revamps and remakes and sequels and prequels, but I wasn’t really sure how I felt about one of my beloved movie series’ being remade.
UNTIL I SAW THE PREVIEWS. And all my fears subsided, and excitement ensued. And it was so much better than I imagined.
There are amazing characters—and if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I love drawing characters I find interesting.
Like Nux, one of the War Boys who was raised from birth to serve the warlord Immortan Joe (another fascinating antagonist), alongside Nux’s two “mates”–his tumors, Larry and Barry.
But the most amazing character to me (as she is for a lot of people) is Imperator Furiosa. Just google “Furiosa art” and you’ll see how much she’s inspired other artist. If you don’t know why someone might find her so inspiring, hold her side to side against any other “strong” female characters and see how fantastically DIFFERENT she is.
I think her character alone is something filmmakers should look at carefully, and pattern other female characters after. I’ll explain a bit about why her character means so much to me:
- Furiosa is strong, but she’s different than most because while she’s badass, she also doesn’t just go in and kick butt. She makes mistakes. She’s not completely sure what she’s doing, but she’s driven, and she is fighting for something she believes in. She nearly gets killed at one point…and then dusts herself off and keeps on going.
- Her character isn’t driven by sexuality. Okay, she’s gorgeous simply because Charlize Theron is gorgeous, but that doesn’t even figure in at ALL to her persona. No one threatens to attack her sexually (this is often an unfortunate plot point filmmakers use to quickly weaken a female character–although it does exist elsewhere in the world Miller created). She doesn’t try to use her own sexuality to manipulate anyone. It’s not even a factor. People are too busy trying to survive.
- She has weaknesses, but they don’t slow her down. She’s not helpless with that one arm. No one even mentions the fact that she’s got a (super awesome) prosthetic. No one pities her; they’re doing their best to survive themselves. No one takes it easy on her either. Like she tells the Wives, “Out here, everything hurts.”
- She’s wearing practical shoes. (Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But I cannot tell you how completely distracted I was in EVERY single scene of Jurassic World by the main character’s spiky heels. In the Jungle. In the mud. While running. From a T-Rex. Seriously.)
- She didn’t “get the guy” in the end. She and Max develop a mutual respect for one another’s badassery, and they share some thumbs-up looks with one another, but neither of them seems to see the other as a possible love interest. THANK GOODNESS. Most filmmakers try to give their badass women characters a softness by throwing love in there. As if the only way you can be a fully rounded person is if someone else sees you as a potential love interest. Or perpetuate the stereotype that strong women HAVE to be gay. But in this film…
- She has emotions that don’t center around men. REALLY?? Is that even possible? As strong as Furiosa is, she is holding it together for her belief in a certain hope. When that belief falters, she breaks down. Like an actual human woman. She is a wonderful mix of hard and soft. Like an actual human woman. She’s hurt. She cries. Not because she’s weak, but because she’s held it together so long and had faith in something that may no longer exist. That’s a painful thought for anyone. …And then she sucks it up, buckles her arm back on, and tries something else. Like people do.
So recently, I got this AMAZING book on the concept art for Fury Road. Do you know most of the storyboards and character sketches for Fury Road were done as early as 1997? Other than some visual imagery, the majority of the storyline and the characters were laid out in full way back then. I LOVE seeing “behind the scenes,” where the ideas come from, what the thought process was and most especially the rough sketches.
As an artist, it’s one thing to draw a character, but another altogether to imagine and create a character based on a specific idea that the world is dying and they can only use what’s around them. You’d have to put yourself in that world, and think of what you could use around you. I thought of my days as an army lady, and what I needed to have on me, what were “luxury” items as a soldier when you’re full of gear, and how you could customize your own rig. This book has been so awesome for me, and super inspiring.
So as amazing as Furiosa is, and as inspiring as she is to me personally, it got me wondering about the portrayal of women in movies. And most especially this thought: I wonder, is it possible to have a female antagonist?
Is it possible to have a “bad guy” who’s a woman, who commands the adoration of her tribe (as Immortan Joe did by portraying himself as “godlike”), but withOUT the use of her sexuality? A character who is aggressive and maybe even brutal…who commands fear, but also respect? Can you have a woman play a character like Immortan Joe (or Darth Vader, or Bane, or any “bad guy” for that matter)? Is that even possible?
I started by sketching some possible ideas for women in that world…regular women and more aggressive characters. There so many wonderful male and female characters in Fury Road (the Vuvalini—an all-female tribe of motorcycle riders, for example).
I had fun playing with the idea of what a person might want in a world like that. Some face protection? Something to make them seem more visually intimidating? Masks and clothing were used to that respect in the MM films. Can she be disfigured in some way (like Joe or Vader or Bane) and still command fear and respect?
Evidently, the actor who played Immortan Joe got into character by hanging posters of himself in costume that said “DADDY LOVES YOU.” He put them everywhere–in all the areas around set and in the gym areas where the actors playing the War Boys would train. It was this idea that as this character, he was an overlord–he was powerful and merciful, and wanted to be seen as a father figure to his people.
So would a female antagonist play off of the idea of “Mother?” Would she portray herself as godlike or motherly to her people? Would that give her too much sensitivity? Would that sensitivity equate to weakness? (PS: That was pretty much the role of Auntie Entity (Tina Turner) in Thunderdome…although she was more of a “good guy” who brought order to chaos.)
So I’m playing with those ideas. I’m not sure what effect it’ll have on my artwork, but I can tell you my mind’s been swimming with thoughts and ideas. And even if nothing comes of them, isn’t it wonderful to look at things in a new way? Not to just rehash the regular old characters? To ask “what if” as often as you can?