It's a controversy you could have predicted the minute Chloe Moretz was cast as "a vicious, foul-mouthed 11-year-old who chops down criminals with a katana." Parental groups and critics are upset about Hit-Girl the world over. "It's a disturbing step into the perverse, reveling in the corruption of an 11-year-old girl," Focus on the Family's Deb Sorensen said to Australia's Herald Sun. "It's different to any other superhero film which focuses on good triumphing over evil."
Well, having read Kick-Ass (I haven't seen the film yet), I know that's not the case. For all its "edginess", Mark Millar's violent little opus breaks no new ground in the hero's journey, and it punishes evil in no uncertain terms. In fact, it's Hit Girl who leads the final charge. She's the true hero of the story -- and it's no wonder since Kick-Ass originally started out as a book about her and Big Daddy. Millar decided your average reader could relate better to a teenage boy protagonist than an "extreme" 11 year old and her Spartan papa, so they were relegated to the supporting cast. Since they're the characters everyone is talking about, I'd venture to say that Millar made a bit of a mistake there. Plenty of superhero books focus on teenage males; not nearly enough star young girls.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. For one, the controversy seems half-hearted from where I'm standing, though that may just be because the film hasn't hit wide release in America. It feels like one of those dust-ups the press picks up on, and churns around without a lot of actual heat behind it. Going through Google's news archive, there are only a few quotes (such as the one from the Herald Sun) that are being repeated over and over. But some these are far more offensive than anything in the movie. Take The Guardian's David Cox, who called everyone associated with the film and Moretz's mother that dreaded c-word because they seemingly endorse its use. Very classy.
But really, quotes about a controversy come largely from Matthew Vaughn, Millar, Chloe Moretz, and screenwriter Jane Goldman and they seem to be more in anticipation of controversy than in response to any real one. Again, since the film hasn't yet opened in America, this could explode tomorrow. And they're right to go on the offensive.
What I find fascinating is what other writers have already theorized -- that there wouldn't be much hand-wringing if the character was called Hit Boy. Every bit of hand-wringing emphasizes Hit Girl's gender rather than her age, stresses her corruption, and worries about her language. A girl should never, ever be thinking such ugly things, let alone doing them. She should be listening to Hannah Montana and buying Justin Bieber magazines, or whatever 11-year-old girls are supposed to do these days. Certainly, her mother should know better, and steer her in those feminine directions. (Right, Mr. Cox? After all, you didn't call Mr. Moretz out for letting his daughter play Hit Girl and use bad words. Mothers are the final defense against all that is crude, ugly, and violent in this world, yes?)
While the pre-release controversy ostensibly centers on youth violence, I think the underlying complaint centers on female violence. Hit Girl's fellow superheroes, Kick-Ass and Red Mist, are not making headlines though they aren't much older than she is. If we were truly worried about corrupting the young, surely you'd lump them all in together? No, Hit Girl is the issue. She is the corrupted one. She's the one who ought to know better, and be guided into a safer life. She's the bad example. You might as well hand her an apple, and be done with the ultimate analogy.
No matter how old or young we are, women are not supposed to be action heroes. Last month, Comics Alliance sat down with Kelly Sue Donnick on her Thor spinoff, Sif. The one-off takes Thor's girlfriend and re-imagines her into what she is supposed to have been -- a warrior of Asgard, who is more than capable of taking care of her own problems with Loki. Comics Alliance readers had a bit of a problem with this. Violent women are not strong women. If a heroine really wants to be strong, she ought to be like Gandhi, and set an example of nonviolent resistance to the menfolk. I had very similar comments last year when I sarcastically noted that women didn't care about superheroes. (I also had very enlightened and intelligent ones as well.)
If Hit Girl was the nerdy sidekick -- the one who stayed behind, made gadgets, and sharpened swords, no one would care. They might worry, they might even fret about her language, but she'd be out of harm's way. Then the discussion would be focused on Kick-Ass and his boyish ilk. I can almost guarantee it.
Look, I don't endorse violence. I was a few blocks away from Columbine High School, and would have been in its graduating class on that awful year had circumstances and a GED not intervened. I grew up around guns, and I take life (in all human and animal forms) very, very seriously. But I love violent movies, and I love violent video games because I was taught the difference between fiction and reality, and I also believe we should have discussions about how dangerous these things can be. Hell, I just debated sidekicks last week with Mr. Justin Gray, and pondered the disturbing implications of encouraging a kiddie sidekick to fight to the death.
But I also think Hit Girl is as cool as hell. I like what she represents. I prefer her, her bad language, and her bloody weaponry to trends of toddler high heels, spa visits, and preteen sexualization. I find it more alarming that I hear a 7 year old asking the Starbucks clerk about the calorie content of a Cafe Mocha because what the hell are you doing drinking coffee, little girl? And why do you know what calories are? Why aren't you playing outside, anyway? It's a silly thing to use as a symbol, of course, but I think there are dangerous, upsetting things happening in youth culture that we could address instead of worrying about one fictional upstart.
Yes, there are debates to be had about Hit Girl and Kick-Ass. There are always debates to be had about violence and vigilantes, and what they say about us. But I'd prefer the conversation also turn to why preteen girls don't have a movie like Kick-Ass that they could see. Let's ask why Kick-Ass was the only script option Ms. Moretz had if she wanted to play, in her own words, "an Angelina Jolie-type character. You know, like an action hero, woman empowerment, awesome, take-charge leading role." By now, she should have had a lot more superhero and fantasy options to pick from. There are young adult genre books that center on something other than vampires. There are comic characters who are teenage girls. It's ridiculous that they languish on the shelf while Spider-Man goes back to high school. Again. You might even ask why Millar thought no one could relate to a teenage girl, and insisted on centering the story around Dave and his girlfriend problems.
These are all more interesting topics than the use of the c-word, but it's easier to fling that out (once again, I'm looking at you Mr. Cox) than engage in anything substantial about violence, gender roles, and what pop culture is left for girls to ingest. No one wants to look in that mirror. Not when we can give them Justin Bieber, and call them and their mothers out for one line of raunchy dialogue.
But I have hope. If Ms. Moretz longed to be in Wanted, than other girls do, too. She's shown a lot more awareness on such things than actresses three times her age. She's making her own opportunities. And even if she's still not allowed to see Leon, she seems eager to be something other than a Hannah Montana. When asked by the New York Times what else she wanted to do onscreen, her answer wasn't Twilight: "I want to wear heels, if that counts. Just give me some Christian Louboutins and a gun."
My kind of Hit Girl.