James Cameron is a master storyteller who can find ways to speak to every single person in the audience. While his stories are entertaining, Cameron has had one impressive ability that many big-budget filmmakers still seem to struggle with today—Cameron can write badass women heroes in his action films.
According to the director, Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri in the Avatar sequel is the most “empowering” woman he has written or has even seen on screen for one simple reason. She’s a badass who fights for what she believes, even while pregnant.
In a Variety Directors on Directors interview, Cameron spoke with Robert Rodriguez about his upcoming film, which is set over a decade after the original film ends. The Way of Water focuses heavily on the family Neytiri and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) started while still training as warriors.
During the conversation, Rodriguez asked Cameron about the decision for Neytiri to be pregnant during a battle scene in the film.
“Everybody’s always talking about female empowerment,” Cameron said. “But what is such a big part of a woman’s life that we, as men, don’t experience? And I thought, ‘Well, if you’re really going to go all the way down the rabbit hole of female empowerment, let’s have a female warrior who’s six months pregnant in battle.'”
Neytiri’s pregnancy reflects what Cameron sees as the Na’vi’s expectations and culture. Those expectations are not gendered. Instead, the culture depicts women and men hunting and fighting together. Cameron wanted to depict Neytiri as a pregnant warrior to shatter the myth that pregnant women are helpless or incapable of fighting for their beliefs.
Cameron called this depiction of a pregnant woman “the last bastion” of female roles that aren’t seen in movies.
“It doesn’t happen in our society—probably hasn’t happened for hundreds of years. But I guarantee you, back in the day, women had to fight for survival and protect their children, and it didn’t matter if they were pregnant,” Cameron told Rodriguez. “And pregnant women are more capable of being a lot more athletic than we, as a culture, acknowledge.”
Cameron wanted to strip away the boundaries of what society has defined as womanhood and motherhood and create an empowering woman that others could rally behind.
“To me, it was the last bastion that you don’t see,” Cameron said. “Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel–all these other amazing women come up, but they’re not moms and they’re not pregnant while they’re fighting evil.”
Many action films don’t do a great job of depicting strong women because they are mostly written by men who don’t try to break those cultural barriers about what a woman is. Women are as complex and definite as men. Women deserve to be shown on screen defying expectations because they constantly do that in our reality.
We don’t often see women depicted as strong, warrior mothers in action films. Sure, we get pseudo-mother figures, but I can’t think of a mother in an action film who measures up to the countless genre films that allow men to be both dads and heroes.
I am excited to see Neytiri in her full glory in The Way of Water, as well as the young children Cameron modeled off of his children. It is apparent that this film comes from a very personal place for Cameron and his deep love and appreciation for his family.
What is your favorite female character from any of Cameron’s films? Let us know in the comments below!