FANTASY GIRLS – TOP 10 GIRLS OF FANTASY & SF (SPECIAL MENTION): UHURA, BARBARELLA, SANTANICO PANDEMONIUM & LEELOO
For my top ten girls of fantasy & SF, I reserve special mention for the girls of cinematic or television fantasy & SF, given the literary focus of the top ten itself.
NYOTA UHURA – STAR TREK (1966 – PRESENT)
Star Trek is of course one of the two most iconic science fiction franchises. Despite a proliferation of female characters – including the classic green-skinned alien space babe, Nyota Uhura remains the most iconic female character in one of the most extensive science fiction or fantasy media franchises and pop culture phenomena of all time – albeit more by her surname than her given name.
Star Trek itself needs no introduction. And as for Uhura herself, she was the starship Enterprise’s receptionist, uh, Communications Officer (“I repeated the computer” as Sigourney Weaver’s parody character snapped in Galaxy Quest). Okay, it may not exactly seem to be breaking that space glass ceiling (although she rises in rank and ultimately to a well-deserved captain’s chair in the animated series). Played by Nichelle Nichols, she made a difference, kicking ass as one of television’s groundbreaking black female characters. Whoopi Goldberg exclaimed as a young girl “Mama! Mama! There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid!”. She influenced Dr. Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut, into space. And her fans included none other than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who talked her out of quitting as it was inspiring for Americans to tune in every week and see the future of the human race being represented, at least in part, by a black woman) and President Obama.
However, with all due credit to Nichelle Nichols, I’ve chosen the reboot’s Zoe Saldana for my feature images because, well, Zoe Saldana.
“Like some baby Barbarella…
She’s just a cosmic girl
From another galaxy…
It’s a distant solar system
I tried to phone but they don’t list ’em
So I asked her for a number all the same
She said, step in my transporter
So I can teleport ya
All around my heavenly body” – Jamiroquai, “Cosmic Girl”
Jamiroquai may not have been the best lyricist, but it doesn’t matter when you’re that funky. Anyway, this should technically be an entry in comics rather than cinematic fantasy – but the comic is little known outside France and Barbarella is better known by the film, directed by Roger Vadim with his then wife (and s€x symbol) Jane Fonda in the title role.
Here she is in perhaps her most iconic costume from the film – and doing a very impressive set of splits
The film is set in the distant future, about the 40th century, with peace reigning on Earth – but Barbarella is sent to retrieve Dr Durand Durand (who subsequently lent his name to the 1980’s pop group), is subjected to various s€xual encounters and…I confess, I’ve never seen all the film. It was on television one night when I was a child and my parents sent me to my room when it started to get naughty. “But it’s science fiction!” I protested, partly motivated by my strange new crush on Jane Fonda. And I’ve never seen it since. Damn you, parental guidance!
Some impressive Barbarella cosplay by model Paula Labaredas and an equally impressive set of splits
And I’ve dreamed of Barbarella ever since.
SANTANICO PANDEMONIUM – FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)
“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool. And at my command, you’ll lick the dog shit from my boot heel. Since you’ll be my dog, your new name will be ‘Spot’. Welcome to slavery.”
Of course, Seth Gecko has the perfect response – “No thanks, I already had a wife”. I can empathise with that.
Anyway, who can forget Santanico Pandemonium as played by Salma Hayek in From Dusk Till Dawn – and particularly that introductory scene? (Although not quite with the same stage presence, I also have a soft spot for Eiza Gonzalez in the television series).
From Dusk Till Dawn famously features a genre shift from the first half of the film, in which Tarantinoesque gangsters, Gecko brothers, including Tarantino himself as the creepier Gecko brother seek to flee the law south of the border. Of course, Tarantino brings his usual foot fetish to the film, although I’d drink tequila off Santanico’s toes too. The Geckos, and the family they have taken hostage, essentially hole up in a stripper bar in Mexico, which turns out to have fangs – as the focus of some sort of vampire cult, with Santanico Pandemonium as its vampire queen or demi-goddess.
As her Mexican compere (played by Danny Trejo) announces her, “kneel and worship at the feet of Santanico Pandemonium!”
Interestingly, her name comes from a cult Mexican exploitation horror film – with nuns! Nunsploitation!
LEELOO – THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)
Leeloo is adorable.
And not just because she’s played by Milla Jovovich in, ah, whatever those costumes are – from her initial appearance as bandage babe to those yellow spandex pants with orange suspenders.
She’s adorable as a character – “Leeloo is cute, innocent, has No Social Skillsand No Nudity Taboo and is perfectly capable of breaking every bone in your body without breaking a sweat. Which she will do if you cross her”.
And she cries when she reads the entry on war while speed-reading her digital encyclopedia – apparently having skipped over every other traumatizing entry, including entries for historical wars, that preceded it alphabetically. And also over the entry for love, as Bruce Willis’ Korben Dallas has to show her.
The plot of The Fifth Element is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it, but essentially resolves around a perfect being or the titular fifth element designed by aliens as a living weapon against the Great Evil. This is introduced in a preface with those same aliens in 1914 (“Are you…German?”), before leaping ahead to twenty-third century Earth, in which the Great Evil takes the form of a comet of death roaring towards Earth – although it can also literally phone ahead and make black goo ooze from Gary Oldman’s nose. It’s up to Leeloo – short for Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat – to save the world.