vəˈräɡō/: a woman of strength or spirit; a female warrior.

Orphan Black, Sleepy Hollow and Sci-Fi’s Iron Butterflies

As a devoted fan of genre films, the outrage over Tatiana Maslany not being nominated for her performance on the cult BBC America series ‘Orphan Black’, is understandable but not that surprising. There is still a stigma surrounding ‘Genre’ shows as being juvenile, and to top it off a lot of the exceptional shows, i.e. “True Blood”, “Games of Thrones,”etc. are already crowding the plate. Maybe next year.

Orphan Black, a cool, moody slice of Grant Morrison-ish, superhero noir, is about how grungy, street urchin ‘Sarah’, returns to her hometown with a dangerous plan to get her daughter and disappear. Frustrated and angry after a fight on the phone with her daughter’s foster mom, she witnesses a distraught woman walk straight in front of an oncoming train. This horrible incident is only compounded by the fact that before her death, Sarah realizes the distraught woman looks strikingly like her. Pulling herself together, Sarah keeps her focus and while the train station deals with the tragedy, she steals the woman’s bag, hoping to assume her identity. Creators of the show, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett weave a suspenseful series of plot twists and surprises. Seasoning it all with interesting supporting characters, from Sarah’s flamboyant ‘Posh Punk’  foster-brother ‘Felix’, played by Jordan Gavaris, the straight-up super-spy vibe of the brooding Paul, played by Dylan Bruce, and the revolutionary foster-mother, Mrs. S, played by the always amazing Maria Doyle Kennedy.

The glue holding this together is Maslany’s command of multiple characters, alternating accents, hairstyles and personality traits that are revealed right in front of us like a subway magic-trick, daring us to figure it out. It’s not a spoiler to give away the fact that the central conspiracy is human cloning, because she convinces you to suspend your belief for an hour.

Genre shows and films tend to give free rein to young, new talent, especially amongst minorities and women. I am a huge fan of awesome Sci-fi with female protagonists. As a young man, I found myself a lot more enthusiastic about films where interesting female characters were involved and growing up in the 70s during the blooming era of the ‘Women’s Rights Movement’, there was no shortage of strong, female characters from The Pam Grier-influenced ‘Get Christy Love’ played brilliantly by the late Theresa Greaves to Linda Carter’s iconic ‘Wonder Woman’.

I come from a family of very strong men and women. I have never felt intimidated by strong women because, quite frankly, the men I grew up around weren’t. So consequently, this stretched into my entertainment predilections, and no other genre fulfills that more than Sci-fi. Starting with complicated heroines like the ‘Bionic Woman’s’ reluctant hero Jamie Summers (Lindsay Wagner) to Katee Sackhoff’s cigar-chomping reinterpretation of Dirk Benedict’s Orginal Space Fly boy ‘Starbuck’, in the recent reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

This is an awesome time to be a nerd, especially for folks who love female heroes, but last night after a friendly conversation with some friends and fans of genre shows who also happened to be women, I had to ask myself some questions. Though I am far from calling myself a feminist,  I have championed these shows as a fan and I think it’s just good for genre films in general. Now in light that, I have been to sites where some men rail against the ‘myth’ of fans of female action leads on genre shows or films, and aside from calling it “feminist propaganda”, they also accused men who supported them as weak and effeminate. I had to check myself. Was this just mask for some nerd super heroine fetish or a weak man in denial?

Thankfully, I kept this thought process to myself, and listened. I was then assured of what I always thought — women like action films too. A strong woman for women doesn’t have to be able to snap necks. Overcoming a seemingly insurmountable task will do quite well. And yeah, it feels good to see a woman as hero. I have no problem identifying with a female protagonist. Sorry macho nerds, guess I am not as “manly” as you.

Okay good. So for you folks looking for something cool and new from diverse perspectives, ignore the unfair stigma of genre shows. Take time to check out the new and intriguing ‘Sleepy Hollow’ on Fox, The Syfy channel’s sexy Gothic ‘Lost Girl’ and its Timecop drama Continuum and don’t sleep on the return of Joss Whedon to network television on ABC with ‘Agents of Shield’. Also BBC America has started re-running the first season of Orphan Black. Go see what the fuss is about. So don’t fret about the Emmy snub folks. Her time will come. But definitely set those DVRs. Fall is coming.

About P.Downes

P.Downes

A Los Angeles-based Bajan, rude boy from Boston, P. Downes (Writer/Film & Independent Music Editor) is a card-carrying music and comic book geek with dreams of making movies. He’s a published comic book writer, most notably “Killer Ape and Other City Stories,” a collaboration with Greg Moutafis about a black, punk band who comes of age on the night of the LA Riots. Rumor has it that he types his articles in Spider-man Underoos for good luck.

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