It’s also a story crafted by a group of men.
As such, “Terminator: Dark Fate” is one of several recent examples of how good things can get when white men in Hollywood actually make an effort to tell stories about people who don’t look like them. It’s also proof of how much farther we have to go.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” follows Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), an embittered survivor of relentless cyborg attacks; Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced super-soldier from the future; and Dani (Natalia Reyes), a young woman Grace has been sent to protect. They’re relentlessly pursued by Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), a cyborg who even more than his predecessors feels less like a person than a ruthlessly efficient manifestation of male violence. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800, now going by the name of Carl, shows up eventually. But he’s mainly here to serve the story of a woman coming into her powers.
I’m delighted that “Terminator: Dark Fate” exists. But the “Terminator” movies, and the care for Sarah Connor that James Cameron has shown over the years, don’t make me think that the 65-year-old Canadian producer and director can carry the banner of women in action movies all by himself. Rather, his outsider’s observations about what it’s like to be a woman against the world make me want more women to get the chance to tell the world what masculinity looks like to them.
The same is true for “Watchmen,” Damon Lindelof’s continuation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s landmark comic series. It’s wonderful that a showrunner like Lindelof is giving the remarkable actress Regina King the chance to play the superheroine Sister Night and putting her at the center of his show, as well as hiring writers such as playwright Stacy Amma Osei-Kuffour and “The Good Place” and “Master of None” veteran Cord Jefferson. But the fact that Lindelof can do it makes the need for women and nonwhite people to tell superhero stories more urgent.
I want to know what men think about women and power; their opinions are vital to our fate, after all. I want even more badly to see what the people who have typically been stuck as damsels in distress or in sidekick roles (when they haven’t been reduced to racist caricatures) in such stories think about superpowered white men. The results might not be quite so heroic or so flattering as the men who have engineered the superhero age in entertainment tend to imagine.
Last week, FX chief executive John Landgraf announced that after concerted efforts almost 60 percent of the writers on FX shows are women and people of color, and that more than half of the original episodes the network produces are directed by women. That impressive achievement, which Landgraf intended as a response to reporting that showed his network lagging far behind in this regard, is a sharp rebuke to anyone who says it’s simply just too hard to hire anyone other than white men. And it has produced some great, insightful television, including the groundbreaking historical drama, “Pose.”
But Landgraf, who has demonstrated just what executives can achieve if they really dedicate themselves to transforming their workforce, cannot answer two other questions: What choices might women or people of color make if they were truly free to run a network in accordance with their tastes and instincts? Who might they hire, and what stories might those people tell?
I’ve long been grateful to Cameron for his interest in women and our concerns, and I’m grateful to Lindelof and Landgraf, too. But I’ll be even happier if and when the entertainment industry reaches a point where I am not so painfully aware of how far we still have to go and I don’t have to be so thankful for exceptions.