Who Should Play the New Lara Croft?

LaraCroppedIn the midst of a dark summer for geek girls (sorry USA Today, one “lady” per movie, except for The Heat, does not constitute a good summer for women), a ray of light has finally broken through. MGM has announced it plans to reboot the Tomb Raider film franchise, and they’ve hired a female screenwriter: none other than Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame.

The Tomb Raider video game, one of the few with a female protagonist, was rebooted last year, and its new incarnation garnered criticism as well as praise. Before it came out, executive producer Ron Rosenberg announced that Croft would be a victim of rape, and he encouraged players to protect her. Amidst backlash, the development company, Crystal Dynamics, walked back the statement. But when the game was released earlier this year, the controversy flared again. The violence that Lara Croft suffers at the beginning of the game is intense and distinctly sexual.

Violence against women has been a part of video games since Grand Theft Auto allowed players to pay prostitutes for sex and then murder them and take their money back. In 2009, a Japanese video game called RapeLay went so far as to make sexual assault the point of the game, including the rape of a 10-year-old girl who stammers, “I want to die” while tears roll down her cheeks. The trope has become so common, and gamers so comfortable with it, that a Microsoft employee at the last E3 convention made a rape joke while demonstrating a game with a female colleague.

Crystal Dynamics has said that the new Tomb Raider film will follow in the footsteps of the rebooted video game, which aims “to take you on a journey of breaking [Lara] down and then building her back up again.” How Noxon plans to deal with the sexual assault remains to be seen. Though she did not write the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which vampire Spike attempts to rape Buffy (“Seeing Red”), Noxon was an executive producer at that point and was held responsible for the choice by fans. Because the incident motivates Spike to get his soul back so that he can be good, it ultimately improved reception of his character. Some feminists also find it troubling that Buffy later resumed a friendship with Spike.

With Tomb Raider, the attempted rapist is not a major character, so the sympathy-for-Spike problem can probably be avoided. The story of a strong woman not just surviving a sexual assault and but also going on to become a major action hero is not necessarily a bad story to tell. (It bears mentioning that the writer of the rebooted game is also a woman, Rhianna Pratchett.) Should Noxon choose to include the attempted rape in the movie, it could become a powerful origin story.

Casting and design will also be key to keeping the new Croft from being purely a sex object. Angelina Jolie had some game (haha) in the original two films, but her bra, though padded, provided so little actual support that most of her action sequences became all about the boobage. A genuinely athletic actor, a costume that she can reasonably fight in and a script that makes her a complex character could make this Lara Croft the best female action hero on screen in a long, long time.

Who do you think should play the new Lara Croft?

Photo from Flickr user Spielbrick Films under license from Creative Commons 2.0


Holly L. Derr is the Head of Graduate Directing at the University of Memphis and a feminist media critic who uses the analytical tools of theater to reflect upon broader issues of culture, race and gender. Follow her @hld6oddblend.