Colombiana: Why you should see it

Colombiana is not perfect. But it’s coming out on DVD on December 20th, and I think you should see it if you missed it in theaters.

Colombiana is the story of Cataleya, a young girl whose father is murdered due to his involvement with some kind of criminals in Bogota, Colombia. She escapes and makes her way to family in the U.S., where she learns to be an assassin. She works for her uncle… and on the side pursues a personal vendetta against the men who ordered her family’s murder.

Here’s why I think you should see it:

A woman of color was headlining an action film. It’s her film. She’s not a sidekick, not a love interest. A guy doesn’t show up halfway through to bail her out. The bad guys are terrified of her. No offense to Ellen Ripley, Tank Girl, Sarah Connor, and some of our other icons around here, but leading action heroines are usually in a very narrow spectrum of skin color. Zoe Saldana’s Cataleya blows the doors off that club, and I could only wish there were half a dozen more women after her.

There’s a girl who kicks ass. And I actually mean a girl, Amandla Stenberg’s young Cataleya. We don’t normally see portraits of young girls with extreme physical prowess, such as Cataleya’s parkour-like evasion of her pursuers. That’s reserved for boys, especially for “chosen one” boys. Hopefully we’ll see Stenberg in her own action films in 15 or 20 years.

It’s an intense portrait of fury in a female character. Cataleya is heartbroken and grieving and traumatized and almost beyond anything but hurting the people who hurt her. To be sure, the revenge motive is too often used to explain women becoming warriors. But this is the real deal, not just backstory thrown onto some chick who’s standing in the corner with a sword, to explain how a nice young woman like her is in a place like this. The scene where she holds an FBI investigator hostage in his own home, threatening his family, was absolutely chilling – especially because we don’t usually let women act like this in films. They get to seduce and betray, they get to be the weak link, but rarely do they get to coldly calculate and threaten innocent bystanders for their personal interests. And succeed.

Cataleya’s portrayal definitely fell into the “beautiful girls with guns” category that we knew it would, given who made the film. Compared to Saldana’s seductress role in The Losers, though, I felt like Cataleya is far more her own person and the film treats her as much more than eye candy. This is a subject where other Heroine Content readers may disagree, though. “How male gaze-y is this?” is a question that good people can have different answers to and that’s okay. If you’re rolling your eyes at the first scene of grownup Cataleya getting herself arrested in a minidress so she can change into a somewhat pointless full-body catsuit to do her crime, then whatever comes after that is probably going to add insult to injury.

(For example, see When is Zoe Saldana going to get to the fireworks factory? on FemPop. But the author recommends The Losers as an alternative because she or he is very offended by all the sexification in Colombiana, so we have feminists going in opposite directions.)

The plot holes were many. Here is a truck, please drive through them. I’ll wait. The quasi-boyfriend could have been dispensed with entirely for as much sense as that storyline made. But I loved Cataleya. I give it four stars. Not just for bringing a little more diversity to the action heroine ranks, but because I felt the film treated her with respect as a person and an adversary.

I wish the box office had blown up on this one. It looks like it may have covered its budget, but that’s about it.

I didn’t see as much coverage of this film in my usual haunts as I would have expected, but I also may have missed it since I was buried in work at the time. If you saw or wrote something good, feel free to share. Here are a few things I did find:

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

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