“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” —Maya Angelou
In February 1940, Fletcher Hanks introduced the comic book world to Fantomah, an immortal Egyptian woman who could turn into a skeleton-like demon/creature/babe with superpowers.
She would fight evil and crush her enemies, all while adorning a luscious head of blonde curls, and perfect cat-eye liner. Fantomah was portrayed as a goddess, and in some circles, is thought to be the first female superhero.
Slayyy, Fantomah, slayyyyyyy.
In fact, she was originally pretty hardcore: “Fantomah used her vast magical powers to sentence her enemies to bizarre and brutal punishments. For instance, in Jungle Comics #7, she transforms a band of greedy diamond miners who oppressed the natives into one man, then sends that man to an “unfound world” to be enslaved by hideous green fanged monsters, then sent into a pit of cobras, and then absorbed into a wall by a giant hand”, but other artists soon changed her from a skeleton-like demon/creature/babe to an ordinary human adventurer.
Fast-forward to a few months later, and female anti-heros start being sketched into existence.
The original Black Widow (not the Scarlett Johansson kind), an assassin/weapon of Satan, is premiered as a kick-ass force to be reckoned with, who slays criminals, then sends them to hell.
Following suit in the superhero-babe category was Wonder Woman, created by William Moulton Marson and his wife Elizabeth for All Star Comics #8.
“America’s woman of tomorrow should be made the hero of a new type of comic strip. By this, I mean a character with all the allure of an attractive woman, but with the strength also of a powerful man,” said Marston.“There isn’t enough love in the male organism to run this planet peacefully.”
From there, characters like Sun Girl, Miss America, Black Canary, and Phantom Lady began to take shape; all of them women, and all destroying evil with a flip of their hair, and a swift-kick to the jaw.
But there was an obvious pattern; a delicate mould that had developed– the majority of the heroines were white, thin, and conventionally gorgeous, standing tall and picturesque with flowing hair and toned, glistening gams.
There were very few women of colour flying around the superhero universe.
Black female characters only began to appear after the Civil Rights Movement, one of the most notable being Storm from the X-Men comics. Since being drawn into creation, the powerful, weather-controlling character has been depicted in Hollywood films by stunning women like Halle Berry, and featured in countless television spinoffs and comics.
Besides Storm, though, there was very limited range of women of colour in the superhero world, and even then, a lot of people criticized the representation of black super-heroines as one-dimensional, angry, aggressive stereotypes.
Actually, it wasn’t until 2013 that a little company by the name of Marvel would mainstream a woman of colour in the new role of a dashing, daring super-chick.
Cue: Ms. Marvel, aka, Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old, second-generation Pakistani-American Muslim girl who lives in New Jersey.
Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), second left, with her family Aamir, father Yusuf, mother Disha and friend Bruno. (source)
Then in March, 2014, a teenage Cree superhero hailing from Moose Factory, Ontario, was drawn to life by artist Jeff Lemire. The character, a girl named Miiyahbin (alias: Equinox) joined Justice League United. She was the first Aboriginal female superhero introduced into mainstream comics, her powers stemming from the Earth and changing seasons.
“Creating a teenage female superhero was interesting to me because, generally, most superheroes are white males. We need diversity and we need different personalities,” Lemire said in an interview with CBC. “You need very distinct voices for personalities on the team or else you just start writing the same character in a different costume.”
And in her own way Sonya Ballantyne agrees, because to the West of Lemire, in a little town called Gimli, there was a pixie-haired Aboriginal girl with a kick-ass vision, who was about to pitch an award-winning short film at the Gimli Film Festival and win a $10,000 prize.
Crash Site centres around Kaley, an Aboriginal girl coping with her parent’s death, who is inspired by a superhero named Thunderbird that she discovers after wandering into a comic book store. Thunderbird (also known as Maggie), is a young Native girl trying to find out where she belongs after her grandma reveals that she was found in a crashed spaceship.
So in a little town called Gimli, a passionate, pixie-haired Aboriginal girl pitched a short film called Crash Site, destroyed the competition, and became the first-place winner of RBC Emerging Filmmaker’s epic tournament.
Just look at that toothy grin~ second from the left (source)
Sonya Ballantyne is a 29-year-old Cree dame from The Pas, Manitoba, who spent most of her life living between Grand Rapids (her dad’s reserve) and Easterville, Manitoba (her mom’s reserve). “Grand Rapids is the sort of place you drive through when you’re going somewhere else,” adds Ballantyne.
When she was 17, Ballantyne became the first member of her family to move to Winnipeg, and most recently, she finished a degree in film making from the U of W. Before that, she graduated with an honours degree in social psychology from the University of Manitoba.
“I always wanted to leave, and university was the best way. I was never happy being contained on the reserve,” says Ballantyne. “I never felt at home. When I moved to Winnipeg, even though the first few months were hard, I felt like I truly belonged.
Since her move, the feisty, superhero-loving, self-proclaimed super-nerd has dominated in film and all other areas of her professional and personal life, and though gaining confidence was challenging for her, Ballantyne found her own niche and path to follow in order to grab a slice of self-love.
From slaying at short film pitch competitions, to starting her own production company, it’s hard to believe that Sonya Ballantyne isn’t an actual superhero.
… Though looks can be deceiving.
“Body positivity is loving yourself even if you’re criticized for it. Nothing is scarier to a douche canoe than a woman who loves herself, so being positive becomes your shield against a society that is trying to make you feel bad so you can buy their product.
No dice, Victoria’s Secret. No dice.
As long as my pixie hair game is on point, I’m confident. As a teenager, I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair past my shoulders. When I finally got to cut my hair the way I wanted, I was so much happier. I never feel as pretty as I do when my hair is freshly shorn.
Every time I leave the Aveda Institute (where I get my hair cut all the time, so shout out to them! 80 RORIE STREET IN THE EXCHANGE) with my hair super short, I feel like such a bad ass.
I am also not afraid to try new things in regards to my style. As I near 30, I think I finally found the formula that makes me feel good 95% of the time. My only regret is that I wasted so much time not liking myself.
I am extremely positive/confident when it comes to talking about my movies, as I am a nerd, and as a nerd that means you tend to love things obsessively. I used to be so embarrassed about my excitement and energy for the things I love, and I used to be shushed about it and told to tone it down.
Now that I’m making movies, everything is amazing, and I speak about it like it is with no holding back. I am thankful for that. I still get shushed, but I don’t care. I’ll speak loudly and proudly.
Embracing my culture has helped me feel powerful. I come from a long line of people who have faced hardships that would have turned anyone into a cynic. It’s like that Queen song from Highlander with the lyric, ‘I have inside me blood of kings.’
Every single person that came before me has contributed to the ass-kicking, anti-racist, anti-misogeny confident loud mouth I am.
A white man once told me that I’d never amount to anything because I was an Indian and a girl. I was three. Events like this made me so ashamed of my culture; ’cause we were the ones who lived on the side of the river with bad houses, bad dogs running around wild, and the cops coming to break up fights. But I saw my parents using their anger at being treated so badly because they were Native to fuel better things for themselves. So I did it, too.
I embraced being Native, and showed so many racist people that I could fuck them up academically, creatively, and personally. I didn’t succced despite my being Indian, I succeeded because of it, and used every bad thing that I ever faced to chase after the things I wanted.
Native people are like the real life version of Green Lanterns: let those who worship evil’s might beware my power.
Every single feature I share with my mother is my favourite feature. Her nurses call me ‘Gladys Jr.’, cause I look scarily like her. As a kid, I thought my mother was the most beautiful person in the world, and would get all bashful and full of disbelief when people told me I looked like her. Now, I like being told we look alike.
There’s a quote from Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones where she tells herself, ‘I must be as strong as my lady mother.’ I use that statement a lot, too. My lady-mum is the most hardcore person I know.
If you’re thinking of moving to Winnipeg from a reserve, don’t be afraid to do it.
Bilbo Baggins was afraid to leave home, and look what happened to him when he did! Besides, I’ve lived in Winnipeg for over 10 years, and my parents still think I’m going to be stabbed right outside my door.
As another suggestion, find your tribe. Once I found other Native people at the U of M going through the same thing I was, I felt like I belonged. Plus, white people don’t tend to get our humour.
Lastly, ignore the doubters. One of the biggest things I was mocked about back home was how I was trying to be a white girl. I never saw how wanting something better for yourself made you a wannabe white person. Success is not just the domain of white people, and the quicker that internalized racism stops on the rez’, the better.
As for people looking to make films in Winnipeg, realize your limitations. You’re not going to make Transformers with Winnipeg Film Group equipment. And again, find your tribe. I work with some of the best people who are my closest friends who wanted to help me realize my dreams with film, and had the same vision for the stories we wanted to tell; and be creative! There’s more than one type of story about Native folks, and it’s time we tell them.
(Any final thoughts?)
Love more, laugh more, and don’t be so scared.
Oh! And, a word of warning: if a friend tells you the best way to shape your brows is to shave them, DON’T BELIEVE HER.
I spent a whole summer walking around like Bono with huge sunglasses on as I shaved half of my eyebrow off from nose to middle and it took three months to grow back sufficiently.”
Though this 29-year-old superhero has yet to garnish her cape, with the power of story-telling, film, and a constant drive for excellence, Sonya Ballantyne continues her adventure to be body positive.