It's fun to shake things up every now and again. You know, take the road not traveled and encounter the unexpected. Well that is exactly what two of my favorite TV science fiction franchises did when they took traditional male heroes and recast them as women. The moves were unexpected, not without some controversy and criticism initially, but I think the gambles payed off and added spectacularly to the roll call of female TV heroes.
For those of you who are not die-hard sci fi fans and have no idea what I am talking about, let me introduce you to Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship USS Voyager and Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from Battlestar Galactica.
Not only are these character some of my favorite TV heroes, but these TV shows are also my heroes. Casting women into leading roles is an important statement and relfects the gains that women have made since the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s here in the United States. The media has often been criticized for the lack of roles for women and people of color: Star Trek is one of the pioneering TV shows that, back in the days of Captain Kirk (1966 to 1969), included women and people of color as main cast members. Remember Lieutenants Uhuru and Sulu, Yoeman Rand and Nurse Chapal from the Original Series? I guess when we get to the 23rd century, equality will be the norm for the day---although I really hope we don't have to wait that long for it to happen!
Although fans where skeptical in 1995, Captain Kathryn Janeway became a compelling character in the Star Trek universe. Her character demonstrated that a woman can command a starship as well as a man. She certainly was more calm and level-headed than Captain Kirk. She goes on to become a Vice Admiral in Star Fleet and gives orders to Next Generation Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Star Trek Voyager ended in 2001; today I can find no mention online of the skepticism and fan outcry that occured when it was announced that Voyager's captain would be a she.
As for the reimagained Battlestar Galactica (BSG) which recently came to its finale on the SciFi Channel, the big surprise was the change for the character Starbuck from male to female. At first fans where outraged and entrenched in their belief that Starbuck had to be a man because the character was played by a man, Dirk Benedict, in the 1978 TV series. But in the alternate universe of Battlestar Galatica, men and women don't subscribe to our hard and fast gender role stereotypes. On this starship, men and women are seemlessly integrated into the military operation, right down to the same uniform that they all wear and look amazingly good in. In this world, Katee Sackhoff had little difficulty portraying Starbuck to both fan and critical acclaim. In fact, several key characters in the new BSG series are female, from President Laura Roslin and fellow pilot Sharon "Boomer" Valerii to Cyclon Number Six.
So thank you Captain Janeway and Starbuck for being great examples of what women can do when given equal opportunities in worlds where equality is the norm. Your characters are great sci fi heroes and your TV shows are great, groundbreaking heroes for promoting women too.