My media practice always begins with some tangible phenomena. For this reason, I prefer to use methods that allow me to reflect on the “real” while at the same time re-shaping it. Light-sensitive emulsion is my gateway to re-imagining and re-experiencing the physical world in a tactile and connected way even as digital processes engulf contemporary art and commerce with virtual disconnected ease.
Written by Arielle Max Davidsohn
My co-writer Zack Drisko and I decided we should create a new kind of superhero, the kind we wanted to see but couldn’t find anywhere. And so Ava Snow Battles Death was born. The web series is about a knife-fighting superhero named Ava Snow who takes on overlords of death from another dimension who are trying to steal her soul. While the concept is clearly sci-fi, the style is naturalistic and grounded. We have shot about 20% of it and we are now going to Kickstarter to fund the remaining 75%. We have been working on the concept for two years: developing costume and set design, character construction, and the story arc meticulously until we got it just right. We also wrote a feature script and we have an artist signed on to make a comic in the future. Our intention with the concept of Ava Snow is to not only create an amazing digital series but an entirely new mythology that goes across several media.
There is a powerful trend in Hollywood towards making superhero movies. It fulfills the fantasy of so many to be important to the world in a way that goes beyond what regular humans can accomplish. In a society where many people in the current economy feel powerless, the idea of a superhero is very appealing. Most of these superheroes, however, have abilities that are beyond this world and most of them are male. Many of the male prototypes include dorky or intelligent men undergoing a transformation that makes them become fit, fast, and supernaturally strong. For many men who do not have six-pack abs, this fulfills a tempting fantasy: The dork suddenly becomes the vision of machismo with minimal effort. The female superhero, however, is normally already very attractive and fit. She learns to fight, but also uses her feminine wiles to manipulate, directly or indirectly using her super-powered revealing clothing. This image can be empowering in some ways, but limiting in others. Women do like to fantasize about being sexy and cunning like Catwoman and Black Widow, kicking ass in tight leather, but they also want to see a woman who looks more like them.
My co-writer Zack Drisko and I wanted to create a different type of superhero. We wanted to create a woman who was powerful but relatable. We did not want to make her too masculine or feminine, but to find a nice balance in between. We wanted her to surpass gender stereotypes and instead be an inspirational, real-life superhero that both men and women could relate to.
I play Ava Snow and I’m 5’1 and average weight with what could generously be described as Semitic features, not at all what the typical hot-chick-superhero looks like. When I started this project I was neither athletic nor particularly coordinated. As a fairly tiny person, and naturally more prone to romantic-comedy clumsiness than kicking ass and taking names, I also found it really empowering to train myself in tasks that I never thought were possible for someone of my abilities. I learned Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and knife-throwing for the role. We dyed my hair an out-there shade of orange and gave me several fake tattoos and piercings. I began to feel more powerful in my cargo pants and raggedy T-shirt than I ever did in my little black dress. When I was throwing knives or completing a triangle choke looking as I did, no one was checking me out, only admiring my skill. I thought to myself, “that is how I want the women watching Ava Snow to feel.” I want them to feel inspired that they could be just as strong as a male superhero, just as skilled, just as fast, but without having to manipulate those around them to get their way. Ava is blunt, acerbic, and to the point. Her power is in her directness, no tricks involved. These qualities are something I share with Ava, but in Ava they are amplified to a very liberating degree. Ava is not constrained by societal norms, and consequently, says what she thinks without fear of backlash. I feel like the more I get to explore Ava by playing her, the more I understand her motivations for her extreme actions and can ground them in a real place. My co-writer and I have worked hard to get Ava to where she is now and I cannot wait to explore her further as an actress and writer as we keep filming.
What we wound up with was a female superhero who both men and women could relate to who was grounded in a very real place. Though Ava is never defined by her sex appeal, she’s not an asexual creature. She is a real woman; she feels desire and can be desirable in a way that does not objectify her. We reject the stereotypes that say if a woman does not flaunt her sex appeal it means she is asexual. Ava has a love interest, and—as often happens with love interests—they do have sex. We harken back to the idea that Ava is a fully fleshed-out woman. She falls in love and people fall in love with her, although not because she is a sex kitten in a body suit and thigh high ass-kicking boots.
Why is Ava such an empowering female figure? She represents a new way of looking at being a female hero that requires simply being a powerful person. She is authentic, gritty, and has traits that fall into both the male and female categories on the gender behavior pendulum. Her interests are diverse, and she has a very deep and complicated emotional life. She is someone that many people can relate to. She is an outsider but draws power from her situation rather than allowing herself to be beaten by societal expectations. She places great value on friendships, both male and female, obtaining strength from those who care about her and who she, in turn, cares for, even when it frightens her. Despite her aggressive tendencies, she has a healthy view of her priorities. She is a full-fledged person, flaws and all, who happens to fight the overlords of death.
The web series that we created is funny, touching, and action-filled, and oh, yeah, happens to also have a lady protagonist. It is inspired by the strong female characters I looked up to growing up like Buffy, Starbuck, Wonder Woman, and Xena Warrior Princess, but she’s a unique human being with feelings and trauma and some pretty damn impressive knife skills.
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