There is one woman in the one minute, 22 second teaser trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2. She sits bored on the steps of a tobacco store, not doing anything at all – blink and you’ll miss her.
People were well primed for a male-focused RDR 2 trailer, given the seven male silhouettes from the teaser logo, and the creeping feeling that the criticism developers Rockstar have faced over their treatment of women characters over the years only makes them want to stubbornly tell even more male-centric stories.
A teaser trailer and a logo do not a game make. There may well be many great women characters in the final game, and certainly, the first Red Dead Redemption had some good, if underused characters in Bonnie MacFarlane, Abigail Marsden, and Luisa Fortuna.
But the thing that I really loved about the first RDR game was its basis in, and conscious continuation of the Western as a cinematic genre. In the lead-up to release, Rockstar released a great series of blog posts that detailed the influence of particular Western classics on the game. Playing RDR, film is all over the place: everything from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) to Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee (1965) and even contemporary classics like There Will Be Blood (2007).
So here’s the thing, then: if RDR 2 continues without any sort of major kick-ass woman, it’ll be actually far more male-focussed as a story than most classic westerns. Far from blindly continuing tradition, by excluding women, Rockstar will be betraying the genre.
Here’s ten films Rockstar might want to catch up on before Red Dead Redemption 2 launches.
1. Hannie Caulder (Burt Kennedy, 1971)
Pervy, and definitely a bit rapey, Hannie Caulder is nonetheless a classic spaghetti-western style tale of revenge that sees a woman rancher (Raquel Welch) in training to be a great gunfighter and avenge her family. Hannie Caulder was a big inspiration for Kill Bill, and Tarantino has referred to his love of it many times. Welch herself was in a number of other Westerns (Bandolero, 100 Rifles), and rarely played a straightforward damsel-in-distress role.
2. The Belle Starr Story (Lina Wertmüller, 1968)
Apart from being a gunfighting Western where the woman protagonist is absolutely taken on her own terms and abilities, The Belle Starr Story was also the only Spaghetti Western to be directed by a woman. Belle Starr was herself an actual historical figure, too – an outlaw who has reoccurred as a figure in dozens of films, television shows, and novels.
3. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
An undisputed classic, Johnny Guitar is an intense, brilliantly stylized Western that essentially boils down to a conflict between the bar-owning, gunfighter defeating Joan Crawford, and Mercedes McCambridge as her rival. The film caused controversy on release not just for its untypical gender roles for 1950s Hollywood but for what would later be recognised as an implied lesbian subtext.
4. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1970)
A deliberately revisionist Western, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a classic of the more personal and naturalistic ‘New Hollywood’ period that thrived in the early 1970s. Featuring Julie Christie as a sex worker who strikes a business relationship with Warren Beatty’s gambler, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is absolutely spellbinding.
5. Cat Ballou (Elliot Silverstein, 1965)
In this somewhat infamous musical comedy, Jane Fonda plays a rancher who hires the worst gunman in the west to protect her. It’s got some good songs and Fonda shows a lot of the acting skill that would make her one of the most famous – and political – actresses in the world in the decade that followed.
6. The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950)
Arguably one of the greatest black and white Westerns of all time, The Furies features the incredible Barbara Stanwyck opposite Walter Huston in a combustible relationship that ends in violence. Stanwyck gives as good as she gets in this film: as much ablaze and full of resourcefulness as any man in the Western genre at this time.
7. Annie Get Your Gun (George Sidney, 1950)
Annie Oakley was a real gunslinger, but don’t expect the true story from Annie Get Your Gun. It’s a fabulous, glitzy, song-and-dance musical that hardly gets into the grit of Oakley’s real life, instead turning the Broadway musical of the same name into Hollywood confection. Great music and great characters, but do not expect sensitive depictions of Native Americans here either.
8. Gunsmoke (1955-1975)
Okay, this is technically a television series – in fact, America’s longest-running prime-time drama – but all the more reason to include its kick-ass woman, Kitty Russell. Russell, the owner of the local saloon (and in earlier seasons, a worker of a sort that could not be specified on national television), is tough as nails and frequently takes on the villain of the week – all the while as serving as a kind of proto-feminist hero on television for two decades.
9. The Hazards of Helen (The Kalem Company, 1914-1917)
The Hazards of Helen was the longest week-by-week serial series of the silent era, and while not always a Western per se, usually featured its hero, Helen Holmes, in death-defying Western-style situations. Week after week, Helen would defeat the mustache-twirling villains (who would often be portrayed as having underestimated women or being overtly sexist) while performing all her stunts herself. The above video is a famous example – watch as Holmes actually leaps from a water tower onto a moving train. She was, in most meaningful senses, the first action movie star.
10. And basically every Western since 2000
There has scarcely been a good Western since the year 2000 that hasn’t featured a woman as one of the leads, or sometimes as the only lead character. Think about it: the Coen brothers’ True Grit remake (2010), Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010), Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella, 2003), Jane Got A Gun (Gavin O’Connor, 2016), The Missing (Ron Howard, 2003), and The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, 2013). The list could continue for some time.
So my advice to Rockstar: if you want to make a good sequel to Red Dead Redemption, follow your own lead. Watch some films –- and discover that the Western has always featured kick-ass women.