A tweet making the rounds last week bemoaned the new incarnation of Tomb Raider’s heroine, Lara Croft. “Her tits are too small for me to see her as Lara Croft”, the tweet read, asking “Do I have to be that guy?” as if disparaging Alicia Vikander’s bust size was a noble cross to bear. Naturally, the internet rallied against the depressing level of attention paid to mammary glands when an Oscar-winning actress is emoting excellently several inches higher. While we’re over this type of trollish opinion, it got us thinking about Lara Croft’s real origins, and reminded us that the incoming generation of female-identifying creatives are still breaking new ground.
The environment that enabled this character analysis via breast measurement springs from our vastly homogeneous creative industry, with classically male gatekeepers. The character Lara Croft first made her debut in Tomb Raider, a 1996 game that presented a heroine one step removed from a Lego figurine, with the addition of knees and a large, triangular bust. The game was designed by Toby Gard, and, after gaining mainstream popularity, Croft’s sex-symbol appearance was cemented with Angelina Jolie cast in the 2001 movie adaptation. Clad tightly in hot pants and a vest, she was reaffirmed by director Simon West to be a gun-toting badass who apparently wasn’t afraid of sunburn or surface wounds. Returning in 2003, Croft seemed to have learned her lesson about the combat disadvantages of wearing less clothing, and arrived in posters for the sequel directed by Jan de Bont in a far more tactical shiny silver wetsuit. A decade later, Tomb Raider finally had a make-under with the release of a 2013 Lara Croft origin story game, which the 2018 Alicia Vikander movie directed by Roar Uthaug sprung from. The game presented us with an adolescent heroine, a detail which seemed to soften the blow that Croft’s appearance was significantly less pouty and busty, under the premise that she was perhaps ‘still developing’. Or something unsettling like that. This reboot was directed by Noah Hughes, Daniel Chayer and Daniel Neuburger, produced by Kyle Peschel, art made by Brian Horton, and finally, written by Rhianna Pratchett and Susan O’Connor. Looking back at the names in charge of Croft’s fate, it doesn’t take an adventuring riddle-solver to notice that only in recent years have multiple women been welcome at the table, and only in recent years have we seen a Lara whose three-dimensional qualities don’t hinge on the pixel count in her triangular bra.
Tweaking her previous character comes with complications like bust size recriminations, because the core of the source material itself was formed problematically. Historian Mary Beard wrote that “you can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure”, which is what our generation of creatives have the opportunity to do with the Laras of tomorrow. Directors like Patty Jenkins (of Wonder Woman) demonstrate that you can reinvigorate a female icon within a typically male canon, and Ava DuVernay (of A Wrinkle in Time) prove that you can do an adaptation justice in a way never achieved before. There is no shortage of talent in our generation, and with the ambition we deserve to have, we can continue to reclaim, re-imagine and redress – or simply create from scratch.
Ava DuVernay said that “any film that you see that has any progressive spirits that is made by any people of color or a woman is a triumph, in and of itself. Whether you agree with it or not. Something that comes with some point of view and some personal prospective from a woman or a person of color, is a unicorn.” Lucky creatives are great with fantasy.
Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing