In Defense of Kate Capshaw's "Willie"

Look at that title, I’m so clever!


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, one of the first big-budget Hollywood prequels in history (yes, it takes place years before Raiders of the Lost Ark) is a film featuring two characters that frankly were not well-received. The first I will mention is Short Round (played by Jonathan Ke Quan or Data from The Goonies). To say that Short Round incorporates Chinese stereotypes is to say that McDonald’s burgers are slightly unhealthy. It is a bit of an understatement.

"Feels like I step on fortune cookie!" That is an actual line from the film.
“Feels like I step on fortune cookie!”
That is an actual line from the film.

Yet Short Round is not the main focus of this article. Instead look to Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott (played by Kate Capshaw, the future wife of Steven Spielberg). Every Indiana Jones movie has its ‘Indy girl‘ and many people consider Willie to be, by far, the worst one. For anyone who is not familiar with the film (all two of you), Willie is forceful and opinionated, no matter how dire the situation. She is a nightclub singer by trade and does not care for the outdoors. Sounds like a great fit for Indiana Jones, right?

Many people have labeled Willie as whiny and say that she does little more than scream to be rescued throughout the entire movie. On one level, this is very true. Anyone looking for a tough, go-getter of a girl who can fight her way out of any situation, please see Marion Ravenwood instead. Yet Willie has been labeled as a simple helpless damsel-in-distress, and I think this criticism goes too far. Willie appears as a perfectly capable woman, when she is in her element. Let’s examine the opening sequence, the nightclub.

As with any Indiana Jones movie, it opens with an action sequence. Indiana gets into a shootout with some Chinese gangsters over a diamond, poison, and some antidote. There’s a lot of confusion and shooting. Tables get upturned, balloons get dropped, people get impaled with kabob skewers. Through it all, Willie is… going for the diamond. Yes, she likes fancy jewelry (and things worth a lot of money) and does not let a nightclub shootout get in her way of getting what she wants. She does not need to be saved but is rather abducted by Jones during his getaway. Not typical damsel-in-distress behavior.

I know what you’re saying: one instance does not a believable character make.

Also: who writes articles about Indiana Jones characters?

I will only answer the first point. True, Willie is never again at that level of assertive peak (possible exception in the seduction scene), but look at it this way: she is a nightclub dancer dropped into the jungle and dragged along into the Temple of Doom. How many people, outside of Indiana Jones, would have any more impact? It isn’t like she screams over nothing.

Trying to go to bed in a jungle full of wild animals – not the easiest thing in the world.

Willie is your typical fish-out-of-water character. She reacts with fear and hostility to everything new she encounters. This is not the optimal reaction, but it is a believable one. Not every human being is capable of handling the more extreme aspects of the world. Capshaw isn’t playing the rough and tumble character, she is playing a nightclub dancer.

Bro, is that even food?
Bro, is that even food?

To say that Willie’s character is annoying is a matter of opinion. To label her as useless and mere visual appeal is to, I feel, project a larger agenda onto a simple film. Is Willie Wonder Woman? Not even close. She is the audience. Let’s face it – we’d all be screaming for Indiana Jones to save us if we were we in her shoes.

Ha, listen to her scream as she's lowered to her death. What a whiner!
Ha, listen to her scream as she’s lowered to her death. What a whiner!

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