Xena: Warrior Princess in popular culture

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Xena: Warrior Princess has been referred to as a pop cultural phenomenon and feminist and lesbian icon.[1][2][3] The television series, which employed pop culture references as a frequent humorous device, has itself become a frequent pop culture reference in video games, comics and television shows, and has been frequently parodied and spoofed.

Xena: Warrior Princess has been credited by many, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, with blazing the trail for a new generation of female action heroes such as Buffy, Max of Dark Angel, Sydney Bristow of Alias, and the Bride in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.[4] After serving as Lucy Lawless's stunt double on Xena, stunt woman Zoë E. Bell was recruited to be Uma Thurman's stunt double in Tarantino's Kill Bill. By helping to pave the way for female action heroes in television and film, "Xena" also strengthened the stunt woman profession.[5]

Xena and Gabrielle's relationship (see Influence on the lesbian community) has been cited as one of the reasons why the series has been so popular, coupled with the denials of her character's lesbianism from Lawless while the series was running.[6] Former United States of America (U.S.) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been nicknamed "Warrior Princess" by her staff.[7]

Xena: Warrior Princess in contemporary culture[edit]


One of the running jokes in the Animorphs series of books is Marco's continual comparison of Rachel to Xena, referring to her daredevil nature and her lust for battle.


In 2005, the team that discovered the dwarf planet 2003 UB313 nicknamed it "Xena" in honor of the TV character. On October 1, 2005, the team announced that 2003 UB313 had a moon, which they had nicknamed "Gabrielle". The objects were officially named Eris and Dysnomia by the International Astronomical Union on September 13, 2006. Although the official names have legitimate roots in Greek mythology, Dysnomia is also Greek for "lawlessness", perpetuating the link with Lucy Lawless.

Costume donation[edit]

In 2006, Lucy Lawless donated her personal Xena costume to the Museum of American History.[8] In an interview the same year with Smithsonian magazine, she was asked the question "Was the Warrior Princess outfit comfortable?" and she responded:

Not at first, because they would put boning in the corset. It would cover up those little floating ribs that are so important for breathing, so I'd feel like I was having panic attacks. But it just became a second skin after a while. It was very functional, once I got over the modesty factor. I admit to being a little bit embarrassed the first couple weeks because I'd never worn anything so short.

— Lucy Lawless, Smithsonian, November 2006, page 44

Fandom and unofficial sequels[edit]

Fan fiction[edit]

The popularity of Xena has led to websites, online discussion forums, works of Xena fan fiction and several unofficial fan-made productions.[9] Members of the Xena fandom have written numerous fanfiction stories of the series. To get an idea, in January 1998, there were a total of 1.598 works of fanfiction going through the network.[10] The fans have popularized the term altfic to refer to fanfiction about loving relationships between women.[11] Many believe that the term slash refers only to relationships between men and does not truly describe the romantic fanfiction about Xena and Gabrielle, they prefer the term altfic. In honor of the character of Gabrielle, fanfiction writers of the series were dubbed bards.[12]

A special type of Fan Fiction of the series is Uber, or Uberfic, a term coined in 1997 by Kym Taborn, the website Whoosh.org fan. The Uberfic Eve are stories in which Xena, Gabrielle, and other characters appear in different cultures and eras, from prehistory to the distant future, through reincarnation or supernatural means. Stories like these began drawing on the episode set in Macedonia, The Xena Scrolls, starring descendants of Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer living in the 1940s.[13] Subsequent episodes of the series had the characters appearing in various incarnations Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer in India[14] and the United States.[15]

Once the series ended, several virtual seasons were created by fans and released on the Internet, continuing the plot from the end of the series. These include Virtual Seasons subtext of Eve. In addition, the fanfic has inspired artwork published in several websites fans, whether paintings or drawings and designs by computer.

Influence on the lesbian community[edit]

Xena kissing Gabrielle in the second season's "The Quest".

Xena has enjoyed a particular cult status in the lesbian community. Some of the lesbian fan base sees Xena and Gabrielle as a couple and has embraced them as role models and lesbian icons.[16] A group called The Marching Xenas has participated in many gay and lesbian pride parades.[17]

A subject of much interest and debate among viewers is the question of whether Xena and Gabrielle are lovers.[18][19] The issue is left deliberately ambiguous by the writers during most of the show. Jokes, innuendo, and other subtle evidence of a romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is referred to as "lesbian subtext" or simply "subtext" by fans.[18] The issue of the true nature of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship caused intense shipping debates in the fandom, which turned especially impassioned due to spillover from real-life debates about same-sex sexuality and gay rights.[20]

Many fans felt that the sexual nature of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was cemented by an interview given by Lucy Lawless to Lesbian News magazine in 2003. Lawless stated that after the series finale, where Gabrielle revives Xena with a mouth-to-mouth water transfer filmed to look like a full kiss, she had come to believe that Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was "definitely gay... there was always a 'well, she might be or she might not be' but when there was that drip of water passing between their lips in the very final scene, that cemented it for me. Now it wasn't just that Xena was bisexual and kinda liked her gal pal and they kind of fooled around sometimes, it was 'Nope, they're married, man'."[21]

The Xena fandom also popularized the term Altfic (from "alternative fiction") to refer to same-sex romantic fan fiction.[22] Many fans felt the term slash fiction carried the connotation of being about male/male couples only and was not a good description for romantic fan fiction about Xena and Gabrielle.

Shipping wars[edit]

The Xena: Warrior Princess fandom saw often nasty "shipping wars" that turned especially intense due to spillover from real-life debates about same-sex sexuality and gay rights.

Shortly after the 1995 debut of the action/fantasy series about a woman warrior seeking redemption for a dark past, fans started discussing the possibility of a relationship between Xena and her sidekick and best friend Gabrielle. Toward the end of the first season, the show's producers began to play to this perception by deliberately inserting usually humorous lesbian innuendo into some episodes. The show acquired a cult following in the lesbian community. However, Xena had a number of male love interests as well, and from the first season she had an adversarial but sexually charged dynamic with Ares, the God of War, who frequently tried to win her over as his "Warrior Queen."

In a 10-year retrospective of the show in Salon.com, journalist Cathy Young wrote:[23]

In 2000, during the airing of the controversial fifth season, the intensity and sometimes nastiness of the "shipping wars" in the Xena fandom was chronicled (from a non-subtexter's point of view) by Australian artist Nancy Lorenz in an article titled "The Discrimination in the Xenaverse" in the online Xenaverse magazine Whoosh![24] and the flood of the letters it generated in response.[25]

The wars did not abate after the series came to an end in 2001. In January 2003, Lucy Lawless, the star of Xena: Warrior Princess, told Lesbian News magazine that after watching the series finale (in which Gabrielle revived Xena with a mouth-to-mouth water transfer filmed to look like a full kiss) she had come to believe that Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was "definitely gay."[26]

In March 2005, one-time Xena screenwriter Katherine Fugate, an outspoken supporter of the Xena/Gabrielle pairing, posted a statement on her website appealing for tolerance in the fandom:[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blackwell Synergy - J Popular Culture, Volume 32 Issue 2 Page 79-86, Fall 1998". www.blackwell-synergy.com. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  3. ^ Janet K. Boles; Diane Long Hoeveler (2004). Historical Dictionary of Feminism. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-4946-4. 
  4. ^ "What we owe Xena". Cathy Young. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  5. ^ See the documentary Double Dare (Amanda Micheli, director. 2005) for more information on the role of Xena in fostering the female superhero character and the stunt woman, both of which are traditionally male categories.
  6. ^ Whatever Turns You On: Becoming-Lesbian and the Production of Desire in the Xenaverse Archived May 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "'Warrior Princess' to the White House?". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  8. ^ Smithsonian magazine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Page 44: "Lucy Lawless, star of Xena: Warrior Princess, which aired from 1995-2001, has given her signature costume to the Museum of American History."
  9. ^ "Xena Virtual Seasons". 
  10. ^ "Xena Fanfics". Eidel. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  11. ^ "Xena Fanfics out of the closet". Lo. Archived from the original on January 17, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  12. ^ Bards
  13. ^ "The Xena Scrolls". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1997-01-13. 
  14. ^ "Between the Lines". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1999-02-15. 
  15. ^ "Deja vu all Over Again". Xena: Warrior Princess. 1999-05-17. 
  16. ^ "Xena and Gabrielle: Lesbian Icons". AfterEllen.com. Archived from the original on October 19, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  17. ^ "Top Ten TV - Sex Bombs". warriorprincess.com. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  18. ^ a b Leonard, Andrew (1997-07-03). "Who Owns Xena?". Salon Magazine. Archived from the original on July 19, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  19. ^ Young, Cathy (2005-09-15). "What we owe Xena". Salon.com. Archived from the original on June 28, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  20. ^ Young, Cathy (2005-09-15). "What we owe Xena". Salon.com. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  21. ^ "Lucy Lawless". Lesbian News. Archived from the original on 2003-06-27. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  22. ^ Lo, Malinda. (4 January 2006) Fan Fiction Comes Out of the Closet Archived January 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. AfterEllen.com. Retrieved 19 July 2007.
  23. ^ What we owe Xena - Salon.com Archived December 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ The Discrimination in the XenaVerse: News and Views from the Great Divide
  25. ^ Whoosh! Letters to the Editor: Issue 44 Part 1/4
  26. ^ AUSXIP Lucy Lawless | Lesbian News 2003
  27. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20071230022649/http://www.katherinefugate.com/katresponds/katherineresponds30.htm. Archived from the original on December 30, 2007. Retrieved March 6, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

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