Netflix’s Warrior Nun

Will Netflix’s adaptation retain its religiosity or indulge in nunsploitation?
Warrior Nun Areala

While recently thumbing through a comic book store’s discount bin, I came across several issues of Warrior Nun Areala, a manga-style comic series by Ben Dunn (Ninja High School, Marvel Mangaverse) about a secret order of warrior nuns and priests that fight demons for the Catholic Church. And I confess, I was pretty dismissive of it; with the well-endowed and scantily clad sisters and whatnot, it struck me as pretty obvious nunsploitation material.

But the comic is apparently pretty respectful of Christianity and Catholicism in particular, scantily clad characters notwithstanding (though, as this review points out, scantily clad females are arguably the main selling point). Dunn was inspired to create the series back in the mid-’90s after reading about a group of nuns living in Harlem who learned martial arts for self-defense. The series was also an attempt at showing superheroes who possessed actual religious beliefs and lived by them.

As the aforelinked Wikipedia page puts it: “While not a true Christian comic book as its emphasis is not on directly calling readers to repentance or propagating the faith but on superheroes utilizing Christian imagery and on Christian-based speculative fiction, Warrior Nun Areala takes its idea very seriously.”

Not surprisingly, the series has been controversial over the years. Again, from the Wikipedia entry:

There has been some controversy regarding the character from both religious and non-religious people, the former for appropriating Catholic imagery and the latter for how the comic book unapologetically shows the Catholic Church as a force for good. While there have been other comic books emphasizing Christianity and superheroes utilizing Christian imagery, Warrior Nun Areala is unique in that it is a mainstream, albeit independent comic that approaches its subject matter with respect and takes its idea seriously.

Netflix is currently working on adaptation of Dunn’s comic, which will be produced by Simon Barry (Van Helsing, Continuum) and Stephen Hegyes, and will star Alba Baptista, Toya Turner, and Tristan Ulloa. Earlier this year, Deadline wrote about the adaptation, which will be simply titled Warrior Nun, and included this summary of the series’ storyline:

Warrior Nun revolves around Ava (Baptista), a 19-year-old woman who wakes up in a morgue with a new lease on life and a divine artifact embedded in her back. She discovers she is now part of an ancient order that has been tasked with fighting demons on Earth, and powerful forces representing both heaven and hell want to find and control her.

Baptista’s Ava is tasting freedom for the first time in her young life after being liberated from an abusive orphanage and a prison of her mind and body. As a result, she wants to experience everything at once, and she can be reckless in her ambition.

Given the above synopsis, with its talk of divine artifacts and describing the main character as wanting to recklessly “experience everything at once,” some questions quickly come to mind:

  • How true will Netflix remain to the source material’s depiction of religion and the Catholic Church?
  • Will Christianity and the Church remain important aspects of Ava’s journey as a character, or will they become just something that she ends up rebelling against? (Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Buffy ends up rebelling against the Watchers Council because of its corruption.)
  • Is the premise’s phrase about both heaven and hell wanting to control Ava simply there to suggest that Warrior Nun will contain some moral ambiguity, or to suggest moral equivalence between the two? (Here, I’m thinking of the movie Constantine, which depicts the forces of heaven and hell as essentially two sides of the same coin, morally speaking, with humanity caught in the middle of their bickering.)
  • In this post-Game of Thrones world, will Netflix resist the urge to revel in the more nunsploitation-y aspects of the series’ premise, or will it indulge in them?

Given the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years, it would be incredibly easy for Netflix to turn the Church (and by extension, Christianity, if not all organized religion) into yet another Big Bad right alongside the demons. Of course, it’d probably be unwise if those scandals weren’t addressed in some way. But it would be refreshing if the Church was depicted, not in an outright flattering manner, but at least in a complex, nuanced one.

I’d love to see Netflix rise up to the challenge. Heck, it’d be downright subversive if one of the shows with the best, and most complicated and interesting depiction of religion — warts and all — was one whose protagonist was a demon-slaying, butt-kicking nun. We’ll find out, one way or another, when Warrior Nun begins streaming in the fall of 2019.

Related: This is not the first time that a Warrior Nun Areala adaptation has been in the works. Several years ago, a live-action movie was going to be shot in Poland — some test shots were even taken — but it ultimately fell apart (read an interview with the movie’s producer). And back in 1994, Antarctic Press tried to produce a Warrior Nun Areala American anime series, but was unable to secure enough funding for the production. However, the opening animation was produced, which I’ve embedded below.

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