The Scarlet Line is an upcoming web series written by and starring Chicago actress Kathrynne Wolf as Amanda Hutton, a member of a secret lineage of martial arts-trained bodyguards originating with the famous “jujitsuffragette” protection team of Edwardian London.
Jujitsuffragettes in training, circa 1912.
Whereas in actual history the Suffragette Bodyguard team was disbanded after Britain entered the First World War, The Scarlet Line imagines an alternative history in which members of the Bodyguard travelled to the United States to assist in the struggle for women’s emancipation there.
The following interview explores some of this fictional history and also touches on The Scarlet Line’s unique martial arts component.
Q - In the world of the Scarlet Line, what happened after American women won the right to vote in 1920?
Kathrynne Wolf - The British bodyguards would likely have been expected to return to England and settle into a ‘ladylike’ life, leaving all this radical feminism and jiu jitsu behind.
Some of these women, in our story, decided that option was not appealing. They decided, instead, to stay in the US and put their skills to use protecting people who needed protection, but who were being overlooked by the mainstream institutions that should have helped them.
Q - Like the police?
K.W. - In some cases, yes. The Scarlets (bodyguards) would physically protect people who had fallen through the cracks of the system. In the 1920s and ’30s that would have included mostly women and children at the mercy of abusive husbands, boyfriends or fathers, but it could include anyone who was being unjustly bullied.
They then decided to train younger women in the arts of self-defense, and defense of others, so that the work could be carried on.
Q - How would that have been organised?
K.W. - Since many of these young ladies were from wealthy families, they established a trust in order to allow their successors to carry on the work without having to rely on marriage or so-called “acceptable employment” to cover their cost of living.
Q - So by 2013 it’s become a sort of shadow institution?
K.W. - Yes – over the past 100 years, the trust has continued to provide monetary support for whoever is ‘active’ in the Line. There’s a protégé training system so that when one woman retires from the work, another takes her place.
Q - I understand that the Line is very secretive and that “Scarlet” is actually a code-name, almost like a secret identity – why is that? Why didn’t they just set up a private security company?
K.W. - Mostly expedience. At the time the lineage was founded, it simply “wasn’t done” for women to do this type of work and over the years they’ve found that keeping everything on the down-low allows them certain freedoms, even if it also causes some problems. Their use of code-names and disguises when they’re on duty is another form of self-defense.
Q - The original Suffragette Bodyguards were trained in jujitsu and carried concealed Indian clubs as weapons; how have you approached the martial arts content in your series?
K.W. - Well, the martial arts in which Scarlets are trained have evolved as the various women who took on the mantle brought their own preferences, styles and innovations to the work.
Q - I was going to ask about that – the trailer shows women using long ropes or scarves as hand-to-hand combat weapons. What was the inspiration there?
K.W. - We call that the “web”. We wanted something that would be largely defensive. The Scarlets are primarily bodyguards, and the best way to protect yourself, or someone else, without accidentally killing the attacker, is to immobilize them. So they tend to use the webs to trap and bind their opponents, rather than just beating them silly.
We discovered several martial arts that use ropes and lengths of cloth as grappling weapons, like Japanese hojojutsu and Indonesian Pentjak Silat, but the webs also have weighted ends so they can be used as missile weapons, like a rope-dart, in emergencies.
The web also serves as sort of a “badge” or trademark when a Scarlet is out on active duty. There’s no standard costume, as operating incognito is important, but the web is a visually striking identifier for clients and those “in the know”. With apologies to Wonder Woman, the web is both a golden lasso AND tiara.