Updated: Mar 30
Since the beginning of time, women have taken a backseat in society so it’s no coincidence that we are portrayed in the same cinematic light. Female protagonists largely fall under one or more of the following archetypes: ditzy, submissive, emotionally unstable, crazy, petty, bossy or bitchy. Of course every film needs emotional vulnerability and weakness to create a balanced plot, but it’s rarely distributed evenly between men and women. So with all things considered, it’s safe to say, finding a film with a strong female lead is as rare as a hen’s teeth. And even then, historically, many female leads fit into neat and tiny boxes without much variation. Now in the past few years, we’ve finally begun to flip the script and embrace powerful women across the spectrum. Let’s take a moment to appreciate some women who have shamelessly taken charge of both film and television.
Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling
The 1992 award-winning film, The Silence of the Lambs, was a feminist fable way ahead of its time. Rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling is headstrong, dedicated and intelligent, wielding an iron shield against rampant misogyny and chauvinism within the field. She near single-handedly solves a puzzling crime while maintaining her cool, (even under pressure) while still exhibiting a natural vulnerability that makes her relatable. Although people largely view The Silence of the Lambs as a movie about serial killers, an overarching theme in this film is inarguably a commentary on the male gaze.
Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset
Orange is the New Black has taken television by storm in recent years, and while it’s quite obviously not a true portrayal of prison life, it’s passed the mic to groups often overshadowed - the mentally ill, gay men and women, people of color and most notably, trans people. Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset, has positively altered and expanded the realm of possibilities for trans actors and actresses. Her character’s representation isn’t always so happy-go-lucky, and sets the stage for discourse about trans people (and trans people of color) not only in America, but also across the globe. She utilizes her role as a platform to bring attention to the struggles of the LGBTQ community with a genuine honesty that reaches millions of people through comedy, entertainment and raw emotion.
Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully
* Cue X-Files theme song. * The earlier episodes are some of the greatest science fiction stories of the 90’s, if not beyond. Although the show is centered around the FBI’s dynamic duo, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), both characters have their own unique personalities that can be boiled down to two simple, yet opposing ideals: the true believer vs. the skeptic. Scully’s hard and unaffected exterior is rarely permeated, and she’s driven by both reason and science. Mulder, on the other hand, is the one more deeply affected by each case’s emotional aspects - an often-unseen flip flop in character roles. Trust in a woman’s logic is not typically a prevalent motif in entertainment, and although she holds the position of the stoic character, she’s still in touch with her emotions on a familiar level.
Jennifer Lopez as Selena
While Selena differs from other films mentioned because it is a biopic, it’s revolutionary nonetheless. The singer’s presence in the Tejano community exploded in the 90’s, and her music eventually made it’s way into the mainstream. Before the birth of the Internet and the media’s tendency to overshadow people of color, a lot of people outside of the Tejano community knew little about who she was as a person. Her award-winning performance brought to life Selena’s powerful personality, philanthropy and how a young girl from Texas sparked a musical revolution. Anything for Selenas.
Gabourey Sidibe as Precious
Based on the book Push by Sapphire, Sidibe’s character is regarded as an amalgamation of prevalent issues faced by women like: racism, sexism, beauty standards, sexual abuse, incest, domestic violence, welfare issues and more. According to Mark Blankenship of Huffington Post, “...And that’s the thrust of the ‘Precious story:’ A girl who has no reason to live keeps finding reasons to live. She gets stomped and stomped and stomped, but she still goes to an alternative school that will help her learn to read and write; she still does sweet things for her baby; and she still tries to make friends.” This film is not only a piece of social commentary; its conception became a representation of hardship never before depicted on the big screen that so many women were searching for. And don’t expect a happy ending, this movie is as real as it gets.
Move over unrealistic hotties with washboard abs, the sky is beginning to open, and feminism is beginning to finally plant its foot in cinema. While we all love a good cheesy romantic comedy every so often, it’s time we make way for strong women and a discussion about the reality of life as a woman in the world.
Amanda is an artist/writer with a degree in visual and critical studies from the School of Visual Arts, though 90% of her day is spent looking at pictures of dogs. Instagram: @spin.osa