If anyone were to ask me what my favorite Disney princess was, I would answer Pocahontas. As a child, I would jump off the couch just as Pocahontas would jump off the waterfall in the movie. She was an example of what a strong woman was to me and I appreciate that.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of other female protagonists that I can name in film—especially in the action genre. It’s a shame that’s the case because as I was growing up, it would have been great to see a woman on screen be the hero instead the love interest. Thankfully times are changing.
Step by step we are seeing a more diverse pool of people enter the film industry. The obvious and more recent example of this is Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins, the director, is the first woman to direct a summer blockbuster. That fact honestly blew my mind. I was proud of the accomplishment, but I was disappointed that it took this long to happen. The movie itself continues to break records including biggest domestic opening for a female director and biggest opening for a woman-led comic book film. It stood at the top of the box office for many weeks after its first opening.
I hope that Wonder Woman is the push that producers need to be convinced that women-led films can succeed in theaters.
The Hunger Games followed a similar success pattern with a female lead. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was the main protagonist who strove to protect her loved ones at all costs from the corrupt government. Katniss was a hero in her own right and many others saw that. Similar to Wonder Woman, she was in an action packed film and wasn’t treated as someone that needed to be saved.
I’m not saying that there weren’t any strong female protagonists before Wonder Woman. There were. They were just few and far in between.
The peculiar situation about this is that it’s easy to find women leading comedy films compared to action. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, and Reese Witherspoon are just a few of the many that have led successful comedy films. Even in genres such as drama, romance, and horror women are prevalent. Yet when it comes to action films they have to either be a badass or the damsel. There is hardly an in-between on the spectrum of extremes. Women are either Mad Max’s Furiosa or another one of James Bond’s girlfriends.
Let’s look at Liam Neeson for a moment. He’s been in many action based films such as Taken, Star Wars: Episode I, and Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. He is almost the easy pick when it comes to action films. He has the strong presence that producers look for in an action film. Then there’s Scarlett Johansson. She is most notable for her role as Black Widow from the Marvel series, but she also starred in Lucy, Ghost in the Shell, and The Island. Johansson carries that same strength as Neeson does for action films. Both have also had roles in superhero films. If you look back before Marvel, Johansson was mostly cast in dramas such as Lost in Translation, The Nanny Diaries, and The Other Boleyn Girl. Neeson himself has done a variety of films as well from Schindler’s List to Love Actually. Regardless of gender, both actors have proved that they can bring in money at the box office based solely on their talent.
Star Wars is the next best example of strong female characters. Princess Leia (R.I.P. Carrie Fisher) continues to be an icon for female empowerment. Not once did she have to prove herself to her male companions. She represents that even a princess can be outspoken and strong. The following Star Wars films followed suit with this example.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens features Rey (Daisy Ridley) as one of the main characters of the film. She is self-sufficient as she lived on the desert planet of Jakku since she was abandoned as a child. She steals the show multiple times with her strength as well as her vulnerability. The film was a commercial success. It made billions at the box office. To add to that, many young girls that following Comic Con were dressed as Rey. Then the next year, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released with another female lead. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a renegade on the run from the Empire and the key to discovering the schematics for the Death Star. She displayed insecurities as anyone would from being unable to trust anyone. Once again, it was one of the highest grossing films of all time. Both of these characters set an example to young girls that they don’t have to be pretty to be valued, their intellect and their skills matter more than appearance ever will.
It’s important to have female leads in film because it sets an example of how we view women to our young audience, both male and female. If we want to promote that women can do anything they set their minds to, why are female characters designated as the love interests and the damsels? No one woman is the same or a stereotype so we need to show that on screen as well. With the massive success that Wonder Woman is, I hope that the film industry does take steps to represent women in a positive light.