Today to celebrate International Women’s Day I’m going to look through some of the movies I’ve seen that have impacted me the most and how the women’s roles in these movies have gradually changed, for the better, over the decades. I’m so excited to share this with you and I hope you enjoy! (I just want to let you know, this is a longread.)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The wispy dreams of a teenage girl becoming a false reality as she grows unconscious after being in the middle of a tornado is the story of The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s Dorothy is the center of this magical fairy tale. In 1939 Dorothy was quite the heroine in cinema. Yes, she was scared at times, and yes there were some moments when she slightly fit into the mold of a damsel in distress but she was also strong, courageous, and brave and at that time in the world when women were still looked upon as housemaids and nannies she helped to break that mold of what women’s roles in cinema could be portrayed as.
An American in Paris (1951)
This is one of my favorite musicals of all time, introduced to me by my wonderful mother. She said this was one of her favorite movies and for a long time I didn’t want to see it because I’m not a fan of musicals but it actually was worth the watch. This movie, however, does not depict women in an entirely respectable fashion.
The entire plot of the movie is wrapped around these two men who fall in love with the same woman. Gene Kelly’s Jerry Mulligan of course wins her heart in the end but this movie feeds on the typical portrayal of women in cinema. Lise Bouvier (Leslie Carson) isn’t a strong woman who Mulligan fauns after for an entire movie and eventually is rewarded with her love. No, she’s a confused young French girl who can’t decide which man she wants to be with for the rest of her life. I love this movie but representation of women in film has come a long way.
I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
There’s nothing better than watching Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Ethel Murtz (Vivian Vance) make complete fools of themselves as they performed dastardly stunts, always led by Lucy, in nearly every episode of I Love Lucy. I love this show for so many reasons but mainly for one reason, it’s downright hilarious!
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard than when I’ve watched I Love Lucy. I’ve seen nearly every episode and they’re all superbly comedic. And at the helm of this classic comedy is Lucille Ball. Think about it. This show was named after her, a woman! in the fifties. And it was a comedy on top of that. That was unheard of back in those days. She paved a way for female comedics and the aftereffects are still being felt to this day as women are given comedic roles that they might otherwise not have gotten the chance to have if not for Lucille Ball.
One of my favorite shows ever made is the twenty season, twenty year Country Western, Gunsmoke, and one of the show’s central characters was the charming Kitty. In the first season she was a local saloon gal but by the second season she was a full-blown saloon co-owner which was quite the big deal back in those days. She wasn’t depicted as a damsel in distress or simply just a love interest on the show but rather as an entrepeneur who was part of the Dodge City locale. She was just as feisty as the men and just as smart, even smarter actually.
Kitty is one of the greatest heroines ever written in entertainment and is part of the reason why Gunsmoke is still one of my favorite television shows of all time.
Star Wars (1977-2018)
If you’ve read my blog you know I am a Princess Leia fan. Princess Leia was the first woman I saw in cinema that I could really get behind because she was such an amazingly tough heroine. Yeah she was a princess but she didn’t act like what a “normal” princess and I loved that. She was just as strong as the men of the group. In fact, at times she was stronger than both Luke and Han and that’s pretty awesome.
Then I finished the original trilogy, you thought she would never be in another Star Wars movie again, and then Disney bought LucasFilm, announced a new trilogy that would bring back the original Star Wars cast that made the franchise so iconic, and Leia ended up returning as a general. That is so ridiculously cool. Unfortunately Carrie Fisher died in December of 2016 but her legacy still lives on. The Last Jedi came out last year, giving us a final glimpse at Carrie Fisher reprising her role as the iconic heroine, and it was awesome seeing her be just as strong as she’s always been. The Last Jedi had its controversy but I think everyone can agree that it did service to Princess Leia’s legacy.
Padme was a fabulous character until she was forced into the damsel in distress/love interest bubble that women in films are often subjected to. At that point what could’ve been a memorable, maybe even iconic performance by Natalie Portman as leading lady, Padme Amidala ended up becoming a blotch on the Star Wars universe. I mean, when you have a female character saying corny stuff like, “You’re breaking my heart” that’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Rey is a great heroine and I love that she’s the face of this new trilogy. At one time it would’ve seemed preposterous for a woman to lead a franchise as big as Star Wars but now that the time is upon us for that to be a reality I can’t imagine the franchise without a woman at its helm. Rey is the epidemy of a perfect heroine. She’s powerful, strong, resilient, smart, innovative, I could keep going on and on but you get the message, she’s awesome! When the day finally comes where I’ll have to say goodbye to the story of Rey after Episode IX it’s going to be a sad day for me because she has provided me such joy for the past three years. It’s exciting to think that there will undoubtedly be more incredible Star Wars heroines like her in the near future.
Jyn Erso was another major Star Wars heroine who helmed a movie and she brought a nice, ferocious side to the women of the franchise. Before reshoots it was rumored that she was even more tenacious in her attitude but even with the final result she became a heroine I could get behind and one that helped extend the list of awesome ladies in Star Wars.
Captain Phasma is the franchise’s only female villain and while the creators of the new trilogy continuously kept her out of the lime light and preferred her to be pretty in her chrome armor and remain in the background of the story she still has set a precedent for female villains moving forward because she was so groundbreakingly awesome. Who knows. Maybe she isn’t dead. I would definitely not be surprised if she managed to find a way to survive.
Holdo helped continue to provide progressive views towards the power of women’s leadership in film and she definitely did that as she stood in for Leia in The Last Jedi. I loved her strength in the face of the tense situation she was dealt and it’s cool that she never folded under the pressure. Holdo is one awesome lady.
And Rose Tico, the first major Asian female character in Star Wars. She was a fantastic character as well as she brought a new style to the franchise that’s never been seen before. And while her character was used as an object for romance in the film with Finn I love that she never swayed from being a strong character. In fact, there were a lot of times where she was saving him from eminent doom (like Rey did) and the fact that she prevented him from killing himself, almost sacrificing herself in the process, is very brave. I love awesome diverse female charactes in movies and I’m excited to see her story continue in Episode IX.
Sigourney Weaver placed her stamp on science fiction cinema with her impeccable performance as Ripley in Alien and Aliens. She was no joke. The fact that she managed to live through that entire horrific experience is an acheivement unto itself and it just felt awesome seeing her take charge in the way that she did.
I also loved that in both movies she was never given a romantic relationship. It helped keep her on that level of toughness and heroism that made her so cool in the first place. I love Ripley and I’m glad she’s part of cinematic history.
This is a scary movie for no reason other than the impeccable performance from Kathie Bates as Paul Sheldon’s number one fan, Annie Wilkes. Gosh, she was insane. She really was the ultimate fan of his and it was terrifying. There are so many scenes in that movie that’ll have you cringing with fear but the most memorable of them all is, of course, when she whacks his feet as punishment for trying to escape. Seeing his foot fold over onto that board is burned into my brain because of the horrificaness of that visual sight.
Kathie Bates is now an icon due to her scary role and she definitely evolved the status of what a woman could be in a movie. She was basically the female version of Psycho, kind of.
When I think of Gladiator I immediately think of Russel Crowe but the role that Connie Nielsen (I know this is off topic, but isn’t it hilarious that Russel Crowe ended up becoming Superman’s biological dad and Connie Nielsen is Wonder Woman’s mother?) played was just as important and impactful to the story as Russel Crowe’s.
She played as Lucilla, daughter of Marcus Aurellius, and had to, the entire movie, stave off the romantic advances of her creepy brother, Commodus while continuing to aid him in the role as leader of Rome for fear of her and her son’s life. She was beautiful and strong, benevolent and wise, and she was never a damsel in distress. Yes, she was Maximus’s love interest in the film but that’s not the only reason why she was in the movie and that’s always refreshing.
The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
There were a few women in The Lord of The Rings trilogy and they were all pretty awesome characters. Arwen could’ve been one of the coolest heroines ever but she was reduced to a love interest who mainly resided in the magical dwelling of Rivendale for three movies straight. That’s a shame.
Galadriel is one of the coolest heroines in fantasy and she was my first introduction to the incredible actress, Cate Blanchett. Even though Galadriel appeared briefly in all three films the impact in her words and her presence was monumental and it helped make her one of my favorite heroines in film.
And Eowyn is the main woman in the trilogy, for she has the largest role among her lady co-stars. I like her role in the movies. I like that she continously defied the role she was given as “princess” of Rohan and wanted to fight alongside her native brothers in battle against the ranks of evil. I love that she wasn’t defined by her crush on Aragorn but rather her determination to be a warrior. And the fact that she’s the one who ended up killing the infamous Witch King is pretty awesome. There’s nothing greater than a heroine who doesn’t let men tell her what to do and Eowyn embodies that.
Iron Man 2-Avengers: Infinity War (2010-2018)
Black Widow has been around for a little while and she has proved how super of a hero she really is. She’s tough, she has never been treated as just the love interest, and her role in the Marvel movies has grown so much. When she first appeared in the MCU she was mainly a sidekick or an afterthought but now she’s an actual leader of the Avengers and that’s an incredible development. It’s always cool seeing a woman that can kick serious booty and she definitely delivers that in quantity. 🙂
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Like I said earlier, Cate Blanchette is one of my favorite actresses and this movie is the film that made my admiration of her as an actor burst through the roof. She did such a tremendous job portraying this troubled character who struggled to keep the facade of a wealthy, mentally healthy, pleasant socialite while honestly suffering from mental illness. This was a movie that revealed the complexities of perception and how women are forced to be something that they’re not and the side effects of the falsehood. If you have never seen this movie I highly suggest you watch it because it’s totally worth seeing. If you need any more incentive, Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her role as the movie’s main protagonist, Jasmine.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
This is the darkest and grittiest representation of the Mad Max franchise made so far and the women in this movie conveyed that progressive aspect of the film. Oscar winning Charlize Theron brought an ugly ruggedness to the movie that helped make the film end up getting nominated for Best Picture that year. Another thing that made me appreciate her involvement in the film so much is the fact that her character was never seen as a love interest in the movie. She was just as tough as Max and it’s refreshing to see a woman in a film treated as equally as her male co-star.
Guardians of the Galaxy Films (2014-2017)
I loved Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy because she wasn’t used solely as a love interest in the film. Her part in the story mattered and she became a hero just like the rest of the gang. Unfortunately, her ferocity and cold attitude was slightly thwarted as she became softer and more infatuated with Peter Quill in the sequel which was a bummer. I was so ready to see her come back as an even stronger character and instead it felt like she was used as simply a device for Star Lord’s development in the movie. Even Gamora fell under the love interest curse.
Nebula kind of had the same thing happen to her. In the first Guardians of the Galaxy film she was one of my favorite characters because she was so, well, heartlessly mean. In the sequel the story involving her surrounded the idea of her and Gamora becoming the loving sisters that they should be and that contributed to making her soft. No longer was she the feisty, cyborgish assassin. Instead she was a woman who didn’t have a single fighting scene in the movie. Boring. The way women are portrayed in cinema still have a long way to go.
Now I loved the addition of Mantis in the film. She was sweet, funny, and just downright adorable and what I loved the most was that she didn’t have a romantic relationship with anyone. It’s always nice seeing a female character come into a movie and not be used as a love interest for the film. She was just another nutty character in the mix and I’m totally down with that.
Avengers: Age of Ultron-Avengers: Infinity War (2015-2018)
Scarlet Witch made her debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron and for the most part she’s an awesome character. Her abilities are cool and her back story is interesting but since Age of Ultron she’s become more of a love interest for Vision rather than obtaining character development for herself. In fact, she’s been placed on the back burner so hard the writers didn’t even delve into her grief for losing her brother. That’s wierd.
And it seems like that’s not going to change anytime soon as the teaser for Avengers: Infinity War shows her mainly in the company of Vision. It looks like they’re using her as a portal for romance in the movie and while I don’t object the romantic development between her and Vision it shows that cinema is still yet to relinquish the idea that women always have to play as stepping stones for romance in a movie.
Batman vs. Superman-Justice League (2016-2017)
Wonder Woman is a superhero who has been around for decades through comic books and television shows but until 2016 she had never had a movie appearance until she appeared in Batman vs. Superman. Then she got her own film last year which became one of the highest grossing films of the year.
There was a time the titular moguls in Hollywood would have never thought a female superhero movie could make a lot of money but Wonder Woman smashed that theory as it broke box-office records left and right. Wonder Woman is a well known and very well liked character. It’s about time she got her own movie. And her role in Justice League was one of the brighter aspects of the film. Even though Wonder Woman could’ve been much better I’m so glad there’s finally a major female superhero movie in the cinematic books after all of this time.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
It’s a shame that it took nearly ten years for there to be a major villain in a Marvel movie but she definitely appeared with a bang as Cate Blanchett played the devious and ambitious Goddess of Death, Hela. I loved that she did exude pure power and that she was so much stronger than the heroes of the movie. It gave her an air of menace that a lot of Marvel villains haven’t even gotten close to achieving and that’s awesome.
And Valkyrie was great because while her comic book self was a Caucasian blond haired, blue eyed lass I loved that the casters chose to be creative and have her be played by a woman of color. It made Valkyrie different and it also helped her stand out amidst the crowd. Tessa Thompson also did a marvelous job conveying how awesome the character without even having to raise her voice. She carried herself with such an uncaring swagger and self-confidence that I couldn’t help but immediately love her character as soon as she came into the movie. She can also kick some serious butt! *thumbs up* 🙂
Black Panther (2018)
And finally, Black Panther. Black Panther is still breaking box-office records as I write this post but it also helped shatter the idea that a major blockbuster with a predominantly black cast wouldn’t work. This movie was not only special because it highlighted the story of Black Panther but it highlighted so many incredible women; from the many members of the fascinating all-female Dora Milaje to the main leading ladies of the movie, Queen Mother Ramonda, Princess Shuri, the Wakandan spy, Nakia and General Okoye.
The women in this movie showed different levels of strength and power but they all had an air of authority that made them such perfect counterparts to the Black Panther and his story. I also love how beautifully they dressed and the fact that each of them had their own style and grace in the movie. These women were beautiful, powerful, but most importantly they were women of color and it shows how far the evolution of women in entertainment has come.
And I’m sure television and cinema isn’t slowing down anytime soon on the portrayal of women’s roles in entertainment and I’m beyond excited to see all of the movies that appear in the future with fierce, incredible women at the helm of these films in front and behind the camera.
I thank you for reading this extensive post celebrating the women in entertainment this International Women’s Day and I hope you have a glorious day.