Sunday, 12 July 2015

Are Female Characters Just Not That Great?

I love Empire magazine. I've been reading it since 2003. I have all but 3 issues from that time until now. I love everything about it from the reviews to the articles. Just like everyone else who reads it, I'm sure from time to time you'll disagree with certain reviews. Sometimes I question the focus of some articles or the point for some of them but hey no matter, its a film magazine, there will be disagreements.

BUT the latest cover and focus in this month's issue is about 'The 100 Greatest Characters'. They were voted by the readers. I think I even voted. But do you know how many of these characters were female? 10 out of 100. 10% of the vote. At first I was annoyed as its no secret mostly mem read film related magazines. But then I thought 'wait, does that mean no one thought any female characters were worth mentioning?'

The 10 characters were a mixture of ages and not all main characters either. One character picked was even voiced by a man so, not sure if that one can be counted. The usual 'favourites' were in there, Ripley from the Alien film universe, The Bride from Kill Bill, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Then there were the ones I was proud to see, Marge from Fargo and Amelie. But Amy from Gone Girl? She's a great character but she's a terrible representation for female characters in film.

While on my journey home I thought of all the great female characters in films that I admire.When I told my dad about the list and I asked him to guess, he started reeling off a list of characters that I hadn't even thought of; Catwomen, Thelma and Louise, Working Girl, just to name a few.

Apart from thinking of my own list of great female characters, this also reminded me of another post I wrote about The Bechdel Test. The rules are that the film has to pass these three rules:
  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man
The joke is that in the original comic, the two women discussing the test say that the last film they saw was 'Alien'. Thinking about this recently, a film I loved, '8 Women' has only 8 cast members but the film just about scrapes by as most of the conversations between all the woman are about men. It's actually rather disappointing.

Even some of my own ideas I've looked over again and thought it doesn't include enough female characters.

Going back to Rosanne Arquette's speech that brought women, clapping to their feet in support, she was right to say this and I'm glad she did, it was empowering. But I thought that Cate Blanchett's speech at the Oscars. 'The world is round people' is right. Films with great female characters are rare but they shouldn't be. People, the audience do want to see them not just when they are in an action role either, even though Charlize Theron's Furiosa is a strong contender for the list.

Here are just a few characters that I thought were worth a mention; Nina Sayers (Black Swan), Clementine Kruczynski (ESOTSM), Princess Monoke, Eve Harrington & Margo Channing (All About Eve), Norma Desmond (Sunset Blvd), Princess Leia (Star Wars), Mattie Ross (True Grit), Black Widow, Mary Fischer (She Devil), Juno, Leeloo (The Fifth Element), Cher Horowitz (Clueless), Madeline Ashton & Helen Sharp (Death Becomes Her), Jeanette (Jasmine) Francis, Gladys Leeman (Drop Dead Georgeous), Regina George (Mean Girls), Peggy Carter (Captain America), Vera Drake, Sandra Wilkinson (Billy Elliot), Mari & LV (Little Voice), Sister Clodagh (Black Narcissus), Jane Hudson (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), Vivian (Lauren Bacall), Hana (The English Patient), Layale (Caramel)....

I'm sure there are many many others, so, please let me know which female characters you think deserved to be on that list. I'm hoping to create my own list so it would be even better to hear from everyone.


  1. It does seem a lot of the most iconic characters in film are men. I remember there was that "Ten most Iconic movie Characters of all time" relay going around last summer that mostly just had men on it. Actually that happened with a few of the relays; the only woman on my "Ten Most Influential Directors of All Time" relay was the first to be removed. It was so notable that my friend Wendell Ottley even went and started his own relay about the ten most iconic female characters.

    It does seem it's often the same people who come up whenever an example of strong female characters needs to be cited: usually either Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. Sometimes The Bride from Kill Bill comes up. That does seem like a small pool of choices, as great as some of those characters may be.

    As for some of my favorite female characters, I'd be tempted to point to several of Kathryn Bigelow's movies. She does have several male-dominated projects (i.e. Point Break and The Hurt Locker) but when she does put female characters into her movies she is really good at making them strong. Maya in Zero Dark Thirty is perhaps one of the best examples, as is Megan Turner in Blue Steel or Lornette "Mace" Mason in Strange Days.

  2. Eowyn from Lord of the Rings (namely Return of the King) comes to my mind. I think the Bechdel Test is a little outdated or inaccurate. Just look at Eowyn as one example. She never talks to any other females, yet is a strong character that plays a critical role in the movie...Did you have characters come to mind before reading the actual article? Were they balanced between male vs. female or not? I would probably end up with a list more male oriented myself, even though there are many great females. :-)

  3. V.interesting boo. I bloody love katherine Hepburn in bringing up baby - she's pretty sassy. Meryl. Streep in the river wild is also badass. Don't those films would pass the test though. Seems to me that the article raises two points - perhaps people don't consider a lot of female characters as "great" but maybe that's because more "great" roles are created for (or given to) men...? Great is a pretty subjective word - could mean anything. X

  4. I still need to watch Zero Dark Thirty, I thought it was rare and more interesting to have a female character at the centre of a war/military themed film. I've noticed that female directors/writers will create new and intriguing varied characters but male ones have 2D types populating their stories. Females to fill a role. It happens more in action/blockbuster films but its also started to filter through to smaller films.

    I'd like to see this relay of iconic female characters - really want to make my own. Is there a link?

  5. Eowyn is a great character and you're right she is strong amongst the men. LOTR is one of my favourite films but I don't think the test is outdated, I find that its more relevant than ever. There doesn't seem to be many films out there that could pass this test. There are quite a few male characters I admire but its something I've noticed more and more.

  6. Thanks boo! I'm not sure if River Wild passes, aren't all the other characters men? But she is pretty kick ass in it. You're right better roles are created for guys. The word 'great' is difficult, as there are so many categories for things, female characters could be inspiring or revolutionary or something like that.

  7. It is a sad but true situation. But I think if more films with female main characters were released, it wouldnt be a shock, it would be welcomed. Then again after the ridiculous backlash from people about Furiosa in Mad Max, I might be thinking too optimistically.

  8. Nice post, and love the inclusion of female characters at the end. Classic Hollywood always seems to be a forgotten pool of complex and interesting characters as well as actresses of all ranges and ages, despite how glamorized it was. I could probably pull a lot from Bette Davis' filmography alone. Sometimes it seems that there are plenty of people who want to see women-centered films, and yet we always end up missing the mark in public lists like this in recognizing the impact of female characters.

    I would argue against the list though, as weak as my memory of The Hunger Games books is and my dislike for the film sequels, Katniss is just not a favorite character of mine....

  9. You're right that female characters are forgotten about, sometimes its all about who is voting or compiling the list.

    Peeta is my favourite. Katniss in the books came across whining and indecisive but in the film I feel she came across better, not exactly relatable but for me, she's a survivor. Actually President Coin is a creepy customer but I thought she was also quite good.