In the past few years, we’ve seen a big push to diversify Hollywood. It’s taken a number of guises, from African American directors receiving big awards to a growing number of studios emphasizing movies with female leads.
In 2015 and 2016, the slate of blockbuster movies was no exception to that trend. Films from The Force Awakens to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them featured prominent female lead characters. We also saw female-directed flicks from Jodie Foster and others receive funding that’s generally reserved for men.
It’s great to see all the female leads, don’t get us wrong. It’s great to start seeing women cast in traditionally male roles in action movies. It’s even better to see strong women reshaping the mold for what a lead looks like in a film. However…
Have you noticed this year that nearly every female lead somehow manages to fall in love? No matter how ridiculous? We did. Whether it’s the sudden, forced emotion at the end of Rogue One, where Felicity Jones’ character finds herself apocalyptically smitten with Diego Luna, or the way J.K. Rowling feels obliged to make not one but both of her female leads pair off with the male leads by the end of a single film in Fantastic Beasts, Hollywood just doesn’t seem to get it.
There’s another issue, and it’s especially present with the action-y movies, especially from the Star Wars franchise. All those female leads look suspiciously like men. It’s not the hair or the outfits, per se, after all, we know that femininity can look all sorts of different ways. It’s the characterization. Female leads are the same brash, impulsive warrior figures as the male leads we’ve been shown all these years, only with a ponytail. They’re a commodified version of themselves. And that’s not solving the problem.
We appreciate the presence, sure. But it’s time to start portraying women in a less simplistic way. A female lead in a blockbuster doesn’t need to be made to act like Harrison Ford but with a “vulnerable” side. The funny thing is, Leia was a stronger female character than Rey, and she’s from more than 30 years ago. Why? She’s diplomatic, eloquent, compassionate: existing in a male-centric action flick without being constrained by it.
We’re glad that we’ve been seeing so many female faces on the screen, in less traditional roles. But when they’re all reduced to falling in love, and when they reject femininity in order to imitate a male role without replacing it or complementing it, it’s a male version of strength, no matter who’s playing it.
Here’s hoping 2017 is even better for female-driven film. We’re watching.