Strong female characters are not always easy to come by in films. It is an unfortunate truth that, until recently, strong female representations have been almost entirely absent in cinema. Women are all too often seen as mere side characters, or someone for the lead male character to fall in love with.
While there are those films out there that do have strong female portrayals, they are not always the most realistic expectations for young audiences to aspire to.
In this post, I am going to discuss the current state of feministic portrayals in film, how they may be detrimental to young female audiences, and ultimately what can be done in order to help solve this problem.
Huge blockbuster films have been found guilty time and time again of having more male leads and characters than females. This issue has been brought to the attention of the masses more and more often as time has passed, but it is not new.
Most films that try to solve the issue to no avail have strong female characters only as supporting roles, just meant to end up with the male lead by the end of the film. Even when the female character is the central character, there is almost usually a male supporting character that she is meant to be with by the end of the film. A prime example of this situation is any Disney Princess film from the past.
Films such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella focus on their titular characters as the strong main protagonist. However, by the end of the film, it is always a Prince who must come to the rescue and marry the princess for her arc to be complete. Young female audiences should know that there is much more to their lives than ending up with “the Prince”, and they have much more potential than simply being a “prize” for males.
Recent films such as Frozen have been successful in flipping this trope on its head, and completely subverting expectations of the audience. While a good start, it is still more common to find a female character ending up with a male character by the close of a film.
Another issue with these female characters that has become all too common is that they are shown as extremely gorgeous. This can lead to young girls believing that they need to somehow live up to this unrealistic expectation of beauty, or risk being seen as less important. They see women in films who look like this so easily, so this becomes a normal expectation of how they believe they should look.
If they are not on the same level as these women in the film, do they risk being less important? Will they fail to find their “Prince” and never live “happily ever after”?
Another common problem in film is portraying the strong female character as villainous or criminal. Films such as Gone Girl and Maleficent show a strong and powerful woman, but portray her in some negative and sinister light. Both of these film’s titular characters are really its main antagonists, and, ultimately, the most dangerous person in the film.
In Gone Girl particularly, the film shows a strong, independent woman taking control of her life and getting out of an unhappy marriage. However, the way she chooses to go about this situation is awfully demonted and criminal. She lies, manipulates, and even murders in order to frame her husband for her disappearance and get away with it all.
Women and men alike in the audience may take this and see any strong and independent woman as unstable. After all, when they saw one in a film she was completely unhinged and an entirely intimidating presence.
Once more, showing these strong female characters simply as criminals builds onto that negative portrayal. If not completely evil in her demeanor, a strong female character is too often criminal in some regard. Films such as Ocean’s 8 and Widows or even Hustlers show a group of strong female characters in lead roles, but they are portrayed as criminals.
Most of these films do have a reason for their criminal portrayals, though. For example, Ocean’s 8 does this in order to stay true to its source material – just as the previous Ocean’s films had a group of men as robbers, this one just uses women. And Hustlers is meant to be based on true events, where the situations in the film actually happened in real life.
Nevertheless, by having these strong female characters depicted as malicious and criminal creates a negative image. And, again, these women are still portrayed as unusually beautiful.
Women who are already strong and independent may be looked at as dangerous and intimidating by others. Even worse, this makes no progress to motivate other women to become a strong and powerful individual.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The absence of realistic feminine portrayals in film is a problem in Hollywood today. Only showing female characters as an unrealistically beautiful, or as a sort of “prize” for a male character to end up with by the time the credits roll is an all too familiar character trope. And when the characters are seen as more independent and powerful, it is often as a supporting character or with a villainous demeanor.
There are more options for a woman in reality than villain or “prize”, so films should represent this, as well. A wide female audience should have a larger variety in film characters to look up to than villain and token beauty.
The presence of more female filmmakers in Hollywood is a great start for more realistic portrayals. But ultimately, the overall awareness of this issue amongst filmmakers both male and female is the best and most important step to solving the situation.