Last year was a prominent year for showcasing diversity on the big screen. Movies like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” not only broke records at the box office but are also critically acclaimed for breaking racial barriers on the big screen.
However, there seems to be one common element missing from each of these successful films: a visible and powerful female lead.
The media not only works as a source of entertainment for the masses but it also influences what we make of our reality. Unfortunately, in many films and television shows, women are presented as accessories to their male counterparts.
Women are often presented as the object of desire that the male lead tries to win over or as the token female amongst a group of males. We see this dynamic in a lot of superhero and action related films. The man is the star; he’s strong and admirable in his personality, wins the girl and saves the day. The girl is only visible when part of a relationship. We see this trope played out in films like “Baby Driver,” Spider-Man: Homecoming” and the ever so popular “Fast and the Furious” franchise.
These images can subconsciously send a negative message to females that says, “your worth is limited.”
A movie that I found particularly amazing with a strong female lead is “Widows,” starring Hollywood powerhouse Viola Davis. The plot focuses on a group of three widowed women who work together to pay off a debt that their criminal husbands left behind.
What makes this heist film stand out from similar movies is that the formally worried housewives who sat at home with the children while worrying about the fate of their husbands are the ones doing the job.
In the absence of the men, these women were left to put their minds together and fend for themselves. The women who are often tossed to the side to just be wives, mothers and ultimately one-dimensional characters finally had the chance to be seen in a different light.
Davis, who has been very vocal about proper female representation in Hollywood, the #MeToo Movement and the gender pay-gap among actresses, was very proud of “Widows.”
While promoting the film, Davis said to Variety, “People try to be too nice with women … keep them pretty … They cater to male fantasies. They cater to the male gaze. This film didn’t do that.”
Davis was right. The film tackled the action in an exciting yet realistic manner. “Widows” didn’t portray three Victoria’s Secret models beating up 200 pound men. In fact, there were many low moments in which the women had to find the courage to move forward.
Critics praised the movie for its refreshing, female-led approach. But sadly, it tanked at the box office, only making $12.4 million opening weekend. Why is this? A story like this deserves to dominate pop culture.
But things are lighting up in 2019. Just four months into the year, we’re seeing women lead the box office. Lupita Nyong’o slays as the lead in “Us,” another successful horror film by Jordan Peele and Brie Larson dominates in “Captain Marvel,” despite the films controversy.
Many slammed Larson online, critiquing her appearance and lack of love interest rather than her character or physical capability, with many comparisons to “Wonder Woman.” Captain Marvel has wonderful aspects that make her a great character. Females are already compared to each other enough as it is. There’s room for more than one heroine in the world of action and crime fighting.
While part of me is annoyed that “Captain Marvel” must be compared to “Wonder Woman,” another part of me isn’t surprised. Since there is such a lack of superheroines on the big screen, people have a narrow view of what a hero can be.
Regardless, Larson proved the haters wrong, as the movie earned over $1 billion worldwide after its month-long release.
Let’s hope that we see more positive portrayals of females in films to come.