The most important female characters of 2015

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

Something that escaped mention in the previous year-end post is that 2015 was also a fantastic year for women in film, filled with strong characters and stronger economic motivations to serve a female audience. Given that I completely forgot about it and also don’t want to become that one cis white guy talking about feminism from his high tower, the following is a guest post by multimedia freelancer and actual female person Christina Ulsh. 

Fiction presents real life values and problems in a fabricated universe. This allows characters to become yet another standard by which women can compare themselves and girls can try to live up to. Moreover, it can influence the way men view and treat ladies. Thus, Reel Entropy takes a gander at 2015 and the fictional female figures in movies that ignited discussion, shaped attitudes toward women and gave us pause.

Photo courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios.

The film industry is a dude-dominated field. Women made up 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 grossing films in 2014, according to The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. The same center found that on-screen men were more likely to be represented by their job, say as business executives and doctors, as opposed to women, who are more likely to be defined by their roles in their personal lives, such as wives and mothers. Guy characters frequently turn to female characters to satisfy their sexual needs, while the women turn to the men for purpose.

Even Daniel Craig recognizes James Bond as a misogynist in an interview with Red Bulletin. Craig credits modern Bond’s chivalry to the “very strong women who have no problem putting him in his place.”

As women make up nearly half the population and are accomplishing more than mothering kids and loving men, it’s necessary to talk about the female characters who are empowering real-life women.

Bad Influence — Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) from Fifty Shades of Grey

Steele is a perfect example of a voiceless woman driven by her love for a man. Christian Grey (Jamie Dorman) gets off on violent and kinky sex and wants Steele to be his submissive. She does not want to be the S to his D, yet she allows Grey to do what he wants with her. Fifty Shades exhibits what BDSM culture is not as well as stifles the needs and wishes of its leading lady.

Good Influence — Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) from Mad Max: Fury Road

Given that the three previous Mad Max movies altogether deliver merely two named female characters — Jess, who is Max Rockatansky’s deceased wife, and Aunty Entity, who is a corrupt ruler — we are glad to see not only one tenacious woman working alongside Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), but an assemblage of women.

Furiosa is a high-ranking officer at the Citadel, entrusted with its War Rig. It seems to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keys-Byrne) that she is leading the supply run to Gas Town and Bullet Farm, but she veers off track in order to rescue the five wives hidden within the rig from Joe’s despotic possession.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

Furiosa outshines Rockatansky in intention, to the point that many called her the movie’s real main character and inspired the seedier parts of the internet to call for a masculist boycott of the movie, saying that director George Miller is trying to deceive viewers into believing that a woman can be more than arm candy in an action film, which is traditionally a man’s territory. Men’s rights activists may have been right to be upset, as in retrospect the entire series seems to be about how they’re destroying the world.

Of course, Fury Road is not without its flaws, as A.V. Club points out. While Furiosa risks everything to save the young, model-esque wives, she leaves several women to continue to be farmed for milk by Joe.

Throughout, whether it’s milk bags, blood bags or war boys, this post-apocalyptic world objectifies men and women alike, boiling their worth down to their utility.

Without Furiosa, Rockatansky wouldn’t have had a means to escape his own capture and objectification. Without Furiosa, who would have been the Citadel’s savior?

Bad Influence — Clair Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) from Jurassic World

It’s disappointing how girl-power deficient Jurassic World is when compared to Jurassic Park, especially since it led in box office numbers until The Force Awakens was on the scene. Park gives us two brilliant female characters: teenage hacker Lex Murphy (Ariana Richards) and not-afraid-to-go-elbows-deep-in-dino-poo Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern).

World gives us Dearing, who at least is job-oriented. But this interferes with her ability to connect with her visiting nephews. The trait also makes her advocate risky business practices because “the park needs a new attraction every few years in order to reinvigorate the public’s interest in the program.” And while she is ill-dressed for the mayhem that ensues, we’re not here to talk about clothes and shoes.

Good Influence — Joy “Ma” Newsome (Brie Larson) from Room

Mothers in movies are often two-dimensional stereotypes — they’re either up tight, shrill or controlling. Sometimes, they are present just long enough to put the kiddos on a train or plane to see family. Room is a mother-son love story, though, and presents Ma as a thoughtful and whole character.

Ma experiences a multitude of worst case scenarios—abducted at 17, impregnated by her captor, stuck 24/7 in a 10-by-10 foot garden shed with a 5-year-old—and manages to remain logical, dedicated and patient. She protects Jack (Jacob Tremblay) from the dire reality that is their living situation by keeping him in the closet for Old Nick’s (Sean Bridgers) visits and explaining the outside world to him as a fantasy, so as to not give him false hope of seeing it one day. As Jack would probably be in the first grade by now, Ma works with her limited options to help her boy’s development. She encourages his physical health by playing a game that involves running laps from one end of the shed to the other. Faced with a bleak existence in a shed coupled with the ever-growing curiosity of her son, she eventually plots an escape plan to save her son that may leave her stuck and alone.

The frontrunner for a Best Actress Oscar, Ma is simply an example of a powerful female character, the kind that is wholly lacking from the movies.

Complex Influence — Ava (Alicia Vikander) from Ex Machina

The narrative leads us to believe Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) and Nathan (Oscar Isaac), tech tycoon employee and employer, respectively, are the main characters. By the end, we realize it is Ava, an android fraught with human emotions, who is the central character.

Photo courtesy A24 Films.

This is a favorable circumstance, considering Nathan’s sleezy underlying motives. While he is ostensibly creating the world’s first AI, all his models are heavily sexualized, copulation-ready females. He even keeps one on-hand, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), as a servant and a sex object, making her mute for the optimal sexist home life. His goal is obviously to create attractive and submissive women. Smith is doomed when he allows his attraction to Ava to move him. Smith and Nathan eventually meet their downfall because they allow their wieners to guide their intentions. Caleb would be more forgivable had he not opted to save an android over a human.

The funny part is Ava is literally an object. Once her mind comes into the equation, though, the line between what is human and what is not becomes blurred. Equipped with human thoughts, wasn’t it inevitable that she would consider herself a captive, a slave to man? What woman would want that?

She manipulates Caleb to help her escape and then leaves him to die, and that isn’t exactly excusable. But faced with the options of survival or demise, it certainly is more understandable.

Ex Machina is a cautionary tale presented to a society that is delving deeper into technological advancements for the sake of pleasure and convenience over necessity. This narrative is emblematic of the treatment women receive on a daily basis. Their worth is attributed to their looks, their sexuality is taboo and they’re oppressed by the expectations placed on them by men.

Unbelievably Good Influence — Rey (Daisy Ridley) from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Our latest episode in the Star Wars saga has a familiar storyline to its predecessors. The difference may seem cosmetic, but in actuality it goes further. The Force Awakens enables its female characters instead of isolating them. While there is typically one intelligent and skilled lady per trilogy, this movie gives us a female villain, a female Yoda equivalent and, most importantly, a female hero. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) even gets an upgrade in status and is referred to as General Organa.

Our hero, Rey, has an unknown background, but we soon find she is an adroit scavenger who is not bereft of compassion and integrity. She rescues BB-8 from a teedo and Finn (John Boyega) from a rathtar and offers to aid them in their quest to get away from the First Order, despite her lifetime of being alone. Over the course of the film, she turns out to be a natural pilot and force user and becomes the first named woman in the movies to wield a lightsaber. This lady is a survivor. It’s almost cute how Finn tries to come to Rey’s rescue only to find she has already rescued herself. She’s a pilot and a knowledgeable mechanic, impressing even the likes of Han Solo (Harrison Ford).

Photo courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios.

With Finn wielding the lightsaber in all trailers, Rey’s nature as the main character has become a major embarrassment to toy companies, which focused all their efforts on male toys because they aim to serve boys much more than girls. Rey action figures frequently referred to her as “Female Scavenger,” not even by her name. #Wheresrey became a movement on Twitter in a story that continues to become a bigger and bigger eyesore for merchandise companies.

The Force Awakens has reached more than $1.5 billion in revenue worldwide, and it still hasn’t released in the world’s second largest movie market. It broke Avatar’s domestic box office record, $760.5 million amassed over a 34-week theatrical run, in three and a half weeks. Before the new year began, over 88 million tickets were sold. At least thousands of impressionable boys and girls were exposed to not only a gender balanced galaxy but also to a proficient, independent and altruistic hero who is, for once, a woman.


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