I happen to know a 14-year-old girl who is very excited to see this week’s theatrical release of ‘Divergent’. Whether Shailene Woodley’s character in that film turns out to be as empowering a female role model as Jennifer Lawrence’s in ‘The Hunger Games’ remains to be seen. (Reviews aren’t encouraging.) In the meantime, this week’s Roundtable celebrates some of cinema’s strongest leading ladies. Who are your favorite movie heroines?
There are a lot of good candidates for this topic, but I have to go with Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Clarice Starling in ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘. (I need to specify the movie because I think both Julianne Moore and Ridley Scott screwed the character up in ‘Hannibal’). Here’s a heroine who is both strong and vulnerable at the same time. She’s brave enough to both go face-to-face with Hannibal Lecter and journey down into Buffalo Bill’s basement lair, yet still frightened out of her wits in the process. She’s the top of her class as an FBI trainee, but also haunted by events that happened during her childhood. She’s completely qualified for her job, yet looked down upon by many of her male counterparts and associates. As a result, she’s one of the most believable law enforcement characters ever seen on the big screen.
Easily my favorite female role model in film is Lt. Ellen Ripley from the ‘Alien‘ franchise. She’s strong and tough, but also has a softer side and maternal instincts. She’s a survivor, facing xenomorphs time and again, even if she’s afraid. She does this with no special powers – nothing but the will and drive to not let these monsters take her down. The real world could use a few Ellen Ripleys.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
One of the things I love so much about Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service‘ is that the film doesn’t have any sort of villain or arch-nemesis. Instead, it’s the endlessly charming story of a 13-year-old girl who’s just starting to walk down the road to womanhood. Not that I’m telling you anything you don’t already know, but fledgling witches are supposed to live on their own for a year. With her chatty familiar by her side, Kiki leaves her sleepy little village in the rear view mirror and sets up shop in a sprawling port city. Even setting aside the magical end of things, so much of what unfolds here is very easily relatable. Young Kiki has to struggle with her insecurities, her inexperience in the face of all these unfamiliar challenges, and the headaches of being completely self-sufficient. This is a story about confidence, self-reliance and community. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ remains my very favorite Studio Ghibli film, and for what it’s worth, it’s also the first one I grabbed off the shelf to introduce Ghibli to my kid sister.
Ever since I saw the movie, I’ve considered Saoirse Ronan’s character in ‘Hanna‘ one of the very strongest on-screen heroines. Through the course of the film, we see how much of a physical badass she is. She snaps the neck of a ‘Downton Abbey’ character (if only I could do the same), rides on the bottom of Humvee through the rocky desert, shoots a couple living things close enough to the heart stop them in their tracks just so they can look her in the face as she blows theirs off. It’s amazing! She’s the teenage female version of Jason Bourne. On top of the physical stuff, I especially have to admire her for not being like most teenage girls – loud, obnoxious and overly dramatic. Instead, she’s a teenager on a mission who manages her baggage by killing things.
M. Enois Duarte
If we’re not restricted to action movie heroines, I’m going with ‘Matilda‘ on this one. A spirited, curious and highly intelligent little girl who’s also independent and hard-working, Matilda is a great role model for girls everywhere. What makes her a great character for all kids to emulate is that she inspires a desire for knowledge and shows the value of imagination.
After carefully consulting the special person in my life, we agreed that the hip YouTube series ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries‘ is the perfect choice for this. The series is based on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The title character is not only very amusing as she does impersonations of her family members and the people around her, but she also threads the needle when it comes to the challenges facing her young life. Initially convinced that she knows better than her sisters, parents, friends, etc., her misreads and assumptions make for quite a series of realizations. The web series is well acted and full of pretty but endearing people, and the quick-editing keeps the narrative popping with humor. I highly recommend giving it a shot, and it’s better when shared.
At the risk of turning this into a Jodie Foster love-fest, I’d like to single out her character in Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s ‘Contact‘. Dr. Ellie Arroway is a research scientist for the SETI program who monitors radio signals from deep space in the hope of discovering hidden patterns that might indicate extraterrestrial life. Even though her work is dismissed by the scientific community and a bureaucracy that refuses to fund her, Arroway perseveres in her determination to prove its importance. The film is a tribute to the passion and dedication of intelligent people driven in their pursuit of knowledge. That’s a rare enough quality for any Hollywood movie, much less a big-budget summer blockbuster, and I can’t imagine anyone else embodying the role as well as Foster does.
Tell us about your favorite movie heroines in the Comments below.