With 2016 being so-called the “Year of Feminism in Hollywood,” women are deservedly gaining ground by not only popping up more and more in the massive pool of cinema but also in the strength of the roles they’re being chosen to play. To name a few, the female Ghostbusters reboot, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Suicide Squad are highly-anticipated blockbusters this year, all of which feature strong female leads. Some of these characters are damaged, while others are more ferocious in nature. But in their own complex ways are very progressive in how women are seen and utilized in Hollywood. And 2016 is just the start.
Last December gave us Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and in a franchise that was known for its male-dominated cast, is now one of the frontrunners in the feminist change that’s overtaking cinema. Daisy Ridley (featured above) played Rey, the lead in the renowned space opera; she wasn’t a sidekick, nor a insignificant player in the storyline as is often done with ones of its kind. Rey was a powerful, smart, and talented fighter who usually took the male characters by storm, if need be. Characters like these are what more filmmakers are attempting to replicate. They don’t need to promote women as better or preach an unfortunate past in film, but simply portray them just as deeply, acutely, and capably as their male counterparts are. And the huge influx of actresses who have the talent and will to do that is continuing to increase.
Margot Robbie made her break into stardom in her mesmerizing performance in Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street. While she does play a conniving, selfish woman, it’s the depth of the character as well as the performance by the actress that makes it such a memorable role. And even though comments like that may not be entirely unheard in describing a part such as this, it’s the incredible skill that actresses like Robbie be one of the biggest, most fascinating people in Hollywood.
And this year she’s playing one of the most iconic characters from the DC Comic canon in the film Suicide Squad: Harley Quinn. Roles (especially in the superhero genre) have been so rare that depict women like the wild, unpredictable character like that of Quinn. She’s crazy, but she’s compelling nevertheless. Both Robbie and the well-written script are to thank for that. Robbie also plays Jane in the newest adaptation of Tarzan. And by the look of the recent trailer, she’s no one-note lady. So, the actress’ rising popularity as of late is a great sign for how future films should be created and cast. She’s on her way to a very promising and iconic career, along with many like her.
Having just one her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Danish Girl, Alicia Vikander was also praised for a unique performance in last year’s indie science-fiction thriller Ex Machina. She played Ava, an artificially intelligent woman who is cruelly used for scientific research by a powerful businessman. While her Oscar-winning role was superb, it wasn’t nearly as uncommon as Ava was. Having a background in dance, Vikander gives the role a strange elegance while maintaining a strange inhuman demeanor. She’s a wonderful actress who is noticeably taking roles the empower women rather than simply attempting to get role after role in whatever she can find.
And now having snagged a role in the upcoming Jason Bourne, she’s clearly making a big name for herself, intentional or not. Characters like Ava represent the increasing opportunity for young actresses to get roles that truly mean something in both personal improvement and film itself. Before Ex Machina, Vikander was a nobody, but now she’s won the Oscar on her first nomination. It’s important for there to be progressive actresses like her in Hollywood as well as the voluntary choice by a filmmaker to create such a profound female character.
Like the past two ladies, Katherine Waterston came out of nowhere. She gained wide renown after appearing in the Paul Thomas Anderson comedy-noir, Inherent Vice, in 2014. She plays Shasta, a lost love of the protagonist. She mostly appears in dreams and drug-induced hallucinations, but somehow in her limited screen time, she’s utterly breathtaking. She plays Shasta with a fascinating sense of mystery and subtlety. And having never been in many films that had such big acclaim as this did, her performance was truly one-of-a-kind that year.
And last year, she appeared in Danny Boyle‘s Steve Jobs as the title characters ex-partner. Again, it’s another character that still kept a very feminine air about her but was also very flawed and fleshed out. Comparing it to others in the genre, even going back many decades, this type of role is usually very stagnant and powerless in the big scheme of things, but now Waterston helps brings this role to life. In the coming years she’s taking up a major role in the Prometheus sequel, Alien: Covenant. 2016 and beyond truly has an almost unheard of expansion in actresses like Waterston and what they’re being given to tinker when taking on such a dynamic film.
Before having a charming minor role in the The Force Awakens, Lupita Nyong’o delivered a frighteningly realistic performance as Patsey, a horribly abused slave in 2013’s 12 Years A Slave. She would later win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, again (like Vikander) on her first nomination. The character of Patsey was not just a normal slave character; we see her mutilations, her personal troubles with love, freedom, and failure, and everything in between. Such a heartbreaking female character, along with a beautiful performance, doesn’t come around too often, and Nyong’o is a great example of an actress moving from a progressive role like this to even bigger waters.
Along with the sought-over Star Wars role, she’s also a part of a feminist play on Broadway, written by Walking Dead star Danai Gurira (Macon). The play follows five women near the conclusion of the Second Liberian Civil War. So, Nyong’o has not only given her all in Oscar-worthy films like 12 Years A Slave, but she’s a part of blockbusters and showing her range on stage as well. She’s an actress that shows her talent in various mediums and formats, depicting women as three-dimensional people, whether they be skilled fighters or those broken down by society. Each type has their place and importance in the film of today.
Even though most moviegoers are quite aware of Jennifer Lawrence, her high stature in Hollywood is a very, very rare spot for an actress just 25 years-old. Since her lead role in the Southern-gothic drama Winter’s Bone, Lawrence has made a major stance for female characters ever since. Her roles as the warrior Katniss in the Hunger Games series and the enigmatic shape-shifter in the X-Men franchise has shaped her into a pivotal woman in the industry. She is not only a brilliant performer but also proactive off-screen.
Last year she wrote an extensive essay on the gender pay wage gap, which is an issue that’s as much a part of the industry as the stars, themselves. Subsequently, many other actress, both young and old, have joined the fight for equality. Lawrence has also fought against the stereotypes of what it means to be a “Hollwood actress.” She makes a delightful fool of herself on talk shows, attacks reporters for comments on weight loss, and while, at the same time, delivering deep performances that rival even some of her most experienced costars. And hopefully, she’ll only continue to do more reformist work like this to help make the world around her as modern as possible.
Even back to the days of Marilyn Monroe, feminism was begging to have its place in cinema. And over the past few years, and with the ones to follow, Hollywood will change, even if there are those who wish to fight against it. The plethora of actresses who are breaking through the mold will only continue to grow, along with the new way in which people will view and create compelling heroines.