The pre-teen/teenage boy demographic that Hollywood studios have been going out of their way to entice, ever increasingly over the past decade or two simply is not interested in strong, well-rounded female characters. The only thing teenage boys care about being well-rounded in regards to the female character’s is the derriere.
Despite this unfortunate Hollywood trend, there are exceptions to the rule. Rebellious independent filmmakers the world over are transcending the chauvinistic Hollywood worldview in efforts to present film fans with strong female characters. Some of these filmmakers have even managed to make their way into the Hollywood club, exposing mainstream audiences to these stories as well.
While female actors have historically been given the disadvantage in the film industry (especially when they reach the age of 40), some of these actors have embodied characters that have left an indelible impression on the cinematic landscape for ages to come.
Ree – Winter’s Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, star of the recently released blockbuster “The Hunger Games,” can attest to this, but not just necessarily because of this film. In 2010, she starred in “Winter’s Bone” and received an Oscar nomination for portraying Ree, a teenage girl in the poverty-stricken Ozarks who needs to locate her meth dealing father before she and the rest of her family gets evicted.
The film, directed by Debra Granik, explores the bonds of family and the resiliency of a young girl going to extraordinary and unreasonable lengths to preserve her family’s well-being.
Nic – The Kids Are All Right
The same year, “The Kids Are All Right” told the touching story of a lesbian couple played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, two of the finest actresses in modern cinema. Homosexuality is still relatively taboo in American cinema, even post “Brokeback Mountain.”
But these two actresses, using a dynamite script by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, paint a gut wrenching, yet curiously hysterical portrait of two women at a crossroads in their relationship, as they negotiate the newfound presence of the long absent father of their two teenaged children.
Raimunda – Volver
Even though American filmmakers are attempting to make gargantuan steps in the modernization of cinematic gender roles, no director in the world has such an exemplary track record as Spain’s Pedro Almodovar. As recently as 2006, he and his notorious muse, Penelope Cruz, created the vibrant character of Raimunda in the film “Volver.”
This masterpiece tells the story of a mother trying to shelter her young daughter from the horrors of the family’s past, all the while her ghost of a mother (maybe literally) eyes on. Cruz’s refreshing, scintillating performance as a mother fiercely devoted to her family, yet shaken by its history, delighted audiences worldwide.
Clarice Starling – The Silence of the Lambs
Of course, no discussion of strong female characters can be complete without a little horrible perspective. And certainly no discussion would be complete without the mention of Clarice Starling, the wildly intelligent but psychologically devastated FBI agent played remarkably by Jodie Foster in the 1991 classic “The Silence of the Lambs.”
To catch a serial killer, Starling is forced to verbally spar on a regular basis with the terrifying cannibal Hannibal Lecter. What may have been a rote character in other films made by inferior directors starring inferior actors turned into a complex star turn, displaying all of Starling’s vulnerabilities while trying to catch killers who might expose them.
Although proportionally strong roles for women come far less than they do for men, cinematic history is imbued with fleshed out, honest portrayals of women in compromising situations and heroic times. May filmmakers continue, scratch that and strengthen this tradition.