So, recently I started to watch SCANDAL, the brilliant political thriller created by Shonda Rhimes headed up by Kerry Washington, starring as the professional ‘fixer’ and non-stop fashion queen Olivia Pope. If you haven’t watched it yet you really should because not only is it an impossibly gripping show, filled with twists and secrets and everything you would want to make great TV, it also features some of the best female characters on television today.
TV has been absolutely killin’ it in the last few years. Amazing writers, directors and producers coming together and churning out some of the most riveting, thought-provoking and entertaining shows we’ve ever seen. No longer does television play second fiddle to cinema’s righteous first; TV is in the big leagues now and is holding it’s own. For actors it is no longer considered a “stepping down” to work in TV, with Oscar winners and nominees all jumping ship to get a piece of the small screen’s pie (e.g. Matthew McConaughey in True Detective and Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder as well as big time directors including Scorsese, Tarantino and Spielberg producing and directing for television)
Staying in and sitting on the sofa with your family is no longer considered lame but accepted. Turning down dinner reservations to watch GAME OF THRONES instead seems logical:
“Sorry, cant come – GOT is on”
“Oh that’s cool, I actually forgot myself!”
“Unfortunately I will not be able to attend your son’s birthday party as I must find out the state of Isis the dog on Downton”
“WHAT?!? I didn’t even know she was sick?!”
Television is no longer just compelling but necessary – I myself still feel ashamed when I receive plentiful side-eye glances from friends when I admit I have still not seen Breaking Bad (I KNOW OK I GET IT).
Another reason TV is so great in 2014 is all the complex and thoughtful female characters emerging, which are vastly outnumbering those in film. Shonda Rhimes is Queen of the trend (capital Q), starting with Meredith Grey on GREY’S ANATOMY, then Olivia Pope on SCANDAL and now Annalise Keating on HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. Of course Rhimes is not the only one putting females in the foreground. There’s Claire Randall in OUTLANDER, Alicia Florrick in THE GOOD WIFE, Peggy Olsen in MAD MEN (Peggy-O forever amirite?!) and all the women in DOWNTON ABBEY, particularly Lady Mary and Anna. In the UK we have seen some fantastic British dramas headed by women such as the unstoppable Olivia Colman in her role as DS Ellie Miller in BROADCHURCH and Stella Gibson in THE FALL who uses her sexuality as her strength. There are bundles more, as well as the women we see heading up comedy shows today such as THE MINDY PROJECT, GIRLS and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. These characters are all strong and multifaceted. No longer do we see the one dimensional characters such as the women on SEX AND THE CITY, who all are supposed to embody one side of the female persona. Women do not have just one persona, we are all of them tangled together in a confusing hot mess.
We do see some great female characters in film, don’t get me wrong. But they are so far and few between. When it came to making this list myself and Holly struggled to come up with half a dozen female leads of characters who were as raw and captivating as those mentioned above. Jennifer Lawrence in most of her roles (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and THE HUNGER GAMES series – read our review here) commands screen presence and is absolutely holding it down for us ladies. Hollywood has taken to her as the go-to-girl for strong and multidimensional female leads. There are other actresses who are guaranteed to not fall into the pitfalls of archetypal female characters; Amy Adams (AMERICAN HUSTLE and watch out for her in Tim Burton’s BIG EYES), Cate Blanchett’s Oscar winning performance in BLUE JASMINE and Julianne Moore in, well, everything; she regularly gives wonderfully nuanced performances (STILL ALICE, out at the end of the year, has everyone buzzing). Other recent films that centre on the female perspective include: Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK, Quvenzhané Wallis in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, Julia Roberts in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. However, these are unfortunately the exception and not the rule. There were arguments to be made about Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of Amy in GONE GIRL, as to whether this role was a positive one, straying from stereotypes, or reinforcing them by turning Amy into a caricature of the ‘psycho bitch’ trope. DIVERGENT was another female driven action film, following the trend set by the Hunger Games series, but main character ‘Tris’ was so bland and vapid, with no depth to her, and nothing I could relate to.
All the films in cinemas at the moment, only one of them has a female lead: HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1. All the others out in the UK (MR TURNER, INTERSTELLAR, FURY, THE IMITATION GAME etc), whilst they may be fantastic pieces of cinema, are all made by men, starring men and with a male audience in mind: this is one of the biggest problems with cinema today. Something has to change.
This is a call to arms for all female filmmakers, writers, actors and the like – if you have an idea, make it. If you have a dream, go for it. We (the cinematic audience) need you. I want to go to the cinema and watch a character I can relate to. Someone challenging and constantly surprising, someone likeable but equally unlikable. A woman I connect with because she’s not happy all the time or a constant psycho bitch. She’s everything and anything, like most women are.