In praise of Women and girls being mint on film
In praise of bold, sassy and strong women and girls on screen.
In honour of the International Day of the Girl, some strong, inspiring performances by women that every girl should see.
Imagine: you’re stuck on spaceship (the Commercial Starship Nostromo, to be precise) with a homicidal, phallic-headed alien that bleeds acid, has three nasty mouths, and its horrendous spider crab babies suck off people’s faces. Not a great situation to be in; but if you want someone to save you from the most terrifying extraterrestrial in the universe, you better ask a lady - specifically Ellen Ripley (Signourney Weaver). Ripley is walking, shooting, fire-spraying proof that you can be a woman, a mum, and a badass – without playing on the fact she’s a woman, a mum, and a badass. She’s a human being doing a kickass job at killing aliens and wearing a jumpsuit; and it just so happens she’s a lady – which is why this film hasn’t dated, as many attitudes towards women in film at that time have. A fierce combination of brains and grit (more of which we’ll return to shortly) keep Ellen Ripley alive: “Last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
(Watch Weaver in the sequel, Aliens, use the maternal instinct to save both an orphaned – thanks to nasty aliens – girl, and herself.)
THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
Famous for many reasons; including its line “all my life I had to fight” (which you may now recognize from Kendrick Lamaar’s anti-police brutality anthem, Alright), The Color Purple is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning epistolary novel by Alice Sebold that many of us may have read at school (re-read it).
It chronicles the lives of poor, African-American women – specifically Celie - in Georgia during the 1930s; and was turned into a film by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopie Goldberg as Celie. Throughout the film, Celie is undergoing an awakening: spiritual, social, and sexual; and it is an important encounter with the character Sofia, that catalysis these simultaneous awakenings. Sofia shows Celie that there is an alternative to the spiral of abuse and oppression she has endured her entire life. Sofia, is the key to the change that takes place within Celie as she begins to refuse to tolerate ‘Mister’ and the other men’s onerous and brutal treatment.
Though everything doesn’t work out perfectly, it works out a lot better than if Celie had stood by and tolerated what was going on around her, and to her, for any longer than she did. The Color Purple is also one of the first films to touch on the agonizing ritual of Female Genital Mutilation.
The novel was repeatedly threatened with censorship.
It seems outer-space brings out the best in leading ladies, as Sandra Bullock demonstrates in this celestial and solitary tail of extreme physical and mental endurance; as Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) attempt to return to earth after the mid-orbit destruction of their space shuttle
Although astronaut Chris Hadfield did point out Bullock would probably have been wearing a large space-nappy during the underwear scenes, we’ll let it slide on this occasion; as the film will make you appreciate what is possible if you just keep on going - and it will also make you appreciate the earth we are lucky enough to live on.
THE PEOPLE VS. OJ SIMPSON (2016)
I’ve cheated a little here: yes, it’s a television series (for other inspiring female leads in television series, see also X Files and Stranger Things); but prosecutor Marcia Clark is about as intelligent, tenacious and tough-skinned as you’re going to get. Based on the real Marcia Clark (who was bullied at the time of the OJ Simpson murder trial by the media for her perm, of all things) Sarah Paulson brings Clark’s boiling frustration to life.
Convinced of Simpson’s guilt in light of the “mountains” of evidence against him; Clark is determined that though “he got away with beating her [Nicole Brown],” he does not “get away with killing her.”
It is one of the most notorious domestic violence cases in history; and if anyone was ever going to inspire you to fight for justice – whatever the outcome – it’s Marcia Clark.
TRUE GRIT (2010)
True Grit, specifically the Cohen brothers’ re-make of Charles Portis' 1968 novel, is another inspiring example of what a woman (and a 14-year-old one at that) can achieve if she sets her mind to it. Mattie Ross’ (Hailee Steinfeld) mission is to “find the man that killed my father,” and it doesn’t matter how many grown-up men mock, rebuff, and on occasions, abuse her – nothing; not guns, intimidation or a vast river, will discourage Mattie from being a part of capturing (and killing - it’s the Wild West in the ‘60s) the man who took her father’s life.
Jeff Bridges as the “meanest” tracker, Rooster Cogburn, that Mattie employs (thanks to her savvy horse selling) to help her; also deserves a high-five for his role.