Strong female protagonists part 2 - a blog, in 1000 Words or Less
Recently, I watched Mad Max: Fury Road again. The movie was nominated for ten Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture award. It won six statues, ultimately losing Best Picture to Spotlight. For those who don’t know, Charlize Theron played the role of Imperator Furiosa. In a movie chock full of superb elements, her performance was so compelling it has been suggested she is the star of the show.
This claim is patently invalid because the article making the argument did so within the Strong Female Protagonist framework, i.e., the movie is brilliant only because Theron is the strong female protagonist the world needs. Setting, dialogue, atmosphere, tone, music and theme are essentially unimportant because, in today’s politically correct world, we’re all expected to march to the beat of that particular drum. We must accept the greatness of the movie without question because of that single core element.
To any rational person, articles such as these are complete nonsense. In order for a movie rise above others, to be considered excellent rather than good, there has to be other ingredients, over and above one actor’s stellar performance, as there obviously are in Mad Max: Fury Road…ten academy award nominations.
Terminator has Sara Conner, one of movie-world’s strongest protagonists.
Kill Bill has the Bride.
Aliens has Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.
One of the most popular television programs in history wouldn’t exist if not for Maisie Williams, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner or Lena Headey.
In Edge of Tomorrow, Emily Blunt didn’t take a back seat to Tom Cruise at any point and that movie is referred to as a Tom Cruise vehicle.
Keep Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black and Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones in mind.
If you haven’t watched Killing Eve, now’s the time. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer have both won Emmys.
Crucially, all these talented leading ladies were given excellent source material with which to work. In addition, they all brought something special to their roles. Combined, the various ingredients created programs that demand to be watched. On the other hand, there are numerous examples of talented actors who star in forgettable movies. Just because a program has a strong female protagonist, doesn’t mean it will be good or enjoyable.
Wonder Woman is lauded as a film that broke the mold and began re-writing what women’s roles in Hollywood could be. Gal Godot was a joy to watch and Chris Pine was excellent in his role as her sidekick. Too bad the movie isn't that good; I found it boring and worse, it seemed to me in its effort to make a feminist statement, the story suffered. The term for that is “author intrusion” and it’s to be minimized to the point of invisibility.
Invisibility, can be a moving target. I read half a Tess Garrison novel and found the author intrusion so pronounced as to make the rest of the novel unreadable. The novel’s female protagonist didn’t like men. This trait, among others, was used to create a character who is tough and independent and capable of doing it all on her lonesome. Unfortunately, how the character's dislike came through on the pages of the novel was distasteful and offensive: it wasn’t the protagonist who didn’t like men, it was Garrison herself. I heard Garrison speak at a writer’s conference and much of what she said and all of how she said it, reinforced this impression. Fair enough; she doesn’t like men. I don’t like snakes. We’ve all got something but for my part, I'm unwilling to read about her misandry in the pages of a novel. "Strong Female Protagonist" is often synonymous with weak, stupid, incapable men. I don't care for that portrayal any more than women do when the formula is reversed, as it so frequently has been in the past. Neither approach is correct. Creating strong characters doesn't have to involve demeaning one gender over the other...refer to the examples above.
In the case of Wonder Woman, I’m in the same corner as James Cameron and remember, he’s the guy who gave us Ripley and Sara Conner, so even if my opinion doesn’t carry any weight, his should.
As for the idea that Theron is the star of Mad Max: Fury Road, well, the film wouldn’t exist without Tom Hardy, no matter how hard a critic wants to make the movie about nothing other than the strong female protagonist.
In a writing blog I read and recommend...
...the author states that there is only ever one main character in a story. I respectfully disagree. One main character is certainly the norm, but it's definitely not the rule. Stephen King’s epic post-apocalyptic novel, The Stand has several main characters. Owen Laukkanen’s Stevens and Windermere novels have two. It has six main characters. An argument could be made it has twelve! I just finished a novel called Coldbrook and it has four.
To my mind, Mad Max: Fury Road is movie with two main characters. It’s a classic odd-couple film. Each character is as important as the other. Two people who don’t know each other, who don’t like each other, who come from different backgrounds and have disparate goals (at the beginning of the story), are thrown into a situation in which they have to work together in order to reach what becomes a common goal. My favourite moment is when Max hands his rifle to Furiosa, giving her the opportunity to make a long distance shot he knows he can’t make. In that moment Max acknowledges that he has to work with her if they’re going to escape. It is the moment Furiosa realizes Max trusts her, at least enough to form an uneasy alliance. They both understand they have to stop fighting each other and fight a common antagonist together. It’s the moment they become a team. In other words, as brilliant as Charlize Theron is, she’s not the star of the movie. Neither, is Tom Hardy. The movie can't exist without both of them.
There are elven different Halloween movies. Because it’s October, they’ve all been on TV this month. I watched the 2018 version the other night. Horror films give me the creeps but they don’t scare me. I can't suspend belief long enough to get past the spectacularly bad decisions…
Don’t go into the basement!
Use the shotgun not the butter knife!
Anyway, the movie was fun and entertaining, mostly because of Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s always been the shit and she spends the movie reminding us why. If audiences are given movies, programs and stories with standards as high as Halloween (as well as the others I referenced), the Strong Female Protagonist noise will thankfully fade away. There won’t be any need for it. Critics who want to emphasize that particular point above all others won’t have a drum to beat any longer and readers won’t have to put up with articles that devalue everything about an award-winning movie, other than one of the lead actors.