by Hayley Doyle
Don’t you just love watching a movie and getting that uncontrollable urge to air-punch and yell out loud, “Come on!” And don’t you love it even more when you do this for a female character?
It’s no secret that the movie industry was originally built upon the men being strong and heroic, whereas the women were there to look pretty and fall in love. Yes, there have been many strong female characters ever since the dawn of the silver screen, but nowhere near as many as their male counterparts. Scarlett O’Hara springs to mind often, because let’s face it, she didn’t half stand out from the crowd of damsels in distress. An incredibly flawed, ruthless young woman, in Gone With the Wind, Scarlett stops at nothing to keep herself and her family from starving. It took a woman (Margaret Mitchell) to write it, of course.
Here are 5 movies that make my heart sing when it comes to brilliant women. All written by women, too.
1. Little Women
The first book I ever read without pictures! And a movie that I will watch again and again no matter how many remakes there are. Little Women paints a picture of four very different sisters in the late 1800s, with the protagonist, Jo March, questioning why women “can’t” and ensuring that as a woman, she “can”. This is a coming-of-age tale, full of love, sisterhood and strong family values, that also breaks stereotypes and creates challenges for each sister to navigate through as an individual. From the black and white classic starring Katherine Hepburn, to my childhood favourite with June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor, and the wonderful 90s version which saw Winona Ryder playing Jo, this story is a joy to see through the eyes of each of its creators. Most recently, a remarkable remake came from writer and director, Greta Gerwig, earning her Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. It’s stars, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, were also nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their lively and interesting portrayals of Jo and Amy March. As a writer myself, watching the scene at the printing press where Jo (Ronan) sees her first novel being created, I wanted to stand up and cheer in the cinema! And there is a line in Gerwig’s script, spoken by Jo March, originally said by the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott; “I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.” You go, girl.
2. A League of their Own
“Girls can’t play ball…” Erm! Oh, yes they can! When this movie was released in 1992, there wasn’t a girl who didn’t watch it and pick out which Rockford Peach they wanted to be; Dottie, Kit, Ellen Sue, Marla, Betty Spaghetti or All-the-way-Mae… these girls were everything movies had seen before, AND a whole lot more. Inspired by real-life events, the story is set during the second world war when women were replacing men fighting for their country in the workplace. Baseball was no exception. The star-studded cast features powerhouse feminist Geena Davis and pop icon Madonna, and the movie is written and directed by the incredible Penny Marshall (who passed away in 2018), one of the first women to achieve consistent commercial success as a motion picture director. The female characters are a whole range of feisty, outspoken and glamorous. They can look good and get dirty. They are loving mothers and devoted wives. And they can also hit one hell of a home run. As the stadiums progress from empty stands with the odd spectator yelling insults to packed stands cheering the teams on, hearts can only swell for the women on the playing field. A triumph of a movie and a huge win for the sisterhood.
If you have children, it’s likely you’re a bit tired of the whole Anna and Elsa extravaganza, but we have to take a moment to appreciate how awesome the Frozen franchise has been for female empowerment. For one, Disney finally came out and admitted that princesses don’t need a prince to live happily ever after. It tore up the gender stereotypes and has inspired girls to be bold and true to themselves. Written, directed and produced by Jennifer Lee, the movie catapulted Broadway star Idina Menzel into global stardom (despite John Travolta saying her name spectacularly wrong at the Oscars!). Now, the animated movies that have followed, such as Moana and even more recently, Encanto, have seen underrepresented protagonists who can be strong and - in true action style - save the day. And even if you’ve heard ‘Let It Go’ more times than you’d like to admit, the moment where Elsa sings, “the cold never bothered me anyway,” as she struts into the snow, up a massive mountain, her head held high and ready to completely let her down is, without a doubt, truly epic.
4. Legally Blonde
“If I’m gonna be partner in a law firm by the time I’m 30, I’m going to need a boyfriend who’s not such a complete bonehead.” Yeah! You tell ‘im, Elle! That’s Elle Woods, a role made iconic by Reese Witherspoon, thanks to the novel by Amanda Brown and screenplay by Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith. Elle Woods shows the world that, YES, you can like make-up, beauty magazines, pink, high heels and romance, AND be a super-smart badass who gets into Harvard and absolutely smashes it. Too often, intelligent women have been represented as boring, uptight wallflowers who are locked into a stereotype that opposes the other stereotype of the silly, fluffy airhead. This movie is about marrying all those stereotypes together brilliantly and has you rooting for Elle Woods from the word, Pink. Sure, her initial call to action is to get her man back, but she uses her brains from the get-go in her wonderfully, uplifting and unique way. Oh, and she soon sees what a tool that man was and makes it her mission to be the very best version of herself without him. We love you, Elle!
5. Erin Brockovich
When you think of somebody fighting for a cause, Erin Brockovich has to be up there. Julia Roberts brought her to life on screen, winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2001, but the whole movie was inspired by a true story. What a woman! Erin was a single mother, twice divorced, and not only always under scrutiny for her dress sense of skimpy mini skirts and tight tops, but she grew up being teased and negatively labelled at school because she was dyslexic. Yet! This woman forced her way into a job at a law firm and used this position to fight for ultimate justice on behalf of 634 people who suffered from the effects of chemical contamination. The screenplay was penned by Susannah Grant, also the showrunner and writer on Netflix’s Unbelievable about a young woman accused of lying about being raped. The whole vibe of Erin Brockovich proves the point that when a woman really wants to do something she believes in, nothing can stand in her way. So, if in doubt, be more Erin.