Chicks In Charge – Strong Female Roles in Film – By Brian Morton

We keep hearing about there being no good roles for women in Hollywood. It goes away once in a while, but it keeps popping up over and over again. I hate to tell you this, girls, but there are plenty of good female roles out there. It’s just that no one acknowledges them very often because they’re not in those “Merchant Ivory” movies that you gals seem to like so well. I know, what us guys think of as great roles and what you girls think of as great roles are often two wildly different things. You chicks tend to like those roles where you get to wear the giant hoop skirt and some kind of corset, or something “gritty” like the hooker with a heart or the street girl who makes good. You know the sort of thing. Stuff that you’d have to hold a gun to our heads to get us guys to watch. Now as a guy, I see all kinds of great female roles, and I’ve seen them throughout my whole life. I don’t think it’s the role that makes the difference; I think it’s the actress. You know, they gave Halle Berry the Oscar for doing a nude scene with Billy Bob Thornton. Now just keeping your lunch down when you see Billy Bob naked is enough in my book to earn you that Oscar, but what did Halle do after she won it? Did she go on to do some great role and redefine her art?? No!! She signed on to be Catwoman in a film that almost no one was interested in in the first place. Not even comic book geeks were interested in seeing Halle in the tightly fitting, revealing leather outfit, so don’t tell me that it’s the parts. I’m thinking that there are plenty of good roles out there, but actresses aren’t looking for a great part, they’re looking for an award winning part, and the two aren’t always the same thing. Let me explain…

First let’s look at a movie from 1970. The ‘70’s was an era that saw women burning their bras and yelling about equal rights and all that kind of stuff. Yet amidst all ths feminist hysteria, I find a movie called “Bloody Mama” starring Shelley Winters as a very strong lady called Ma Barker. Now, I know when we think of Shelley Winters, we usually think of the really annoying woman from “The Poseidon Adventure,” but here she’s the opposite. She plays Ma and was the leader of a band of tough guys that she is the undisputed boss of. She’s tough, she’s in control and she’s definitely in charge of this gang, which includes a very young Robert DeNiro. It was only when she lost control of the gang that everything goes to hell and everyone dies. But before she loses control, she kills people who get in her way, kidnaps the local rich guy to get some money and even slaps around just about every man who gets within striking distance. So, she’s strong, she’s in charge and when the men take control, everything falls apart. How much better of a role or a message could there be for any up and coming actresses?
Then, a little later that same decade, there was a little movie called “Day Of The Woman” that you and I are probably most familiar with as “I Spit On Your Grave”. This has been called “the first feminist horror movie,” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s the story of a young writer who just wants a quiet place to sit and write. Because she’s apparently chosen the abandoned “Deliverance” set to get her peace and quiet, it’s inevitable that the local inbred, perverted hillbillies will turn up. When they do, they attack her with wild abandon and leave her for dead. She nurses herself back to health and then begins stalking them and taking her revenge in the most gruesome and inappropriate ways possible. Well, it’s not really inappropriate; it’s just as hard to watch as the attacks on her were. If you’re a man, then I have to give you this warning: You’re going to have nightmares about the bathroom scene. This is one of the strongest female characters in film history in my estimation, and I’ve seen a lot of films. Sure, Sigourney Weaver fought an alien on a space ship, but the lady in “I Spit on Your Grave” could beat that alien on her worst day. It’s a role that rivals anything that Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood ever did, and if that’s not a strong female role, then there’s never going to be one.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Those are b-movies Brian.” Well yes they are, but that’s what we’re all about here. There’s nothing better than a good b-movie. But that said, how about we move on to a bigger budget movie like “Aliens?” I know the original is considered the classic, but in the sequel, our heroine has had time to gain a little perspective on her situation and now she’s really cheesed off! This is the classic tough chick role. Sigourney heads to a planet full of aliens with a group of tough space marines. As the film progresses, she makes them all look like “girly men.” She’s not getting revenge on a person or group who did her wrong; she’s hunting down a whole race of drooling, acid blooded monsters! Her goal is full blown genocide on these beasts! It’s a role that Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Willis would’ve fought over, and yet it was performed beautifully by the very tough and persevering Sigourney Weaver.
Now how about a trend setters? We’ve all seen Freddy and Mike Meyers (the killer not the comedian) and Pinhead and even Chucky the killer cabbage patch kid. But did you know that the whole slasher genre was originally the stomping grounds of women? Now, we’ve all seen the Friday the 13th series, but there are a few little details that most people overlook. First, the hockey mask wearing Jason doesn’t even appear until part three and in the first movie, Jason’s only there in a small cameo. It’s Mrs. Voorhees that’s doing all the killing! That’s right, how many female slashers have there been? Not that many, let me tell you. Mrs. Voorhees set the bar for the rest and, as far as I know, no one has even come close to matching her kill for kill. She’s a mean lean killing machine. She’s not only getting revenge for those damned counselors who killed her little mongoloid Jason, but she’s also hanging around being the sweet gentle lady everyone trusts. It’s a dual role that lets her be the gentle nurturer and the savage arrow-wielding killer. Now that’s a role that has a little meat on it. Hell, she even gets to kill Kevin Bacon! And let’s be honest here folks, who among us has not dreamed of killing Kevin Bacon? Sure, go ahead and fool yourselves into believing it’s only me, but I know the truth. And, let’s be honest, it took someone chopping off her head to stop her, otherwise she’d still be hunting those damned camp counselors, and, again, let’s be honest, who among us hasn’t wanted to hunt down a couple of those and get rid of them?

So, for those who say that there are no good roles for women, I think that I’ve just proven you wrong, and I only scratched the surface. Remember that for every Terminator there’s a Terminatrix. For every lady fanning herself on the porch in a hoop skirt, there’s a chick out there killing aliens and protecting the Earth. And for every weak and pliable girl, there’s a woman out there leading a gang of mobsters and robbing banks. So I don’t want to hear any more about there not being any great female roles out there because they do in fact exist. Maybe you’re just not looking that hard enough. Ladies, I put the ball firmly back in your court.