Netflix Reinventing Women’s Roles
From Orange Is the New Black to Jessica Jones, Netflix is bringing complex and multi-faceted females to the film forefront.
It can be considered common knowledge in the entertainment industry that (most) individuals find enjoyment out of stories that depict heroic, personable, and independent characters within film and television. While many of these characters embody positive attributes that are celebrated throughout society, almost all of them are men.
Now, there is nothing “wrong” with strong male leads; I myself love the bold James Bond and daring Indiana Jones. But, where are all the stories about women? The female relationships and conversations , the capable and powerful females— they do exist, but are unfortunately being undermined and overlooked in the film industry.
While some would argue that Hollywood and the film industry is “getting better”, and although slowly, more women are being represented in a positive light than before, records show the opposite. Paul Haggis, an Academy-Award winning screenwriter, director, and producer explains the unfortunate truth behind many female characters.
“[Hollywood] had many more interesting characters on screen back in the 20s, 30s, and 40s than [Hollywood] does now. [Hollywood] allowed women to really embody all the contradictions that [made] up a human being back then. They could be the fem-fatal, and then turn around and be the mother, and turn around and be the seductress, and turn around and be the saint, and we accepted that. They were complex human beings. [Now Hollywood] likes to put people in boxes.” (Miss Representation)
Throughout thousands of films and television series, women are stripped of their human attributes and are exemplified as basic, one dimensional, characters.
But, there is hope. With the conversation about women’s portrayals in film and television opening up and gaining support within the film community, many film and television platforms have made an effort to incorporate diverse female roles. The online television and film platform Netflix has specifically made strides in creating varied female characters.
Over the past three years, Netflix has grown in popularity, become a multi-billion dollar company, and has become accessible in (almost) all parts of the globe. Netflix’s quickly amassed fame might have a lot to do with the release of their T.V. series “Orange Is the New Black” back in 2013. Depicting the life of a privileged New York woman (Piper Chapman) who happens to get herself locked up in prison on a drug trafficking charge from the past, “Orange Is the New Black” (OITNB) details Piper’s experiences of serving fifteen months in a state penitentiary. Although OITNB may be considered an interesting setting to promote women’s rights, the series has brought visibility to female relationships and polarity to a number of social issues.
Created by two female T.V. producers, Jenji Kohan and Liz Friedman, OITNB has redefined what “being a woman” in front of the camera means. What makes OITNB compelling for women in film is its diverse ensemble cast. Starring women from all different cultural and class backgrounds, OITNB portrays realistic women, as well as telling their complex stories. OITNB highlights real-life topics dealing with race, gender, class, identity, sexual orientation, and more. While the show isn’t immune to implementing certain stereotypes, as the episodes progress, the characters come to life and the audience is able to unfold the multiple layers of the women; finding out who they were and who they are.
With season four of OITNB to debut in June 2016 and seasons five and six already well underway, Netflix hasn’t stopped there. Netflix recently partnered with comic powerhouse Marvel, releasing the T.V. series “Jessica Jones.” Coined as being an unapologetic aggressive “feminist superhero”, “Jessica Jones” , is made up of far more than just her super powers. Taking on themes of privilege and sexual consent while struggling with her own demons, “Jessica Jones” might be the most realistic superhero out there.
The series also takes a look into female relationships, which can be seen in Jessica’s best friend Trish. Although their relationship isn’t always smooth sailing, they are able to work with one another, which only makes them stronger.
“Jessica Jones” also stands out to be one of the only superhero T.V. series that casts a female as lead. In 2015, only three female superhero T.V. series (including “Jessica Jones”) had a female as lead, and only two lead female super hero movies have made it to the big screen. When it comes to any comic series, most female portrayals are usually heavily sexualized. “Jessica Jones” brings a new meaning to comic- inspired female roles, and the T.V. series has received positive reviews from many female fans.
“Orange Is the New Black” and “Jessica Jones” are only two examples of how Netflix is reinventing female roles. Netflix has also created leading female characters in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Grace and Frankie” — it would even be safe to say Netflix has even more leading female roles in the works. Netflix should be viewed as a tool that can be used to explore what it means to be a woman on screen. So far, Netflix’s ability to make well-rounded characters has proven to not only be entertaining for audiences, but also allowing relatable and sensible depictions of women to shine through.