5 Most Empowering Female Characters in Movies
Female movie characters have the ability to inspire people of all ages with their performance.
Whether you are a movie person or not, films have the ability to inspire and encourage people of any and all ages. They bring out the creativity of writers and viewers alike and have a way of sticking any person into a whole new universe. It can be an escape from reality unlike any other.
Characters have a similar power. Writers have a way of developing deep and complex individuals that people can relate to and aspire to be. We respond to these characters because we associate impactful moments in our own lives with the different types of situations the characters encounter.
Rachel Newer’s article on Motion Picture Association, The Psychology of Character Bonding: Why We Feel a Real Connection to Actors, addresses this relationship.
Newer writes, “Empathy and sympathy are phenomena we experience almost daily in our dealings with others, and they play key roles in the way we respond to fictional characters. According to social psychologists, empathy allows us to experience another person’s feelings (or at least reconstruct what we think that other person is going through). Empathy can then lead to sympathy, or our ability to understand that another person is experiencing pain, which often makes us wish to alleviate that pain for them. So long as a director gives proper perspective on a fictional character — allowing us to both imagine their pain and to perceive their experience from a distance, as done in Forrest Gump — we can momentarily let go of the fact that that character exists only in the realm of fiction. We cry when their dreams are dashed or they are killed, and we celebrate with them when things go their way. In other words, we connect with them on an emotional level, as we would with a friend.”
This relationship and influence have greatly increased over the years viewing women’s characters in movies. Women’s role in movies has changed over time with the altering cultural views on gender roles and influence in society.
According to statistics found on statista.com about the distribution of lead actors in movies in the United States from 2011 to 2020, by gender, the industry has started to decrease the gap between the percentage of men and women in lead acting roles. According to the chart, men made up 74.4% of lead roles in 2011 which left women with just over a quarter of these positions. However, 2020 statistics show that men held 50.5% of these lead roles compared to women’s 47.8%. Women still have a ways to go in the movie and film industry before they are justly represented in an honest manner.
Original women’s roles in films follow the base plot that they serve as supporting roles for the male lead character. They would focus their character’s attention on love, family, and establishing a home in a traditional manner. However, this mindset is changing. In present-day films, women are starting to serve more focused and developmental roles. Women are breaking society’s stereotypes. Women serve as their own heroes; they no longer need a prince charming to come and save them from distress.
In this developing revolution, numerous female characters have been created as role models and inspirational sources for young people all over the world. Though I would love to take the time to write about every one of these influential individuals, no reader wants to read through hours upon hours of my writing. However, it would be just wrong of me to not discuss a few of these encouraging and powerful women.
Just as an F.Y.I. — These 5 female characters are not in any specific order. These are just 5 women in moves that really inspire me personally and that are good examples for young people to look up to. These are also a mix of fictional and nonfiction people/characters who are represented in different films.
1 Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff — Scarlett Johansson
I have not always been a huge fan of Marvel, and in all honesty, I am still not really the biggest fan. Nonetheless, Natasha Romanoff’s character has always caught my eye. Throughout her personal marvel story, she has overcome hardships and triumphed as a strong, confident, and unmistakable powerhouse in the movies. In watching her character develop, she exhibits “ultimate human levels of strength, agility, and stamina” while accomplishing goals as a “master fighter” and “master hacker.”
In a Fatherly.com article, Donna Freydkin talks about Scarlett Johansson Says Goodbye to ‘Black Widow’ and that “Natasha’s ‘integrity’ is just what young girls need right now.”
Johansson states, “One of her most admirable attributes is that she’s not afraid to admit when she’s wrong. She takes responsibility for things, particularly in this film. She’s really coming to terms with her past in a way that is very, very mindful, very thoughtful, and considerate, and mindful. And I think she’s someone who has a lot of respect for other people. She has a lot of integrity as a person, and I think that makes her a great role model for children and certainly for young girls.”
She continues saying, “She acknowledges the pain that she’s caused or just that someone else has actually experienced pain. That’s really powerful to say: I see that you’re hurting. That’s such a huge step for a person to make. It’s something I try to teach my daughter. It’s complicated, of course, when kids are little, but she’s a compassionate person.”
I have always loved her character due to her personality and strength. In comparison to other portrayals of female characters, she is tough physically and mentally. As a self-conscious person myself, it is always amazing to look up to such a confident female character. Black Widow continuously shows her power and her character’s personal depth with every passing scene. I think young children and adults alike could benefit from more characters like her in the movie industry.
2 Harriet Tubman — Cynthia Erivo
Harriet Tubman is one of the most well-known names in United States history in talking about the Underground Railroad.
After growing up on a Maryland plantation as a slave, Harriet escaped on September 17, 1849, and continued to travel 90 miles north to Pennsylvania with help from the Underground Railroad. Though she was finally free, she was never going to be fully happy without “freedom for her loved ones and friends, too.”
Though I am not a black woman, and I will never be able to fully understand the oppression they experience or their personal connections to Harriet Tubman, she is a flame of inspiration, and she will continue to be forever.
Cynthia Erivo embodied her in the recent Kasi Lemmons’ film “Harriet.” Her work in this film gives me goosebumps every time I see it along with a rush of tears. I won’t lie, these tears are always accompanied by Erivo’s moving performance of the song “Stand Up.”
Harriet Tubman is one of the most inspiring women of all time, and this movie is a great modern move towards sharing her story to future generations who need to know her name.
3 Elizabeth Bennet — Keira Knightley
At first, I came a little late to actually understanding Jane Austen’s famous story of Pride & Prejudice. The thing is, I am not really a reader. However, I first saw the 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice in high school and could not have been more inspired by Keira Knightley’s take as one of the star characters, Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth Bennet is one the most influential characters I have ever come across in a movie or novel. She is determined, independent, strong and powerful in her own way. Throughout the whole film, she pushed gender stereotypes aside and shows a new side of what it means to be a woman.
Keira Knightley embodies Elizabeth Bennet in the best way possible throughout the film. She gives the best facial reactions and responses that show Elizabeth’s personality and drive during the times.
Keira Knightley, as Elizabeth Bennet, is a great inspiration for young women of all ages. She is a great example that women are stronger and more valuable than history may try to portray. Women have come a long way, and Elizabeth Bennet was a character that was way ahead of her time. She may be a nonfiction character, but her power and influence are leaps and bounds beyond real.
4 Daenerys Targaryen — Emilia Clarke
I will not lie to you and say that I have watched the entire series of Game of Thrones. However, that does not mean that I have not seen the strength and influence Daenerys Targaryen has on viewers of all ages.
Throughout the lengthy series, Emilia Clarke took on the role of Daenerys and went through hills and valleys of struggles and triumphs. Her character was sold into marriage, raped, traded like cattle and many other unspeakable things.
Though there is much controversy about her character’s change from heroic to villainous at the end of the series, I can’t lie to myself and say that she does not have some impact and influence. Clarks brings the ability to show women, and men, that they have the power within them. Her character goes through all of these different hardships and struggles but fights with each passing second.
This might not be the most child-friendly series, but Daenerys Targaryen is a character that adult women can look up to. She might not do everything perfectly throughout the series, but people make mistakes.
Emilia Clarke shows a powerful performance in bringing Daenerys to life as a strong and independent character that does not let other people tell her how to live and run her life.
5 Katherine Johnson — Taraji Henson
Last but not certainly least, there is NASA legend, Katherine Johnson. Honestly, I did not know much about Katherine Johnson growing up except for hearing her name a couple of times in school or possibly on the news. However, that quickly changed after I watched the 2016 movie Hidden Figures.
From that day on, Hidden Figures is one of my top all-time favorite movies today. The movie focuses on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson who were “three African American women working as mathematicians at NASA. They worked with a group of black women at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia where they helped compute mathematic calculations to push Americans forward in the space race against the Russians.
Taraji Henson put forward a captivating performance as Katherine Johnson that was both emotional and inspiring. I have watched it numerous times, and it still has the ability to bring me to tears time and time again.
I may not be an African American woman, but I can see that there is an empowering light that comes from watching Henson, along with the other women, take over the screen. They show a determination to young women that can be seen from miles away.
Katherine Johnson’s story needs to be over and over again, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, to all generations that have still to come.
Though I only listed 5 women in this article, there are hundreds of others just like them that need to be talked about. Some of these women may have famous names, while others are just “normal people” living in society.
Feminism is one of the most underutilized tools that can bring community and empowerment to our communities. Women support women. Women inspire women. Women empower women. That should be the goal we all strive for, and these women are just a few of those who do it on a screen.