Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Eternal Moonshine of the Witless Mind (or Female Movie Characters Don't Matter)

Who was overlooked in the '100 Greatest Movie Characters' list?


Yahoo is reporting that their movie experts are disagreeing with the top 25 movie characters of all time, from a list of the 100 greatest movie characters of all time. And while they're upset that characters such as Willie Wonka and Mr. Miyagi weren't included in the top 25, I'm personally curious as to why there's only ONE woman on this ill-fated top 25 list. (There are four on Yahoo's edited list -- wait, three and one honorable mention.)

Why is this? Is it because there aren't really that many notable female characters in movies? Maybe. But what about Bethany from Kevin Smith's Dogma? She was not only a multi-dimensional LEAD character, but she was funny, not impossibly skinny or beautiful (although the actress who plays her is beautiful), nor was she all of 20 years old.

We face this question a lot, and it turns out that there really aren't that many female characters in movies. Those that are present tend to follow along a formula that is dependent on the male lead -- either the love interest, the enemy, the mom, whatever -- and tend to be kind of shallow, one-dimensional figures -- think Neo's girlfriend in the Matrix trilogy; you don't even know her name, do you? (I sure as shit don't.)

So, what the fuck, Hollywood? Women watch movies too -- and not all of us are excited for the next Sex and the City movie. Some of us actually vomited on our friends or spouses when we saw there was a second Bridget Jones movie. Not only do women deserve to be acknowledged by the Movie Industrial Complex, but we deserve to have characters we can relate to. Maybe the gals from Sex and the City are really super great, but the characters in that show/movie represent the only type of female character in movies. Period. The slut. The purity slut. The bitchy one. And Carrie.

Women come in more flavors than upper-middle-class, fashion-and-sex-obsessed, skinny white women! DUH! It should be portrayed that way in movies as well. For god's sake, some of us aren't even skinny!

Then again, Hollywood has always been behind the times in terms of diversity. Blackface? Mexicans and Asians playing "Indians"? Indians playing Iraqis (sorry, I know, I love Naveen Andrews too)? Mainstream films essentially ignoring that there are other ethnicities than "white"; other sexualities than straight; other relationship statuses than married? Woody Allen movies?

This has got to stop. We need more diversity in so-called liberal Hollywood. Actors may be women, gay, non-white, intelligent people who read, but they certainly aren't allowed to act like it. And it's pretty frakking annoying.

(Title from Natalia's list.)


ZoBabe said...

Oh, come on. Neo's girlfriend's name is Trinity.

I'm trying really hard to think of awesome female movie characters now....

Robbert said...

Nina Yakushova (Greta Garbo) in Ninotchka
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien (and sequels).
Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) in Speed

There have to be others that don't fit the mold. but I really have to think hard to remember them.

Robbert said...

I forgot to add:
Celie Harris (Whoopi Goldberg) in "the color purple"

Josh said...

I was just looking at their silly list... Did you notice that all but one of those movies is also full of violence (Ferris Bueller being the hold out)? Their list goes beyond just being sexist, and starts to look more violent, militaristic, and action-packed.

And Die Hard gets 2 characters? Puhlease. These guys must not have seen very many movies when they started putting this together - there are a lot of movies where they pulled 2 characters.

Dasha said...

My thoughts precisely.

EHR said...

Yeah - "Trinity", and I don't even like the Matrix movies.

But still, you have a good point.

Female movie characters I loved that I can think of without visiting imdb - Winona Ryder's character in Beetlejuice, the female FBI agent (can't remember her real or character name!) in the Bourne Supremacy, Kate Winslet in "Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (your title reminded me of that)...

djkristinab said...

the most awesome female movie characters of all time: all of the women in crouching tiger hidden dragon. thelma and louise in thelma and louise. iris in taxi driver. damn. that's all i got for now.

Ily said...

I think Amelie is my favorite. There's also a lot of really iconic female characters in older movies, like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Someone was asleep at the keyboard...

crankosaur said...

Three women on the Yahoo list with two honorable mentions--Madison from Splash was a mermaid.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked scarlett o'hara isn't on the list. She's my favorite female character of all time. What about emma as well?

Anonymous said...

Of course, Ripley from Aliens immediately came to mind as the best EVER. There is Nancy from A Nightmare On Elm Street("Fuck your hall pass!") And Enid from Ghost World.

eb said...

The British list not only ignores women, it ignores the fact that movies were actually made before 1970.

At least the Yahoo list has Charlie Chaplin on it, but Mr. Miyagi? You've got to be kidding.

Where the hell is Mrs. Robinson??

Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head, I think that Sarah Connors (Terminator) and Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs) should make the list.

And Yahoo's list has 4 (Annie Wilkes, Annie Hall, Norma Desmond, and Holly Golightly) plus two honorable mentions (Margo Channing and Madison).

Anonymous said...

Awesome female movie characters--I got two right off the bat: Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling and Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley.

Cath said...

Ooh, a challenge. Here's a few striking and complex women that bounced to the top of my head. Caution: whole movies may include dated or modern versions of sexism.

* Ripley (Alien series)
* Scarlett O'Hara
* Nora Charles (Thin Man series)
* Norma Desmond
* Elizabeth I - both Glenda Jackson & Cate Blanchett versions
* Marge from Fargo
* Rose Sayer (African Queen)
* Jiao Long (Crouching Tiger)

The Magnetic Crow said...

Mercedes from 'Pan's Labyrinth', Laura from 'The Orphanage', Amelie from 'Amelie', Juno from 'Juno', Pierette from 'City of Lost Children', Dell from 'Tideland', Clementine from 'Eternal Sunshine'.

Strong female leads with lots of personality, all. Most of these are foreign films or indie films, granted, so maybe it's a problem with Hollywood films in general.

muffin said...

I completely agree with you, but I would like to make one note: Woody Allen movies, though they have an alarming lack of economic and racial diversity, do cast Jewish men as romantic leads, which almost never happened before him, and happens rarely since (Jewish men tend to be comedic leads shoved into rom-coms). They also often have very complex and nuanced women characters.

Jessie Maims said...

There are 5 female characters on Yahoo's list with 2 honorable mentions. Still not close to half, of course. I'm just nitpicky.

Steven Cross said...

What a great post. Thank you for your brilliant observations.

Anonymous said...

I think we are forgetting about the villains, as well. In some films, the most well-developed female character is the villain. Think Bette Davis. It doesn't say much for Hollywood, but there it is. I think it may be because the female villain does not need to be tied to a man, because they are not trying to make her more likable or human.
My favorite female characters (in no particular order):
Mrs. Danvers
Norma Rae
Erin Brockovich
Scarlett O'Hara
Norma Desmond
Kitty Foyle
Jo March (Katherine Hepburn version)
Holly Golightly
Elizabeth Bennett (in every film version of P&P I have ever seen she was amazing)
Baby Jane Hudson
Eve Harrington
Annie Hall
Margo Channing
Catherine Sloper (The Heiress)
Ellie Andrews (It Happened One Night)
Clementine (Eternal Sunshine)
Ellen Ripley
Personally, I think that all of these characters are more human, better developed, and "greater" than Tyler in Fight Club. Just saying...

Clix said...

Great suggestions! The only one I'd add would be Katharine Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Erin said...

If someone said this already I'm sorry: Leeloo from Fifth Element or Alice from Resident Evil? I'm a bit of a nerd so those may just be personal preference...Or Mathilda (Natalie Portman) from The Professional?

Jennie said...

No, no, no. No "best character" list can ever go without Katy Bates's portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery. That was, hands down, probably one the best acted roles ever. At least in the top 5, including all those over-hyped men.

Yeah, I also noticed the bias for testosterone-laden action films. I like action a lot too (I mean Pulp Fiction: so awesome), but Die Hard? Seriously, Die Hard? That was crap. No, it was crap molding on crap.

Renee said...

I agree that women need more representation but did you really have to pick on Bridgett Jones. I loved those movies as silly and problematic as they are.

Rachel said...

I agree that women need more representation but did you really have to pick on Bridgett Jones. I loved those movies as silly and problematic as they are.


Anonymous said...

Beatrix Kiddo (The Bride) in Kill Bill!

Anonymous said...

Katy Bates as Dolores Clayborne. Should have won an Oscar.

SayBlade said...

Here's a few more for your list.

Camille: When Night is Falling
Petra: When Night is Falling
Rachel: Imagine Me and You
Luce: Imagine Me and You
Polly: I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
Ginger: Ginger Snaps
Sam: Ginger Snaps
Rachel: Rachel, Rachel