The strong female lead is dead. We don’t need any more shows and movies whose entire raison d'etre is to remind viewers that the protagonist is a woman. And she’s just as strong as men! Can you believe it?
“It’s the worst thing ever when you open a script and read the words ‘strong female lead,'” Emily Blunt said last month. “That makes me roll my eyes. I’m already out. I’m bored.”
Earlier this month, Claire Foy of The Crown echoed these thoughts, saying, “I viscerally hate ‘strong female characters.’ It says, what, all other female characters are weak? You don’t separate men like that. They’re allowed to be unlikeable, likable, strong, weak, scary, cuddly, all sorts of different things.”
This year has had no shortage of powerful performances by women on screen: from Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once to Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus. What sets these performances apart is that these women weren’t playing feminist caricatures. They were playing women who felt like real people, characters with their own flaws and charms and unique expressions of their femininity.
But we also had our fair share of lazy girl power tropes, with shows such as Disney+’s She-Hulk, in which our hero makes sure to remind us that she’s a feminist and she’s got it tougher than men. Netflix’s Persuasion butchered a Jane Austen classic by turning its protagonist into a snarky wine guzzler straight out of a TikTok video.
These films act as if a self-actualized woman has never appeared on screen before, like Jennifer Lawrence saying she was the first female action hero. (Sorry, Uma Thurman!)
The problem with the “strong female lead” is that it’s a caricature that aims to be progressive but ends up leaving characters neither strong nor feminine. “Those roles are written as incredibly stoic,” Blunt said in her interview. “You spend the whole time acting tough and saying tough things.”
Sarah Polley, director of the recently released film Women Talking, argued that the “strong female lead” isn’t really about women at all. “We’ve been foils for so long in movies about men,” she said. “I think a strong female character is just a fully realized human being. It’s just sad how long we’ve gone with very few of those in movies, where we’re not a means to an end. A strong female character can take a million forms that don’t just look like a stereotypical strong man and a female body.”
While Hollywood is obsessed with creating “diversity” by shoving women into all-female remakes of men’s movies, what we really need is roles that honor heroines as people, and as women, not as metrics in an equity and inclusion scheme.
In 2023, let’s kill the strong female lead and replace her with someone whose purpose isn’t to preach but to tell a good story.