Hollywood is currently in the midst of an era where women are treated with more respect in films compared to their counterparts in the 80s or 90s. Sure, we have great female role models like Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, but those types of female characters are few and far in-between. However, there’s been a notable problem surfacing when it comes to female protagonists in the modern age, especially in action films like Gunpowder Milkshake or the Charlie Angels remake. These women are strong warriors. And that’s great! But that’s a big reason why most of these strong female protagonists don’t hold a candle to Sarah Connor or Ripley. These women are strong, but then what? What’s their flaw? Yes, it would be great if were all butt-kicking warriors who were nearly flawless in any way, but there’s a reason Superman has Kryptonite.
Every protagonist needs an obstacle to overcome. For Sarah, she wasn’t prepared for some heartless Terminator to kill her in the first film, so she had to eventually fend for herself in order to survive once Kyle Reese is no longer able to protect her. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah was more equipped for the war that was brewing, but she was a mentally damaged soul who had some serious mistrust of the T-800 being on her and John’s side. That lack of trust stood in Sarah’s way at certain points until she learned that not all machines are bad by the time the T-800 sacrificed themselves. Ripley was dealing with an unknown entity that was murdering her crew left and right, she’s not perfect because she’s dealing with a force that goes beyond her elite training. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong female character. However, it seems as if filmmakers are afraid to showcase them as weak.
How can I connect with a character that is essentially a perfect person? There’s no such thing as a flawless human being, so this type of character is not relatable in any sort of way. Whether internal or external, there needs to be a force that the protagonist is battling that consistently stands in his/her way. There’s some leeway when it comes to action films as they’re not meant to be character-driven pieces, but John McClane is considered one of the best action heroes in cinema because not he’s such a strong warrior. It’s his insecurities about the mistakes regarding his wife and the fact that this seemingly ordinary Joe could die at any moment that really helps sell the role.
He displays a perfectly flawed human side as the villains are standing in the way of his journey. However, it’s not just the fact that filmmakers are seemingly afraid to give female protagonists a weakness, there only seems to be one type of character in the action spectrum. Relationships are rarely showcase because it’s seen as a sign of weakness for women. Whether you love or hate The 355, the film thankfully showcases relationships in healthy manner. It’s important to highlight the value and strengths of a relationship that are vital in any society. A woman isn’t any weaker because she’s in a healthy relationship with a guy.
Is John McClane weak because he pines for his wife? What about John Wick? His journey starts when a bunch of thugs kill the last gift that his wife gave him. It should showcased more that being in a relationship is a beautiful, not a traumatic experience that films tend to highlight when a women’s a victim of abuse or something else of that nature. Oh, and can we please stop with the men vs. women narrative. It’s a huge turnoff that it seems a good portion of men are sexist, vile pigs, and not a fully fleshed out villain who just happens to have a penis. Films have come a long when it comes to crafting female characters, but there’s still a long ways to go when it comes to making strong female protagonists.
Too often, the emphasis on strong means that you an elite fighter. But not everyone is physically skilled. Cersei Lannister is not a physically dominant character, but she’s one of the most powerful and smartest people in the room. Showcasing a woman as a Jill-of-all-trades doesn’t make her compelling to watch. It’s not impossible that someone can be both physically and mentally gifted, but in the medium of film, how much fun can a movie be if the protagonist always has the upper hand over the villain? Imagine if the Sarah Connor in the first Terminator was an elite warrior who had the solution to every problem presented to her? What if Ripley found out how to beat the aliens within seconds and just stormed the ship with ease, killing every alien in sight without any complications or problems? It wouldn’t be an entertaining film. There’s no problem with having strong female characters. However, filmmakers need to understand that other layers are necessary to make them memorable.