Leading Ladies of 2014

Image via BBC America.
Image via BBC America.

Sometimes it seems like the world of media is a barren wasteland for female characters that live and breathe on their own merits, not someone else’s. 2014 was a great year for diverse and powerful female characters in media. Villains, heroes, ordinary people — we got them all.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I introduced the penultimate movie of the series, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. After two movies in the Capitol, the audience and Katniss got to see District 13. Katniss’ struggle has always been that she is a very genuine and rooted character in an increasingly artificial world. Her required performance is very different from the reality of her situation. In comparison to the decadent opulence of the Capitol, District 13 is a starkly real and focused place with different rules. The previous movies were a callback to the Coliseum, but now it’s a warzone. The rules have changed.

Orange Is the New Black has Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset, a transgender woman imprisoned for credit card fraud. OITNB is a Netflix original series that features several strong women. It’s a transgressive narrative, and it focuses on the people whom our society puts in jail. Sophia Burset is a recurring character who has grace, dignity, strength, and panache, and her impact is undeniable. Her main storyline revolves around her family and the transmisogyny that she encounters in jail.

Maleficent is a villain-sympathetic retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and Angelina Jolie plays the title role magnificently. Her character is a perfect mix of tragedy, bitterness, wicked humor, and renewal. Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, is an excellent foil character, and their bond is the real substance of the movie. Both of them are powerful, but Maleficent’s power is in her wisdom while Aurora’s is in her innocence.

Gone Girl, in contrast, is about a woman you can never truly know. When Amy Elliot Dunne goes missing, her husband, Nick, is disconsolate, and the media is sympathetic. Amy is at first  portrayed as the victim, but her character gradually develops into something more intense. She and Nick possibly deserve each other. All you see of “Amazing Amy” is what she shows you, and she is one hundred percent performative. It’s a great five-year-anniversary movie.

Jane the Virgin is an adorable show based on a Venezuelan telenovela. A young woman who vowed to save her virginity until marriage finds herself pregnant through accidental artificial insemination. To her dismay, the father of her child is her boss and her old teenage crush. Jane is a sweet and vivacious young woman who stands by her family as she goes through operatic twists and turns. The show balances its soap opera roots with a nice sense of realism and Latin American culture.

Orphan Black is Tatiana Maslany’s opus. If she never acts in anything again, her time as an actress will not have been wasted. The premise of the series is that a scientific organization created clones and spread them across the world. So far, Tatiana plays eight of them: a con artist, a soccer mom, a scientist, an assassin, an executive, and a male criminal. It’s difficult to believe at times that the same actress can play all of these characters with such unique verve and stylizations. This show is a study in nature versus nurture played out on a broad scale.

Media can often be a wasteland of representation, but 2014 proved to be an encouraging exception.

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