"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Monday, December 1, 2008

Without Representation

Empire magazine has posted their annual list of the 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time on their website, which is apparently selected based on nominations and votes from their readers. I clicked through the entire list, and (not surprisingly) it's pretty much a White Men Only party. Here's the breakdown. Out of 100 movie characters:

-12 are white women(or played/voiced by white women)
-6 are men of color
-0 are women of color

As you can see from the lists below, the female characters are pretty much relegated to the bottom of the list, often placing below the male characters from the same movies (Princess Leia is a prime example, coming in below Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Han Solo and Darth Vader. See also Silence of the Lambs).

97. Clarice Starling - Silence of the Lambs (Jodie Foster)
91. Scarlett O'Hara - Gone with the Wind (Vivien Leigh)
90. Wicked Witch of the West - The Wizard of Oz (Margaret Hamilton)
89. Princess Leia - Star Wars (Carrie Fisher)
88. Jessica Rabbit - Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (voiced by Kathleen Turner)
75. Marge Gunderson - Fargo (Frances McDormand)
66. The Bride - Kill Bill (Uma Thurman)
62. Mathilda - Leon (Natalie Portman)
56. Juno Macguff - Juno (Ellen Page)
45. Amelie Poulin - Amelie (Audrey Tatou)
41. Mary Poppins - Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews)
9. Ellen Ripley - Alien (Sigourney Weaver)

People of Color
78. Axel Foley - Beverly Hills Cop (Eddie Murphy)
47. Blade - Blade (Wesley Snipes)
46. Anton Chigurh - No Country for Old Men (Javier Bardem)
33. Tequila - Hard Boiled (Chow Yun Fat)
22. Ellis "Red" Redding - The Shawshank Redemption (Morgan Freeman)
19. Jules Winnfield - Pulp Fiction (Samuel L. Jackson)

I think it's important to take into account how likely it is that the audience doing the voting for this list was made up of mostly white men, but even so, I still think this list is symptomatic of the shortage of female characters and characters of color in movies. Especially in the big Hollywood films in which nearly all of these characters appeared.

Who are your favorite female movie characters?


tracy said...

My favorite female character is from my favorite movie: Satine from Moulin Rouge. I love movies where the heroine dies at the end. I love Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett.

Stephanie Rogers said...

Appalling. You would think one of the many award-nominated characters Whoopi Goldberg has played would make the list. Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (for which she won an Oscar), and Celie in The Color Purple ...

Anonymous said...

This is pretty pathetic, thanks for bringing our attention to this list.

My favorite female characters?

Katherine Hepburn in African Queen

Cher in Moonstruck

Catherine O'Hara as Sally in Nightmare before Christmas

Anonymous said...

I really like Black Beauty, but I can't think of any others. You?

Ajijaak said...

My favorite female movie actress of all time is Tantoo Cardinal. She is Metis of Cree descent. She was in Smoke Signals, Dances With Wolves, Running Brave, Legends of the Fall and other great movies!

I also love Goldie Hawn especially in Overboard which is absolutely hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I've heard that the Ripley character in the original Alien was written for a man, and then they changed it when they decided to cast Sigourney Weaver. Does anyone know if this is true?

I've always thought Ripley in both the original Alien and Aliens was incredibly strong and sympathetic, a great character. But, at least in Alien, Ripley isn't very sexual or gendered (I'd say she's much more gendered in Aliens, where of course it was written with Sigourney Weaver in mind). It wouldn't shock me if they wrote it for a male actor, and in the process they created a better character than they usually write for women.

It reminds me of the classic -- Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. Write a character for a man (i.e., a person), then cast a woman and see what happens.