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Empowering Female Protagonists
Seeing yourself represented in different forms of media is a wonderful experience, and it’s also an important part of constructing perceptions among different groups of people. Studies even look at how media representation affects both progress and obstacles in cultural development. In a nutshell, the media has to be the enabler of cultural diversity, instead of playing the role of the preserver. Thankfully, we’re moving toward the right direction — more and more empowering female protagonists have graced screens, pages, and pixels to break down stereotypes and represent every kind of woman out there.
To celebrate that, here are some of the most impactful leading ladies in recent memory.
1. Wonder Woman
A character that has seen many iterations throughout the years in comic books, cartoons, and movies, Wonder Woman has been a great beacon of female empowerment for various generations. With her latest portrayal by Gal Gadot, millions saw that a superhero could be fierce and compassionate at once. The 2017 solo movie starring Diana Prince broke numerous box office records and eventually became the highest-grossing film directed by a woman. Though it was eventually overtaken by Captain Marvel and Frozen II, Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster ushered in a new dawn of great female representation.
2. Lara Croft
There is no female digital character that is more iconic than Lara Croft. A behind the games feature by Foxy Games notes that Lara Croft’s first appearance was in 1994 in the first Tomb Raider. At this time, female representation in video games was close to non-existent and Lara Croft became a pioneering female lead in gaming and in pop culture as a whole. Though her character started out as a heroine in tiny shorts for male gamers to ogle, she has since transformed into a feminist icon.
The release of the Tomb Raider movie and the rebooted video game series delved more into her background and the struggles she overcame to become the strong, intelligent, and resourceful Lara Croft audiences know. And with that celebration of a woman proud of her beauty, brains, and brawn, it’s no wonder why Lara is the most successful heroine in video game history.
Through much debate between disgruntled male players and board rooms, Kassandra still emerged as the canonical hero of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – the first to helm a major series entry (besides DLCs) solo. Beyond the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding her introduction though, her character stood out as a great protagonist and has since been considered one of the best female characters the series has seen. While players are able to shape much of her choices, she stands out as a multifaceted woman throughout the various branches available. Her character has also made strides by being able to romance various characters of different genders without getting branded negatively, helping to normalise unapologetic bisexuality for women.
4. Annalise Keating
Annalise Keating has made waves since her debut in How to Get Away With Murder in 2014. Navigating tangles of scheming, issues, and even discrimination that toiled all around her, Annalise has become both the personification and the antithesis of the “strong black woman” trope. While her character could have easily devolved into a mish-mash of stereotypes, she has encompassed the different facets that a woman of colour can have in media.
This role garnered Oscar winner Viola Davis a historic win, being the first woman of colour to receive an Emmy for best actress in a drama series. The meaning this holds was perfectly expressed by the actress herself in her acceptance speech, “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.”
5. Willow Rosenberg
Though audiences first knew her as the best friend and reliable witch companion to another beloved female lead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow has since become a protagonist in her own right. In her own comic series helmed by Mariko Tamaki and Joss Whedon, Willow’s character is explored more in-depth as she goes in search of her true self. Her story is a great and inspiring tale that shows there is more than one form of strength that women can manifest. Arguably the strongest character in the Buffyverse, Willow has been a pioneer since the ’90s.
It’s great to see empowering women in pop culture, and it bodes well for more to come.