Divergent, Frozen, Hollywood, and the Strong Girl Character

Divergent film posterSo the film adaptation of Divergent came out a few weeks ago. It’s the latest in a string of movies starring girls. Twilight* kicked off the trend six years ago, and then Hunger Games and Catching Fire blew the box office away. On the animated side, we have Tangled, Brave, and most recently Frozen. And for adult female protagonists last year, we got the Academy Award–winning Gravity, Best Picture nominee Philomena, and a pretty awesome supporting character in Pacific Rim.

* Note: I’m not holding up Bella as an example of a strong girl character. For the purposes of this argument, I’m chiefly interested in her existence as a female lead. But if you want to argue that some of the female leads I’m citing are problematic, I’m happy to listen.

Is this a trend? I sure hope so.

I’m a big SF&F watcher (and reader, and TV viewer). I try to see most of the big genre movies in theatre as they come out. If there’s a well-told story and a good character arc to suck me in, I love explosions and superheroes and aliens and dystopian futures and all that. I’m the target audience.

I can, and do, identify with male heroes in these genres. But it gets tiresome after a while, seeing the girls (or women) as sidekicks or objects to yearn after (*coughHercough*) or nice butts in tight outfits. Even Divergent is guilty of this — check out the poster above and tell me, based on the poses, who looks like the protagonist and who looks like the sexy sidekick / love interest.

Frozen flim posterBut then along comes something like Frozen. Here we have not one but two princesses who stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe in. And they’re not just strong because they kick ass — but that’s another rant.

Better yet (SPOILERS HO)…

…their closest relationship is with each other, and that’s what the whole story revolves around. Sure, there’s a prince, and there’s a commoner love interest, but they’re subplots. The main plot is a love story between two sisters. The climax isn’t a kiss, or a proposal, but the culmination and expression of sisterly love. How cool is that? How much did you not expect that from Disney?

(Another reason to love Frozen is the wonderfully earnest MALE sidekick, Olof. Thinking about him still cracks me up, months after I saw the film. But I digress.)

Films like this give me hope. If even Disney, bastion of heteronormative roles and romances, is getting into the act, surely we’re making headway. And Frozen is the highest-grossing animated film in history. Surely the legions of female film lovers — and their interests — are finally getting noticed.

Now, Divergent didn’t crush the box office like the Hunger Games movies, nor has it received the same level of critical acclaim. But it did finish first on its opening weekend, a good enough showing to ensure the making of sequels…and, if we’re lucky, lots and lots of copycat productions.

Long live the strong girl character!

Your turn! What female-led films have you enjoyed recently? What girl heroes from SF&F books would you love to see onscreen?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics and The Gothic Novel and the Feminine Touch.

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4 responses to “Divergent, Frozen, Hollywood, and the Strong Girl Character

  1. I’m a huge fan of The Hunger Games, and I think it’s a series that shows why problematic female protagonists can be a good thing, if they are problematic in a well thought out way.

    Katniss isn’t really in control of what happens to her. She’s emotionally repressed and, as the story goes on, increasingly psychologically damaged. She makes some very brave, smart choices, and some stupid ones. She has depth and nuance and I think she’s fantastic.

    I want more female protagonists out there like Sophronia in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, capable and smart-arsed young women who set an excellent example for my nieces. But I don’t want that to be all that they see, any more than male examples are limited to square jawed action heroes. Hopefully as we see more female leads, and eventually female-dominated ensembles, we’ll get both that strength of character and that variety.

  2. Won’t it be nice when Buffy has company? Lots and lots of company…

  3. I’m behind in my movies, but you’ve just made me want to see Divergent and Frozen. I love a strong female protagonist!

  4. Andrew – Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I absolutely agree, Katniss is far from perfect, and that just makes her more compelling. She’s someone whose choices and actions can be discussed and argued over — she’s food for thought. And YES, bring on the variety of characters!

    Liv – Yes please! Funny you should mention Buffy. I’m just now watching the series for the first time (somehow missed it when it was on). It holds up surprisingly well.

    Suzanne – I’m glad my writing had an effect on you. Vote with your dollars! If enough of us do, maybe Hollywood will get the message…we want more like that. 🙂

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