In previous letters, you and I have discussed the lack of positive female role models available for young women. Current Hollywood films often portray women in ways they believe will appeal to male audiences, while providing the public with female characters who often have little emotional depth or desires beyond landing their man. Luckily, there has been a recent surge in films such as the Oscar-nominated flick Wild, that have female protagonists who are well-rounded and interesting. Unfortunately, a common narrative of many action films involves the handsome, muscular superhero who saves the day and rescues the damsel in distress.
This past weekend while lying in bed with a nasty cold, I was trying to decide which movie to watch. I realized that I hadn’t seen a Harry Potter movie in years – so I chose to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first installment in the series. As I watched this movie and two others, I made a few observations. For example; there are no one-dimensional female main characters in any of these films. With an assortment of women ranging from sadistic psychopaths to quick witted heroines, J.K. Rowling has proven herself to be able to create a universe in which strong male and female characters coexist.
One of these characters, (and a personal favourite of mine) Hermoine Granger, is not your stereotypical smart girl. She is clever, creates solutions to life-threatening problems under pressure while, simply put, demonstrating that her two best friends (Harry and Ron) wouldn’t survive for a minute without her. Characters like Hermoine are a breath of fresh air in a digital world wherein women aren’t valued for their intellect but rather their ability to look good while half-naked.
J.K. Rowling perfectly sums up the power dynamics in the Harry Potter series in this quote; “What’s interesting about the wizarding world is when you take physical strength out of the equation, a woman can fight just the same as a man can fight. A woman can do magic just as powerfully as a man can do magic.”
Let’s continue to even out the playing field,
I absolutely adore the Harry Potter series, and I completely agree that JK Rowling did a fantastic job creating strong characters of both genders. Hermione was always my favourite character, and I think a large part of the reason why I liked her so much was that I could relate to her.
I saw myself reflected in her actions – her having read the course books ahead of time, and helping other people with her knowledge (like when she first meets Harry on the train to Hogwarts and uses a spell to fix his glasses). What I love about Hermione is that she was never afraid to stand up for herself. She endured some teasing from her classmates for being so smart, but eventually her classmates learned to respect her because she stood her ground and never stopped being the first to raise her hand or give the answer in class.
Hermione is an amazing role model for young girls – as is the actress who plays her, Emma Watson. Hollywood is definitely improving in this regard, but I think it still has a long way to go; not just in terms of female role models, but in terms of all kinds of role models.
A few weeks ago when the Oscar nominees were announced people were outraged, and it wasn’t because their favourite movie hadn’t been nominated. It was because the nominees were predominantly white. There is actually a protest planned for this reason.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson – head of the LA Urban Policy Roundtable Group – said, “…the message is very simple: you [Hollywood] don’t reflect America, your industry doesn’t reflect America. Women, Hispanics, African-Americans, people of colour (are) invisible in Hollywood.”
Hollywood needs more Hermione Grangers – more characters who defy stereotypes of all kinds and who are otherwise unrepresented. Maybe we can persuade JK Rowling to write another children’s series so more great role models can be created.