Friday, April 19, 2013

Strong Women in Cinema: Princess Leia

The classic Star Wars trilogy is celebrated for its forward thinking and modernisms. The films were cutting edge in special effects, story progression and many of the stereotypes we take for granted today were started with these films. One of the most forward thinking elements of the series is very close to my heart. Star Wars created one of the strongest female characters in a time when women were only just being recognized for their aviation contributions to World War Two. Step forward Princess Leia.

This is the first article on Into the Garbage Chute to be written by a guest contributor. April Haesler is a Psychology graduate and freelance writer. She writes on politics, social issues and feminism. 

Saturday Night Fever and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo were both released in 1977 alongside A New Hope, however the female characters have nowhere near as much power in comparison to Princess Leia. Leia is beautiful but that is not the entirety of her character, unlike many other women characters prevalent in cinema then (and unfortunately today). Leia has a personality in her own right. She is intelligent, she is gutsy, she can make her point and she falls in love.  What makes her so successful and inspiring as a female role model is that none of these attributes are represented in a stereotypical way. She is not overly intelligent, she is not a woman with attitude and “she knows it”, she is not a nag and whiner nor is she a hopeless romantic but instead a realistic portrayal of women: conflicted, three dimensional with more than one personality trait.

In Return of the Jedi we see Leia in true control when Luke and her jump on the Speeder Bike to chase the Scout Troopers. It is incredibly rare to see a woman driving with a man behind her holding on but Leia takes control of the vehicle and speeds along with Luke shooting from behind. This is very powerful imagery. Not only does she drive the vehicle but then becomes involved in a chase of her own with a Scout Trooper, successfully destroying him just as well as any man could. No Daphne-style (Scooby Doo) accidental successes here! 

As a woman I am used to seeing men dominate powerful roles in cinema. If the film isn’t about love or someone being single and a bit “goofy” then we can assume it is going to be a male lead. These overly macho roles are usually supported by flimsy female characters - James Bond’s traditional bond girls, Superman’s Louis Laine, who despite having some “attitude” always fall into the trap of being dependent on the leading man to save them. Leia ignores this stereotype and takes control of her own life and destiny, in the garbage chute she is not clinging to Luke and Han to save her but instead actively trying to solve the problem and stop the walls.

In a time when female liberation was a relatively new idea Leia marched forward throwing aside the female stereotypes that still plague modern cinema and became a female icon for women everywhere, showing a true representation of a woman for young girls to aspire to.

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