The Fierce Female Characters Of Film In 2018 This year, movies where women starred had Hollywood muscle behind them. So do this year's heroines — conceived before #MeToo, but landing in the moment — mark a change for the industry?

The Fierce Female Characters Of Film In 2018

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Strong female characters seem to have had a pretty good year in Hollywood.


DANAI GURIRA: (As Okoye) Drop your weapon.

SHAPIRO: "Black Panther" had several, Danai Gurira's war general for one.


GURIRA: (As Okoye) I'm not a spy who can come and go as they so choose. I am loyal to the throne no matter who sits upon it.


Then there were the queen movies, "The Favourite" and "Mary Queen of Scots."


SAOIRSE RONAN: (As Mary Stuart) Tis your voice raised, sir. And you would lower it in my presence.

SHAPIRO: Despite these and other fierce heroines, studies continue to show that women are not equally represented on the big screen. NPR's Elizabeth Blair spoke with some of the creators of this year's female-led movies about whether this is really beginning to change.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Power isn't always pretty. In "The Favourite," there is a scene where the 18th-century queen of Great Britain and Ireland gets a scolding for wearing too much eyeshadow.


RACHEL WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) Who did your makeup?

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) We went with something dramatic. Do you like it?

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) You look like a badger.

BLAIR: That's Rachel Weisz's Lady Sarah telling Olivia Colman's Queen Anne she looks like a badger. "The Favourite" is a kind of absurd tragicomedy in which women talk about makeup and the military. Along with Emma Stone, the three main characters in this love and power triangle are female. Queen Anne is childish and moody and a reluctant monarch, says Colman.

COLMAN: She's in a position she never chose to be in. She's highest on the mountain in the nation at the time, and - but she would - probably would rather not be if she could guarantee that she could have more happiness in her life. She doesn't know if anyone loves her for real.

BLAIR: It is lonely at the top. And flattery will get you everywhere.


EMMA STONE: (As Abigail) Your hair is so lustrous. It's something people in court comment on.

COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) Really?

STONE: (As Abigail) Mmm hmm.

BLAIR: "The Favourite" is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Mia Mask, a film professor at Vassar College, says he brings to life the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

MIA MASK: He's really making us think about how one can have a moral core and center but be knocked off center in particular ways and how women can also succumb to the same desires for power that men do.

BLAIR: It's a different story, says Mask, when women gain their power out of necessity. She points to the movie "Roma."


DANIELA DEMESA: (As Sofi) Buenas noches, Cleo.

YALITZA APARICIO: (As Cleo) Buenas noches, Sofi.

BLAIR: Set in 1970s Mexico City, Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, is a domestic worker who takes care of everything - the children, the house, the pet dog's waste. When the father abandons the family she takes care of, his wife tells Cleo, we women are always alone in the end.


MARINA DE TAVIRA: (As Sofia, speaking Spanish).

BLAIR: Cleo seems to have known this all along. Mia Mask says she has a kind of power we rarely see honored in movies.

MASK: One of the strongest themes is that women, mothers, domestic caretakers have a kind of underappreciated tenacity of spirit. They're really the backbone of these families.

BLAIR: That's true of another female-led movie from 2018, a very different movie, the action heist thriller "Widows" in which four women become partners in crime out of necessity. The alpha is played by Viola Davis.


VIOLA DAVIS: (As Veronica) We have three days to look and move like a team of men. The best thing we have going for us is being who we are.


DAVIS: (As Veronica) Because no one thinks we have the [expletive] to pull this off.

BLAIR: They need the money to pay off the debt their dead husbands left them. "Widows" is directed by Steve McQueen with a screenplay by Gillian Flynn.

GILLIAN FLYNN: The first time I talked to Steve, I said, you know, some of them have to have kids.

BLAIR: Flynn wanted the women to feel identifiable.

FLYNN: So that anyone could look on-screen, any woman could look on-screen, be like, yeah, I feel like that might be what it would feel like if I was trying to figure out how to do this.


MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: (As Linda) If this whole thing goes wrong, I just want my kids to know that I didn't sit there and take it.

BLAIR: I just want my kids to know that I didn't sit there and take it. "Widows" was adapted from a 1980s British TV series. The movie was in production well before the #MeToo movement made it into the mainstream. But Flynn can't help but think audiences, especially women, will cheer them on.

FLYNN: Ultimately they are coming alive because they are finding rage and finding their empowerment and pushing back. And that was so much - has been so much of what the #MeToo movement has been about.

BLAIR: Women and power - how they wield it, fight for it, abuse it. Movies in 2018 offered a range of stories. "Mary Queen Of Scots" explores the rivalry and kinship between Mary, played by Saoirse Ronan, and Queen Elizabeth, played by Margot Robbie. In this scene, Elizabeth serves her advisers a cool dressing down. It plays like a boardroom scene, a female CEO admonishing her all-male board of directors.


MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Queen Elizabeth I) What have you produced in all your troubles between our kingdoms, discord, war, death? And now you have the boldness to doubt my judgment. You had better question yours.

BLAIR: She might sound strong, but these queens are constantly grappling with how to use and keep their power without getting beheaded by the men who surround them. Only one succeeds. "Mary Queen Of Scots" is directed by Josie Rourke.

JOSIE ROURKE: It's specifically a movie about the cost of power. So one of the things that the screenwriter, Beau Willimon, and myself were really keen to portray is what these women had to sacrifice in order to keep ahold of their thrones at a time in history where people thought - many people thought that the idea of a queen was a complete aberration.

BLAIR: We've come a long way since then. Or have we?

ROURKE: I was the first woman - this is actually ridiculous when I say this out loud. I was the first woman director to run a major London theater. So until I took on that job, that job had never been done by a female director before. And that was only 7 1/2 years ago.

BLAIR: Josie Rourke, Gillian Flynn and Olivia Colman all say there's no shortage of powerful female characters out there. We're just not seeing enough of them on-screen. A study of movies released in 2017 by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that just a third of the top 100 movies had a female lead or co-lead. But Olivia Colman is optimistic. She points to the TV phenomenon "Doctor Who." For the first time ever, a woman is in the starring role. Colman recalls a YouTube video of a little girl watching the announcement.

COLMAN: When it's revealed who the doctor is, she just sort of bursts into tears and says, it's a girl.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The new doctor is a girl.

COLMAN: And it's one of the most beautiful things. Girls are so thrilled that there's a female role model, and boys are sort of accepting of it. And so the next generation - it feels so promising that if we show that it's 50-50, they're going to just take it as the norm.


JODIE WHITTAKER: (As The Doctor) We're going to rescue hostages. Anything that compromises them is dangerous. And if you kill him, you become the same as him.

BLAIR: For years, conventional wisdom in Hollywood held that heroines didn't have the same commercial appeal as heroes. But another study by the research firm shift7 and Creative Artists Agency found just the opposite. From 2014 to 2017, movies led by female characters outperformed movies led by male characters. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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