Influencers: Part IV – Characters, Women

Find the introduction to the series here, and please check out the second and third parts!

Okay, folks – I am breaking the 30 rule but I have a good reason. Well, I have a reason. Alright, maybe I have a rationalisation, but it’s my series and I think it’s good enough.

On this list we encounter the matter of sisters, which is something that happened not to occur on the previous lists. One on the one hand, “List the sisters together” occurred to me but that felt unfair, especially as the reasons for each sister vary and it might not be all of the sisters. But then I did not want to take away other spots, so it went over 30 and then I had to round it off to a nicer number. So you’re getting 35 this time.

Hey, think of it as free content (on the already free blog).

1) Marianne Dashwood – Sense and Sensibility

Marianne Dashwood

Sisters right out of the gate and for good reason. Marianne and Elinor Dashwood represent something of a personal Jekyll and Hyde to me. Marianne is, of course, not a vicious brute, but she is a romantic and given to flights of fantasy. In Myers-Briggs terms, Marianne, the sensibility, is the feeling side of things while:

2) Elinor Dashwood – Sense and Sensibility

Elinor Dashwood

Her sister, the sense, is the thinking side of things. This does not mean that Elinor is not romantic herself, or even that she is not prone to strong emotions. She suppresses them in favour of clear thinking and a sense of duty to others. While it is Elinor’s perspective that I identify with myself, the story would not be effective without the pair of them and it’s therefore that relationship that forms the influence on my life.

3) Elizabeth Bennet – Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet

The heroine of my favourite Jane Austen novel and, based on what little I know about Austen through the limited correspondence we have about her life, the heroine who seems most like Austen herself. I think it’s no surprise that ‘Becoming Jane’, the biopic about Austen’s life, so closely resembles the plot of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

Greatest opening line in literary history – that a man in possession of a good fortune is in want of a wife followed by chapters of people forcing their daughters and sisters at reputable men. Bennet’s (via Austen’s) wit and attention carry the story, though she is the victim of her own prejudices, hence the title. She makes quick observations based on her prejudice that sticks and she does not relent about those opinions until her relationship with Mr. Darcy, overcoming his pride, starts to relent as well.

The social commentary and personal growth in this novel make it, Bennet, and Austen some of my all-time favourites.

4) Emma Woodhouse – Emma

Emma Woodhouse

This titular Austen character appealed to me for exactly the reason Austen would want her to appeal – or precisely the opposite reason, I suppose. Emma is a spoiled brat who thinks she is God’s gift to matchmaking. In terms of literary heroines, Emma is not necessarily an anti-heroine but I think it’s fair to describe her as an Austen anti-heroine. Emma is the sort that Elizabeth, for all her prejudice, and Elinor Dashwood would oppose for her flightiness and emotional interference.

That juxtaposition within the greater Austen universe and the additional context it lends as a result is reason enough for Emma’s inclusion.

5) Catherine Earnshaw – Wuthering Heights

Catherine Earnshaw

My experience with ‘Wuthering Heights’ is much like my experience with classical music. As a youth it seemed tedious. The atmosphere was depressing, and yet somehow it had all the energy of some boring old house. That was a matter of Bennet-like prejudice and an underdeveloped sense of literary appreciation.

The darkness of the novel, especially for the period, is what makes the story great. It challenges so many norms of the time in a way that is not challenging for the sake of being shocking. That challenge to social norms, especially with respect to gender norms and equality, formed much of my initial awareness of feminism. It addressed these critical issues before the term “feminism” even entered wide use, and Catherine’s role in that will always stay with me.

6) Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their effort, as much as their brothers do… it is too narrow-minded to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to the playing of the piano and embroidered bags

At the same time another Brontë sister, Charlotte, introduced Jane Eyre to the world. Unlike Catherine’s journey through the world during a particular period, Jane Eyre stayed with Jane’s perspective through her life and focused intensely on her development. The novel confronts psychological and social issues (and launched a cottage industry of pieces focused on the age gap between Jane and Rochester) in a way that critics of the time despised.

We recognise it now as a literary accomplishment and Jane has a rightful place alongside Catherine on my shelf and in my mind.

7) Alice – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice

I had never considered it until starting to write this piece, but Alice has a bit in common with Emma Woodhouse. She’s received an education and often appears more confident that she ought to be. It sometimes gets her into trouble, though in a place like Wonderland trouble is rarely far away.

Lewis Carroll reportedly invented the story for the Liddell girls – Alice among them – and his background as a mathematician influenced much of it. The story itself is absurd and fun, which perhaps lends to all of the varied interpretations over the year. Alice herself is the reason I enjoy the story though, with her peculiar approach to things and endlessly curious nature.

One of my most popular entries, Because (An Open Letter to the Daughter I May Never Meet), is addressed to Alice Kathryn because the idea of the character made such an impression that it came to represent my idea of what my daughter might like. Alice Kathryn (the latter part after the voice actress for the Disney version) became a shorthand my wife and I use when discussing the possibility of having a child who we hope would be just as curious.

8) Margaret “Meg” March – Little Women

Meg March

If you have been following the series so far, you should have seen this coming. Two versions of Little Women on the influential film list, half the cast of the upcoming film on the Celebrities list (plus another actor who previously played Laurie and the author herself), and then Laurie himself on the male characters list.

As stated in the opening, it was difficult to group them together as the March sisters. The dynamic among them is itself influential and they all seem to contain some of Alcott in them, but they also represent unique personalities and each has a unique appeal.

Meg, as the eldest sister and the first to attract Laurie’s attention, felt bonded as I am also an eldest sibling. Some criticise Meg as anti-feminist, being dependent on her husband and dedicated to fiercely traditional feminine norms like keeping house and raising children. The way Alcott writes the character though, Meg felt as though she genuinely wanted those things and made the choice freely. Having her to juxtapose Jo’s character was also important.

9) Josephine “Jo” March – Little Women

Jo March

And that is where I found the substance of the story. More than anyone, Little Women is a story about Jo and the events taking place around her – and Jo feels to me like the one most infused with elements of Alcott herself.

What made me fall in love with Jo was the inspirational parallel. From a young age I enjoyed writing and received encouragement from teachers who felt that I had a talent that could develop into something special. Still, writing felt like an uncertain field even for a successful writer and if I wanted to pursue the dream of having a family I would need something more stable.

Then I came across Little Women and the story of Jo who wanted desperately to be a writer at a time when women did not write. Even within the novel, Jo finds success writing but only shocking, non-substantive tales that disappoint her eventual husband (only because he knows her ability and feels sorry that she resorts to what sells instead of what matters). That is what drives Jo to write her actual story, one about life with her sisters and Laurie, that goes to publication.

10) Beth March – Little Women

Beth March

There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.

While I identify with Jo’s need for storytelling, the character who felt closest to me personally was Beth. As described, she is shy, quiet, and kind for much of the story, staying on the sidelines and only stepping in to improve life for others. As the other March sisters pursue their passions and unique troubles, Beth watches quietly and supports them.

Her final gift would be falling ill and bringing the family closer together as her struggle awakens everyone to the George Bailey-sort of impact she has had on their lives while asking for nothing in return.

That only leaves…

11) Mary Hatch – It’s a Wonderful Life

Mary Hatch

I didn’t want to marry anybody else in town. I want my baby to look like you.

Just kidding. The actresses portraying Amy March do a wonderful job, but Amy’s character never quite had the impact the rest of the family did other than to pester Jo and eventually straighten out Laurie.

Mary Hatch, on the other hand, ruined my sensibilities as a boy. I loved the way she looked at George and had only that one focus. She never over-pursued, and she would not settle. Sure, she could have married Sam Wainwright – he was a man in possession of a good fortune – but that did not matter to her. Austen would approve. For all the love and support she shows George, she does not tolerate everything either. When George is lashing out in anger, Mary is the one to put him in his place.

Find someone who looks at you the way Mary looks at George.

12) Holly Golightly – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Holly Golightly

I’m not Holly. I’m not Lula Mae, either. I don’t know who I am! I’m like cat here, a couple of no-name slobs. We belong to nobody and nobody belongs to us. We don’t even belong to each other.

Holly is the precise opposite of Mary. In fact, for much of the movie I think it would be fair to categorise Holly as a train wreck. She is not a terrible person – what I mean has more to do with the internal conflict she faces. Holly does not know who she is and does not want to know. Having too strong a sense of self or letting anyone else is forms a prison in her mind, and she does not want that kind of obligation.

So the events that unfold become a spiral where the Texas girl becomes the Manhattan socialite who gets arrested in a drug ring and decides to go to Brazil even though the millionaire she meant to marry for money called off the proposal. That’s a whirlwind by any standard (especially an introvert like Audrey Hepburn who found the role challenging). Holly is so antithetical to me as a person that I found her fascinating.

13) Mary Poppins – Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

Sometimes a person we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see past the end of his nose.

I did not understand Mary Poppins as a child. In fact, until the release of ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ I feel I still did not quite get it. As a boy, Mary Poppins seemed mean. The children went on adventures, but that seemed more like Bert’s doing. Then everyone was having such a great time laughing and Mary Poppins put a damper on the whole thing. Yes, during my childhood Mary Poppins was the oppressive school marm.

Of course at that time I also had absolutely no idea what Mrs. Banks was doing the entire movie. She sang about sister suffragettes, wore a Miss America sash, and had that funny line about how men are stupid as a group. It took some time before “the penguins are funny!” James turned into, “Oh, right – this is at the time women lobbied for the right to vote” James.

Thank goodness it did, because understanding that was critical to understand the time and the nature of Mr. Banks’ role in the family and in society. Bert’s speech to the children in the alley went right over my head at the time. All of Mary Poppins’ work with the children was literally her watching them to get them out of George’s hair and to set the stage for Mr. Banks to learn a lesson about values and family.

Once I finally got that into my head, I recognised Mary Poppins as the practically perfect person she is.

14) Eliza Doolittle – My Fair Lady

Eliza Doolittle

You see, Mrs. Higgins, apart from the things one can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.

This story is ultimately ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw, which I am ashamed to say I still have not read. Eliza made the list on the strength of Audrey Hepburn’s performance and my perspective on Eliza limited to that. For example, I don’t care for Professor Higgins at all. Sure, his mother scolds him and he warms up a bit, but basically he’s an ass the entire film and then they expedite the happy ending.

Eliza Doolittle has a wonderful character. The relevance of class, both socially and intrinsically, makes the difference. As Higgins coaches Eliza from flower girl to socialite, she learns to speak and behave in a “higher class” way. Higgins, being a member of that elite the whole time, pays her little mind and takes all the credit for her success – leading Eliza to explain things to his mother as quoted above.

What her character says about the nature of character, plus all the funny stuff she just says, made her memorable.

15) Princess Leia Organa – the Star Wars franchise

Leia Organa

This is not a gold bikini thing. Recall that in the previous part I listed Luke as one of the influential male characters in my life because he introduced me to the hero’s journey in a way that I understood. From a compositional perspective I learned a great deal while being entertained by those movies.

Princess Leia subverted quite a bit. Leia was not the first lady badass on screen, nor perhaps even the first that I had seen. She is the first that made a serious impact though, perhaps because of the scale of the franchise. Watching her stand in defiance of Darth Vader, the behemoth who was choking out his own people with magic, was impressive enough. Then during the escape from the detention level she grabbed a gun and started fighting back – that was not the damsel-in-distress character that I knew but I loved it!

Without Leia I don’t think we get some of the other greats on this list.

16) Lydia Deetz – Beetlejuice

Lydia Deetz

Well, I’ve read through that handbook for the recently deceased. It says: ‘live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am strange and unusual.

Then we have Lydia. To understand how much influence Lydia had on my life, one must first understand my bizarre childhood. Jason Voorhees did not scare me. I loved ice hockey and all I saw was a goalie. Hell, his last name was Voorhees, which happens to be the town where my favourite team practices. ‘Edward Scissorhands’ scared the crap out of me, as did ‘Gremlins’.

Along comes Beetlejuice with all the trappings of gothic Burton and I thought for sure it would be too much. One of the central characters was a gothic-looking girl, and terrifying stuff always followed that.

But Lydia was just the awkward, misunderstood, isolated kid with a nice sense of humour. I love a good outcast.

17) Maid Marian – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Maid Marian

Men speak conveniently of love when it serves their purpose and when it doesn’t ’tis a burden to them.

I learned about love from ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’. Seriously, as a grade school boy I thought this movie was the absolute height of romance – though looking back a not insignificant part of that was Bryan Adams.

Marian’s role in the movie amounted to little more than love interest and they played up that part (“Would you do it for your king?” “No. I’ll do it for you”). Still, Marian did make a point of showing up the ruffian when he first arrives because she remembers him as the spoiled bully from her youth. When Robin first starts to change her feelings towards him, she replies with the quoted line and that, the idea that men focus on love only when it matters to them and not to the other person, stayed with me.

18) Belle – Beauty and the Beast

Belle

Queen of the outcasts! Belle was my first love as a child. As a five-year-old, I wanted to marry Belle when I was old enough. As I grew older, I just wanted her to be my friend. Pretty? Yes, but also kind and absolutely adored books. For all of that the people of her town found her odd and paid her no mind. No one except for the biggest misogynist in animated film history, that is.

The piece on feminism in animated Disney films focuses heavily on her and Emma Watson’s live action counterpart.

19) Clarice Starling – Silence of the Lambs

Clarice Starling

Jodie Foster stumbling around the dark basement with a brutal killer inches away remains one of the best-acted scenes in film history.

The character works, I believe, because of how human she is. Like John McClane earlier on the list, one might feel tempted to turn Clarice into some sort of super cop with either Holmesian levels of insight or action hero levels of intensity. No, Clarice is from a small town in West Virginia and full of human frailty. Her father, a sheriff, was shot in the line of duty and died. She ran away from her uncles farm when she witnessed the slaughter of the titular lambs.

Starling is a real person with fears, insecurities, skills, and drives. The need to save the Senator’s daughter from Buffalo Bill, Hannibal opines, is to silence the screams of the lambs she was unable to save. That compassion and depth of character makes her come alive with a realism rarely seen.

20) Selina Kyle/Catwoman – Batman Returns

Selina Kyle

It’s the so-called “normal” guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. Least they’re committed.

By the time of ‘Batman Returns’, I was already a Batman fan but inexperienced with the franchise. I knew of Catwoman and that she had a complicated relationship with Batman, and most of that came from re-runs of the Adam West television show.

When Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle made the turn to Catwoman I could not believe what I was seeing. Catwoman wasn’t just tough – I mean, Leia knew how to fight – she was stand-her-ground-against-Batman tough. Convincingly, too; one did not watch them fight and think, “Batman is pulling his punches,” Catwoman just knew how to do battle. The way she flipped from insecure to empowered and started to weaponise her sexuality against the men who did not take her seriously.

She was never one-dimensional though. The masquerade scene where Bruce and Selina discover one another’s alter egos, and ironically are the only two not wearing masks, showed the extent of Selina’s emotional complexity and made her fascinating. Like Batman who saw her as a criminal and knew he should stop her but also understood her side, Selina made people root for her and cheered as the final camera panned up to reveal her silhouette in the Gotham sky.

21) Dottie Hinson – A League of Their Own

Dottie Hinson

This is chickenshit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

For those keeping track, we are proceeding chronologically on this list and on the parallel “James timeline” one is still dealing with a child. I watched ‘A League of Their Own’ as a boy because baseball. None of the substance about gender equality or the importance of the sisters’ relationship registered in my young mind.

Dottie sticks out more in my mind today because of the film itself. Still, her natural skill as a ballplayer and love of the game (and wanting to be taken seriously as a ballplayer rather than just as a beautiful woman) made her a compelling character.

Also, shout out to this film for featuring the black woman with the cannon of an arm who was not allowed to play or sit in the stands to watch. Even this 1992 film was conscious about intersectionality and race issues with respect to gender equality.

22) Ellie Sattler – Jurassic Park

Ellie Sattler

Look… We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.

Dinosaurs! Remember, I was a boy. When ‘Jurassic Park’ first appeared in theatres, I did not care about the morality of the science or sexism in survival situations. This was a movie with “real” dinosaurs!

As years progressed I became more interested in Malcolm’s philosophies and Ellie’s entire role. She was a highly successful woman in a STEM field and time started to reveal that one didn’t see that often. Was Ellie there to tag along with Grant? Nope. She was there as an expert paleobotanist, even helping to rescue a sick triceratops.

With Grant stuck outside, Ellie assumes the role of talking sense into John Hammond and pushing along the rescue for the group, tangling with some feisty velociraptors in the process.

Plus it introduced me to the brilliance of Laura Dern, so pluses all around.

23) Mathilda – Leon: The Professional

Mathilda

Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?

Now we have some children on the list – precocious youngsters with character beyond their years.

Admittedly, Mathilda might not be on the list if not for Natalie Portman. Jean Reno was brilliant and Gary Oldman – he was on a whole new level with that villain. Despite that, Mathilda is front and centre in the movie. She steals the scene from heavyweights and that is because, like Saoirse Ronan said of her own experience, she is an actor who happened to be young and not a child actor.

Mathilda is a child with experience beyond her years because of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her family, culminating in their brutal murder right in front of her. While on the surface the story is about her acquiring the skills to avenger her brother, but it’s ultimately a coming-of-age story of sorts about the relationship between Mathilda and Leon. She brings humanity to his life and he brings a paternal figure she never had, feelings of love aside.

24) Hermione Granger – the Harry Potter franchise

Hermione Granger

My favourite precocious young lady is the greatest witch of her generation. Even in a school like Hogwarts where plenty of strange and magical things happen, Hermione is still a kind of outcast with her passion for learning. Does she learn because being the top student to prove her smarts to everyone else is important? No. She learns because she wants to learn. The worst thing that could happen to Hermione is expulsion.

Hermione_Belle

She is another nerd with her nose buried in books and always on the lookout for the welfare of her peers – all the beautiful things about Belle in a new, magical package.

25) Briony Tallis – Atonement

Briony Tallis

Brava, Saoirse Ronan. Briony is brilliant and flawed. We meet her as a lovely young lady with an aptitude for storytelling who flirts with James McAvoy. Then comes a series of unfortunate events and the prejudice of a girl who thinks she sees something and then confirms her fiction to the authorities. The testimony ruins the lives of her sister Cecilia and Robbie, an error for which she spends her entire life struggling to atone.

The emotional complexity handled by all three actresses portraying Briony at different stages of life is beautiful. Even with the equally brilliant portrayals of Cecilia and Robbie, I found it hard to despise Briony for her heinous act, partially because of the childlike nature of the initial mistake and the obvious pain it caused her as well, despite her failing to atone.

26) Pam Beesly – The Office

Pam Beesly

Pam is not a bookish nerd like Belle or Hermione, but from the pilot episode of ‘The Office’ I did identify with her shy, quiet ways. She is sweet and kind towards everyone despite suffering regular abuse from her oblivious manager and others in the office. What follows over the course of several seasons is a brilliant character arc of development as she gains confidence and achieves the things that matter to her (after several setbacks), and then a surprisingly complex final season that tested the resolve of Pam’s most important relationship.

27) Vesper Lynd – Casino Royale

Vesper Lynd

I’m afraid I’m a complicated woman.

**SPOILER** Highlight last paragraph to read white text.

Vesper stands up to James Bond’s nonsense. I’m not usually one for excessive exposition, but the interaction between Vesper and James on the train where they dissect each other made the difference for me. Without it, Vesper might be just another Bond girl who says no and then ultimately yields to his charm. Bond assesses that Vesper is for real though – she is “prickly” to compensate for her gorgeous looks, afraid that no one will take her serious and that is what she wants, to be regarded as the professional she is.

Yes, she does fall in love with James over the course of the story despite his predilection towards and her aversion to violence. As explained by M after the finale in Casino Royale, Vesper had not betrayed James but protected him as she knew her role in prior events meant she would be killed. In a career of disposable women (face it, James is a misogynist), Vesper meant something to him.

28) Andy Sachs – The Devil Wears Prada

Andy Sachs

I called over there for a reference, left word with some snooty girl. Next thing you know, I got a fax from Miranda Priestly herself… saying that of all the assistants she’s ever had… you were, by far, her biggest disappointment. And, if I don’t hire you, I am an idiot. You must have done something right.

Andy Sachs lands a job with a prestigious fashion magazine hoping to launch a career as a writer. Like ‘Little Women’, any story about someone trying to figure out how to be successful in writing has immediate appeal. Watching Andy deal with Miranda’s apathetic demands in an industry she does not understand, she learns who she is and what she values.

Andy finds success but has to become somewhat ruthless to do it. As she watches the havoc Miranda wreaks on the people around her and personal relationships, Miranda points out that Andy has begun to do it herself and that it’s necessary to achieve what she has. She appears to improve throughout the story but, per Andy’s values, actually declines until her realisation and then makes her defining choice. I not only liked Andy for her ultimate decision, but for the conflicted nature of her character arc.

29) Elizabeth “Liz” Lemon – 30 Rock

Elizabeth Lemon

Tina Fey, head writer for a Saturday Night Live-style show at NBC/Kabletown, wants to have it all. “Having it all” was a cause célèbre for a time it seemed, especially as it related to feminism. Women wanted the traditional domestic success but ventured into new realms of professional success with the complications of juggling everything weighing hard.

While the show set the stage for hilarity from several performers, Fey definitely included, she also addressed real issues. Having children while not wanting a relationship (Lemon has an affinity for food, not so much for sex) introduced struggles with dating and relationships, and Lemon had all the characteristics of a social justice warrior. Set opposite Jack Donaghy’s staunch Republican values, they tackled and joked about multiple social issues with Lemon sometimes pointing out the ridiculous nature of her own position or rejecting them entirely (“I’m going to say it. Women should not deliver the mail.”)

Watching Liz Lemon try to have it all was always funny and always cause for thought because of her intelligence.

30) Katniss Everdeen – the Hunger Games franchise

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss is another example of a heroine that could have easily gone wrong. She knows how to kick ass and might have gone on a Rambo-style rampage through the games. Katniss did not set out to lead a revolution, she set out to protect her sister and later Rue. When the leaders of the resistance forces identified her as their symbol, Katniss went about her business trying to survive and protect others – all while not caring what others think about her.

31) Kym – Rachel Getting Married

Kym

Yes, I was stoned out of my mind. Who do I have to be now? I mean, I could be Mother Teresa and it wouldn’t make a difference, what I did. Did I sacrifice every bit of… love I’m allowed for this life because I killed our little brother?

This movie did not get the attention it deserved. On the surface, Kym does not have a redeeming quality. A recovering addict with a tragic accident on her record and an abrasive relationship with her family, Kym comes home for her sister’s wedding and tries to rebuild those ties.

Throughout the wedding weekend it all manifests in multiple interactions. She bears the responsibility for the accident that killed her little brother, and after Rachel discovers that Kym fabricated stories associated with her addiction in rehab it begins to cast doubt on the sincerity of Kym’s attempts to get clean and accept that responsibility. Like Briony, watching her struggle and work through the emotional weight of her situation and the effect it has on her relationships left a lasting impression.

32) Nina Sayers – Black Swan

Nina Sayers

I felt it. Perfect. It was perfect.

Disclaimer – I’m not 100% on board with the depiction of Nina’s mental state. In general, movies and books do a poor job with mental health, often using it as an easy plot device to describe non-normal behaviour. Does that happen with Nina to an unacceptable degree? Probably. I’m not an expert.

What I do like about the movie and her character specifically is the emphasis on perfection summed up by Nina’s closing lines. As a person with a problematic obsession with perfection, Nina’s deterioration in its pursuit hit close to home – and while she believes that she achieved it in the moment quoted above, there is something to be said about the cost.

33) Elsa – the Frozen franchise

Elsa

Is ‘Frozen’ the greatest Disney animated film? I don’t think so. It was catchy and the public rode the high. That incredible positive response to the film generated a fair bit of criticism that was unfounded.

Among other things, the anxiety sufferer in me saw a strong parallel with Elsa’s story – and writers later confirmed the role of mental health as a distinct influence. The show-stopping ‘Let It Go’ became a mental health theme for me, addressing a lifetime of concealing and not feeling anxiety. It was a social taboo and dangerous thing meant to be locked away.

Elsa unleashed her power and it did cause problems, but that is because unleashing it was not the answer either. Her journey of self discovery leads her to understand the love and self awareness necessary to manage that side of herself.

34) Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson – Lady Bird

Lady Bird

But do you like me?

I don’t know what to say about Lady Bird. She’s real. I knew a Lady Bird in high school – I think we all did. The conflict, the humour – all real. She’s exactly the sort of imperfect I would befriend. The relationship with her mother, with her father, with dating, with friends, with college, with class…though her specific experience is not the same, the honesty with which she confronts the experience is universal.

If that is the best version of Lady Bird that she can be, it’s more than enough.

Also, if this is not enough reason to get excited beyond words for the new ‘Little Women’ then I don’t know what is.

35) Miriam “Midge” Maisel – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Midge Maisel

There is a fantastic sequence in the show where Midge tells the same joke at one show after another with modifications to the timing, wording, and punchline as she works out her routine. We see various degrees of success with the joke until it finally gets a huge response. On the one hand, I love the writing insight the show provides. One does not sit down and generate material – it’s a process that requires discipline and dedication to be done well.

On the other hand, it’s the story of a Jewish housewife in the 1950s pursuing a career in comedy amid marital struggles. We see firsthand the outright sexism of her situation – people attempting to stop her career not because of skill but because of gender. People do not want to see her succeed, especially performing the sort of material she performs. Watching her overcome those obstacles – as ever with incredible comedy – is amazing.

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