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Women in Hollywood are beginning to show what they're capable of

March 21, 2018

I recently rewatched one of my favorite movies – “Mad Max: Fury Road” – with a friend. I’ve probably seen the film two or three dozen times, but it’s always interesting to watch it with new people. It’s a very detailed and nuanced story, and everyone takes away something unique after watching it.

The 2015 film is set in a post-apocalyptic world and follows the viewpoint of Max Rockatansky – a former cop who is now little more than an animal struggling to survive. In the older “Mad Max” movies, Max – played by Mel Gibson – was the main character. In this new installment of the series, Max, who is now played by Tom Hardy, is more like a narrator watching someone else’s story.

The spotlight of the movie is taken over by Imperator Furiosa, a rough, one-armed general rebelling against the tyrannical rule of a wasteland overlord. The interesting thing about Furiosa? She’s a woman. And she's a badass action hero.

At the end of the movie, I asked my friend what he thought about the film in terms of feminism. His response was that the movie seemed to exist in a world where equality was already a thing. I pointed out that there were definite signs within the movie that many female characters were still repressed based on their gender.

He quickly clarified: it’s not the post-apocalyptic movie universe that appears gender-equal. Rather, it’s as if the movie was created in a society where equality is already well-established. As if a director could create characters based on how well they fit within the story, not based on gender stereotypes. Need an action hero? Someone with complex character development, dead aim with a firearm and the ability to fight on despite wounds? Why let stereotypes decide whether this hero is a he or a she? Why not let the story decide for you?

“Fury Road” creates a world that explores, among other things, how gender roles might divide out in post-apocalyptic society. Women who don’t fight for their rights become a source of milk and babies. Those who don’t want that fate have to fight. These women, as a result, end up being as tough, skilled and resourceful as the men. As an action hero, Furiosa makes as much sense as Max.

In a gender-equal world, this is how characters would always be written; where the author follows the natural logic of the story while also recognizing that female roles can be just as powerful and dynamic as male roles.

Charlize Theron, the actress who portrayed Furiosa, has been taking some interesting strides lately. Furiosa isn’t her only strong female lead character; back in 2004 she won the Best Actress award at the Oscars for her portrayal of a serial killer in the film “Monster,” and she more recently played a Bond-esque spy character in the 2017 film “Atomic Blonde.”

Theron has also begun to apply feminine strength to the real world. While filming the movie “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” Theron demanded that she be paid the same as her co-star, Chris Hemsworth. Theron is not alone; Jodie Whittaker, the new lead actress in the TV show “Doctor Who,” demanded pay equal to that of the show’s previous lead, Peter Capaldi.

Hollywood is entering interesting times. The #MeToo movement has begun to shake long-maintained systems of silence and timidity, and people have begun making bold, public statements about gender equality. The common thread is that women are strong and interesting, and maybe society should be giving them a chance to show off what they’re capable of.

Sophia Koch is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.