In a recent post, I criticized a trend toward young male protagonists and absent or stereotypical female characters in upcoming young adult and fantasy films that I think is directly related to the Harry Potter phenomena. As you will see from that post, my critique is not that Potter lacks strong female characters but rather that the books often undermine them as annoying or shrewish or simply erase their contributions for the larger narrative of Potter as exceptional rather than part of a community upon which he relies. Worse, as I said before, the films have increasingly erased all of the positive strong female characters reducing them to cameos, insipid love objects or love sick fools (one friend referred to Hermione as Hormonie), and choosing to focus instead on the evil and incompetent women in the books instead. That posts also address some serious concerns I have about the slavery storyline that was edited out of the films, thank goodness.

However, this post, is one of slight redemption. It seems that both Potter and Lord of the Rings have been credited for the upcoming release of The Golden Compass based on the first of an award winning trilogy by Philip Pullman. Unlike the slue of other youth fantasy films slated for release, The Golden Compass has a young female protagonist. Unlike the good women in Stardust, she is intelligent and strong. Unlike the women showcased in the majority of Potter films, she is not annoying, lovesick, nor incompetent. Unlike both, the women of the Golden Compass are complex regardless of which side of evil they find themselves on.

If the other two books make it to film, we will see the female protagonist joined by a young male protagonist, again in a role reversal to the one set by the Potter films and their derivatives. The two are written as equals from what I understand (having not had the time to read the trilogy though it sits amongst my children’s book collection).

Let’s hope that the film lives up to its hype in ways Stardust did not so that the film industry remembers the hard won battles for women who were three dimensional subjects in film rather than simply damsels in distress, future wives, morons, or evil.

When time allows I am going to look for other strong female characters in the genre to suggest to Hollywood. I grew up before the feminist and multiculturalism push to include powerful women and people of color in youth literature and I can still come up with some. I have already mentioned L’Engle as a good place to start. I would add that Miss Witch might work in live action. Other thoughts?


4 thoughts on “Potter?

  1. i recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about finding books to read with his children that were in this genre and had strong female leads. (after reading the hobbit, his children asked about the total absences of female characters.) the golden compass trilogy is a favorite in his household and on his recommendation i read it. there are many wonderful things about these books, including, and perhaps especially, the complex and varied ways in which the female characters are portrayed. unfortunately this can’t be said for the ways that people of color enter into the text. an assumption of whiteness prevails. in the first book especially, the people of color who do figure into the text are barbarians that mutilate their captives (North Asians) and soul-less zombies (Africans) employed by the white forces of evil to do more evil. these story lines are only developed/complicated slightly further in the following books. no significant characters are people of color. so we are left with the all too familiar message that evil, darkness and torture techniques originate in the global south & asia and are perfected when harnessed and controlled by western european bad-guys. just some garbled thoughts.

  2. UGH!!!!!!! Why oh why can’t someone produce a book for children that does not recreate sexist AND racist paradigms?! Why oh Why can’t the people who read these books and make these movies demand that we talk openly about their “isms?!”Thank you for sharing this since I have yet to have time to read the trilogy myself.

  3. though since your post focused on hollywood and in light of the mighty heart post – perhaps it could all be solved in this case with better casting!

  4. casting is only one of many things that goes into the making of films – especially films from books. The major issues with these fantasy films including writing (screenplay, book adoption if necessary, etc.) & directing. Casting cannot change slaves in Harry Potter from mostly ignorant, willing, participants in their enslavement. Writing however did remove them from the films to date. Casting the intelligent actress who plays Hermione in the films did not change the storyline in which her intelligence is written as annoying & know-it-all, & in which her incredible contribution inevitably gets usurped by the mythic exceptionalism of Potter.Casting may have forestalled the issues raised by Mighty Heart, specifically racialized casting in Hollywood and white supremacist ideologies, but certainly would not have solved them. I have not seen the film and cannot comment on Jolie’s performance. Casting wise, I presented both sides of the argument as equally valid. I also mention how the filmmakers in Mighty Heart went out of their way to establish the real racial history of the protagonist as compared to the erasure of that history in Cleopatra. The post was about the cover art not the film.The great thing about intersectionality is the same thing that is so hard about it for many, it cannot be reduced to a single, simple, answer. Both intersectionality and the oppression produced at those multiple intersects are complex.

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