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?