Hollywood's woman problem

Entertainment Weekly compiles a list of the best characters on the silver screen -- and the only female character on the list is played by a man.

Published June 8, 2006 10:12PM (EDT)

Thanks to intrepid Broadsheet tipster Amelia Showalter for alerting us to this top-10 list of fictional Hollywood power players (or characters with "Claw Power") in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. The EW list features A-listers including Wolverine ("X-Men"), Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Shrek, Robert Langdon ("The DaVinci Code"), Jason Bourne ("The Bourne Identity" franchise), James Bond, Jigsaw (from, um, the "Saw" movies) and Bart Simpson (who is familiar to all but hasn't even made his screen debut yet). Notice any gender-representation problems? Amelia did too. The lone female on the list, coming in at #10, is Madea, a female character who's played by a man. (Though as Amelia noted in her own Simone Says blog post on the subject, "to be fair, Bart Simpson is voiced by a woman.")

The weekly doesn't enumerate their criteria for great characters, but they must have composed their list with dollar signs in mind -- Amelia observes that "it appears to be limited to characters from successful and ongoing entertainment franchises (which must explain for the lack of characters such as Frodo Baggins or Neo, whose franchises have come to an end)." And I guess EW has made some recent gender-parity progress -- Amelia also links to the mag's (strikingly similar) top-10 list from two years ago, and it's all male characters.

But that doesn't mean one woman on a list of 10 power players is sufficient. And if, as Amelia suggests, there really are fewer fantastic female characters on the big screen these days, shouldn't that serve as a wake-up call? (We bet Geena Davis would say so.) Can't we think of any risk-taking, ass-kicking female protagonists in addition to Madea?

Defying the current-franchise rule, I'll preliminarily nominate Thelma and Louise, Elizabeth Bennett, Evelyn Couch of "Fried Green Tomatoes," any character ever played by Angela Bassett, and maybe even Lara Croft. Other suggestions?

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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