A few years ago, I put together a list of all my acting heroes — the people who inspired me with their performances, who took oles I would choose, who put themselves in stories that I wanted to tell. And then I realized they were all male.
I was deeply disturbed. No women? Why? The answer, in the end, was pretty simple. Women aren’t usually given the parts that I am drawn to, nor are they allowed roles with much depth, generally speaking. I became angry, thinking of Scarlett Johansson’s incredibly small role (but wonderful performance) as Black Widow, or the female sidekicks of sci-fi, or the injection of testosterone into a female character so that she became “strong”.
It was disheartening to see this world of so few women — even Joss Whedon, self-proclaimed feminist, let me down. Who did I have to look up to? What sort of roles could I expect? And why were all these stories being told from one point of view? Last night I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road and my life was forever altered.
I know it has been less than twenty-four hours, but this film changed the way I saw women portrayed in media, it changed the way I thought about action films, and in doing so, it broke the rules. It was a badass beauty of a film, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Others have spoken about the miracle of this film even being made, some have focused on the brilliance of the film’s attention and respect toward women in stark contrast to Age of Ultron and Game of Thrones, and others have begun to form the opinion that it is the best action movie ever made (or at least, the best action movie we’ve experienced for several decades).
These are all discussions worth having, but I would like to instead focus on my new hero, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa.
She’s the protagonist, the star of the story. She has one able arm and a prosthetic. She’s determined and fierce, able to fight and drive with reckless abandon, yet remain soft and hopeful as she protects the young women in her band from the man who has taken their agency away.
Imperator Furiosa is more than her badassery, her backstory, and her body. She is a beacon of hope, a leader to the people crushed under the thumb of Immortan Joe, who has cornered everything beautiful and good and twisted it to his own purposes.
Watching Mad Max:Fury Road was exhilarating, not only because of the intense fighting and racing sequences (which were absolutely incredible), but because of the respect given to the characters and their storylines.
With not a single moment of exposition in the entire film (how is this possible?), we watch as Imperator Furiosa overcomes her past and present in hopes of finding a better future for herself and those in her care while she continues to look for opportunities for redemption.
Imperator Furiosa is the hopeful version of the type of character I always want to play: the misunderstood anti-hero. Throughout the story, Imperator Furiosa’s behavior and actions drive her outside the status quo, seeking a new world order that will benefit all (except for those few at the top, perhaps). She must go outside the law, subvert it, and then take control in order to change the way things have become.
I cried thinking about this being the first time I have seen a woman be all these things in a film. She wasn’t part of a love triangle (or even a love story), her character/body was not created with the male gaze in mind, and she was never made to back down and let a male rescue her.
In a world dominated by males, Imperator Furiosa stands out as a fully-realized character, able to drive the story, and her cargo, home, reminding us that “We Are Not Things”, but people. All of us. And we all deserve the freedom to choose how our own stories unfold.