GOODHOOD LOVES...
Women IN FILM
  

 In the first of a three-part series, we explore strong female leads in film and the wider impact they’ve had on popular culture. Warning! Spoilers ahead... 


Illustrations by Rupert Smissen | Words by Goodhood Creative

 

     

 

 

 

 

Jackie Brown - JACKIE BROWN [1998] 

 

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Pam Grier already had a string of leads in the 1970s before Jackie Brown was made, starring in the Blaxploitation films Coffy and Foxy Brown, amongst others. Whilst the genre played into questionable stereotypes of black culture, and in particular black femininity, films like Foxy Brown spoke directly to the ‘70s women’s power movement, with leading female roles helping to redefine ideas of African-American beauty, sexuality, and womanhood. It’s easy to be enlightened in 2018, but characters like Coffy or Foxy Brown were the spirit of tough and deserved vengeance. Tarantino cast Pam Grier in his adaptation of the genre as Jackie Brown, a flight attendant for a Mexican airline who smuggles money from Mexico into the USA for a black-market gun runner to make ends meet. Caught in a string of deception, she gets bailed on smuggling charge, hatches a deal worth a cool half a million and manages to double-cross everyone in the process. The film reaches its climax with Brown performing an elaborate money swap in a changing room at the Del Amo mall. In the end, she flees the country and keeps nearly all her cash. 

 

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The film exudes ‘70s style, which nods to the era of Pam’s earlier leads, with individual detail that becomes signature to her character, such as the Kangol beret, or the brown leather flight bag in which she stashes the cash that buys her freedom. The tagline reads ‘Six players on the trail of a half million in cash… Who’s playing who?’ Ultimately, she plays them all, and wins.  

 

 

 

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    Mathilda - LEON [1994] 

     

     

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    Leon set the stage for Natalie Portman’s career, being the first film she appeared in at the mere age of 13, in a role that’s arguably one of the best child acting performances in history. Léon follows the story of Mathilda, a stone-cold 12-year-old girl who returns home one day to find her family murdered by drug dealers. She seeks shelter with a neighbour, Léon Montana, who also happens to be an assassin, and the film goes on to paint a complex portrait of a young girl seeking hitman training in order to avenge the death of her younger brother. What sets apart Portman’s performance is her emotional maturity in handling Mathilda’s character. She not only sets her own heavy agenda in seeking retribution but also manages, on her own terms, the ultimately troubled, vulnerable and immature Léon. 

     

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    Stylistically, the film oozes an air of continental sophistication – whilst exterior shots were all filmed in New York where the movie is set, interior footage was shot in Paris. Portman leaning on the windowsill of Léon’s apartment, next to a potted aglaonema (Chinese evergreen) and with the sun shining onto her face feels reminiscent of the 1963 French documentary Le Joli Mai, in which a series of observed vignettes explores an array of daily life in a thriving post-war Paris. The styling of both Landon and the Italian Montana throughout the film could place them anywhere in present-day East London; mature beyond her years, Portman sports Mathilda’s signature bob cut, a green MA1 bomber, that black velvet choker with silver sun pendant, and a pair of Lunettes Old School Noir sunglasses.  

     

     

     

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    Beatrix Kiddo - KILL BILL [2003] 

     

     

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    Kill Bill tells another story of a woman seeking vengeance, with Beatrix Kiddo aka The Bride having been attacked by her former assassination squad, seemingly lost the child to which she was pregnant, and raped by a hospital worker whilst comatose. In a complex and non-linear two-parter, Kiddo kills her way up the chain, eventually reaching the squad’s leader, Bill, who she kills with martial arts master Mai Pei’s Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, the death blow Bill had introduced her to years earlier. 

     

    In the ‘golden era’ of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, mainstream martial arts films traditionally featured male protagonists – just the mention of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan is synonymous with the genre. Outside of mainstream Western cinema, there were a whole host of badass female leads – Michelle Yeoh, JeeJa Yanin, and Zhang Ziyi to name but a few. These films were more a mix of the leg-flying Kung Fu style of Bruce Lee and Chinese wuxia, a genre focused on the journey and drama of the warrior. Kill Bill portrayed a female protagonist in a narrative more akin to a classic Kung Fu movie and both Thurman and Tarantino created the character during the filming of Pulp Fiction, with Thurman providing her first name and Tarantino her last.

     

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    Much of the film’s style looks towards more traditional Asian cinema, and not only in terms of cinematography. The Bride ends up dressed in Bruce Lee’s signature outfit: a colour block yellow jumpsuit, with stripe detailing. Ask anyone now to place the outfit and you’re as likely to hear Thurman as you are Lee. Whilst Kiddo was selected by Empire Magazine as one of ‘The 100 Greatest Movie Characters’ of all time, in the film she was described as ‘the deadliest woman in the world.'  

     

     

     

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    Mildred Hayes - THREE BILLBOARDS [2017] 

     

     

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    Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother whose daughter has been murdered in a case that has seemingly gone cold. She makes the bold move of renting three billboards, displaying the messages “raped while dying”, “and still no arrests?”, “how come, Chief Willoughby?” aimed at the town’s police chief. The battle is exacerbated when his second-in-command, Officer Dixon, gets involved which pits a grieving mother against a petulant police officer with a penchant for violence. 

     

    The film depicts rural America in a visually striking manner, with Hayes driving around in a quintessentially American brown Ford Country Squire, dressed in a navy boilersuit that is blue-collar workwear through and through. It does actually feel like you could be on Main Street, Anytown, USA. Although it’s a new film, its legacy is already significant in that it’s inspired a spate of three billboard activism campaigns across the world to highlight injustice. It’s the message that if a grieving single mother can do it, anyone can.

     

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    McDormand has made a career playing unconventional women and in this year’s Oscars she deservedly won Best Actress for the second time, using her speech to demand that more women tell their stories in film. She gave an address in which she took ownership of the room and got all the female nominations to stand up with her whilst she asked for greater diversity on set, throughout Hollywood.  

     

     

     

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    Mallory Knox - NATURAL BORN KILLERS [1994] 

     

     

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    Natural Born Killers looks at two victims of childhood trauma who have become both lovers and mass murderers. Particularly violent, the pair rack up an impressive 52 kills in a spree that sees them fleeing from state line to state line. Lewis, playing Mallory Knox and Woody Harrelson, playing her husband Mickey, are purposefully portrayed as good looking, with an air of zero-fucks rock star rebellion. Out in the desert, Lewis and Harrelson lean against their bright red 1970 Dodge Challenger both dressed like the devil. With Lewis in a bright red crop vest, red jeans, and a bandana tied around her neck, the pair look totally at ease. And it works, because despite how despicable they both are it’s the classic story of two lovers against the world. 

     

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    Films of this nature usually present female leads as strong but ultimately vulnerable, something that always makes for a film’s typical ‘pivotal’ scenes. But even from the beginning, Lewis cements her place as tough and no-nonsense – the film’s prologue features an enraged Mallory responding to sexual harassment by first seducing, then beating her harasser to a pulp. If anything, the film showed that women needn’t be vulnerable in order to be strong. Whilst Natural Born Killers looks at the sort of hounding the tabloid press dishes out, Mallory doesn’t cave in to such pressure and, despite imprisonment, eventually escapes to her freedom in an RV with Mickey.  

     

     

     

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      Sarah Connor - TERMINATOR 2 [1991] 

       

       

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      Sarah Connor is a recurring character throughout the Terminator franchise, played by Linda Hamilton. In the second film of the franchise, Connor’s son, John, is the key to the civilisation’s survival over a future robot uprising. Set over a decade after The Terminator, Connor had been living off grid to keep her son safe and singlehandedly raise him in the aftermath of his father’s death. She’s unstable, and fearful to the point of obsession of The Terminator. After getting institutionalised, she and John end up separated. On her escape she encounters two Terminator models, the T-1000 sent to kill her son, and the benevolent T-800 sent to protect them. Initially fearful, her son and the T-800 form a strong bond, and Connor has to overcome her prejudice and fear for the sake of her son. She eventually loses hostility towards it and is shown battling against the T-1000 in her signature Matsuda 2809 sunglasses and a grey vest top, for everyone’s sake. 

       

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      Connor arguably made Japan’s Matsuda Eyewear known the world over, with the luxury manufacturer setting a precedent for meticulously handcrafted, distinctly-styled sunglasses. Over the course of the Terminator series, Connor develops from timid into a brazen fugitive wanted for terrorism, a hardened warrior, and arguably a heroine. Ultimately, she’s both a mother who has sacrificed everything for her son’s future and a father who has protected him against evil. Perhaps she’s the strongest woman in a film to date.  

       

       

       

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