For years, it’s been a widely-held belief in Hollywood that a movie centered around women simply would not sell tickets. Well, Frozen and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both shattered that archaic notion. Both were not only incredible box office successes that shattered just about every record known to humankind, they also struck a chord with women and girl viewers in a way few films ever have. Elsa costumes still dominate at Halloween, and you can be sure next year Rey will be right there with her.
This is a great thing for feminism, not just because there are more prevalent female characters in popular cinema, but because these two movies offer three distinct, fully fleshed-out, and completely different role models for young girls to look up to in different ways.
Rey, the spunky and fiercely independent heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a strong and confident woman who has spent her life fending for herself. She is not sitting around waiting for anyone to make her life work, much less a man. When Finn shows up and turns her world upside-down, she is initially more attracted to the adventure he offers than she is smitten by the adorable hunk. As the movie progresses, her feelings for him deepen, but she never chooses to give up her sense of independence to pursue a relationship with him.
At the close of the movie, Finn is in bad shape. Perhaps even on the verge of death. In a lesser film, Rey would have decided to stay home and devote her life to caring for him and nursing him back to health. Not Rey. She says goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, that they will meet again if they are meant to be, and sets out to fulfill her destiny of becoming a Jedi. She refuses to be defined by him, even if she is growing to love him.
Anna, the adorable red-headed heroine of Frozen, is the polar opposite of Rey in almost every way, but she is no less a strong female role-model. She is a hopeless romantic who is immediately swept off her feet by the hot-but-ultimately-totally-evil prince, but even thinking she is in love doesn’t stop her from giving everything up to help her sister at the drop of a hat. When adventure and duty calls, Anna answers by setting out on her own and leaving her prince at home to tend the castle, in an awesome gender-role reversal from the normal fairy tale structure.
Of course, it turns out that trusting this particular prince was a big mistake, but who hasn’t had a bad relationship? Who hasn’t gotten caught up in the emotional rush of a new flame and perhaps overlooked the warning signs it wasn’t going to work out in the long run? Being a strong female role model doesn’t mean being flawless. It means learning from your mistakes and growing into a better person because of them. Anna does just that. She dumps the jerk and ends up in a solid, though imperfect, relationship with a guy who truly cherishes her and values her as a person. He doesn’t idealize her, but sees her as the broken, quirky, wonderful person she is and loves her completely. Anna doesn’t have to give up romance and swear-off all boyfriends to be a strong woman. She just has to be wise enough to hold out for the one truly worthy of her awesomeness.
Elsa, her sister, on the other hand, doesn’t end up in a relationship. That’s okay, too. She has spent years literally and figuratively shutting out the world. She is a queen and has unlimited power, both politically and magically, but she still has to learn how to open herself up to love and to life. In a typical romantic comedy, she would learn how to do this by falling in love with the hot-but-slightly-goofy receptionist. In Frozen, however, Elsa learns this lesson by experiencing the sacrificial love of her sister. She’s not saved by the love of a good guy. She’s saved by the love of Anna. At the end, she seems completely happy to be on her own, and still the powerful woman she always was. Plus, of course, she gets to sing perhaps the most kick-ass Disney song of all time.
Of course, Hollywood is a long way from being perfect in their portrayal of women on screen. By no means have we reached the end of our struggle, but these two films are a great example that shows we as a society are headed in the right direction.