Just in time for the summer release of the final instalment in the Hunger Games saga (a wonderfully grim expression of realpolitik, if I’ve ever seen one) and news that the latest Star Wars film passes the Bechdel test, A•STAR can confirm that we’re currently in smack bang in the middle of a Renaissance for great female characters in popular media.
In celebration, we’ve decided to show our love to some of the most wonderfully kickass ladies from the history of television. Space being at a premium, we’ve picked just seven of our favourites from many different shows to highlight the very best (and by “best” I mean “deeply subjective”).
Among its many wonderful qualities, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS passes the Bechdel test.
— Rebecca Keegan (@ThatRebecca) December 15, 2015
BUFFY SUMMERS (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003)
Portrayed by: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Of course, we couldn’t have a feature like this without featuring one of the classics, the teenaged ‘Chosen One’ from Sunnydale: Buffy Summers.
A Joss Whedon creation, the character of Buffy has since become such a hot talking point beyond the wider Buffy fandom that she has even become the subject of much academic debate in the years following the show’s end. The way her character was written and developed through the show’s history not only made Sarah Michelle Gellar an unforgettable household name, but Buffy became an inspiration for millions of young girls – it was possible to be a strong and leading figure without sacrificing any of your femininity.
Endearingly ditzy in the early seasons, the character hardened over the course of the show without losing any of that comedic charm.
Portrayed by: Barbara Feldon
As the typical ‘straight guy’ foil to Don Adams’ iconic Maxwell Smart, Feldon’s role as the level headed, beautiful and intelligent female lead in this spy genre satire made her one of the most recognisable faces on popular television at the time.
Agent 99 didn’t fit the standard ‘female’ role idealised for sitcoms in that particular climate; she was resourceful, independent and saved Smart’s life on countless occasions. She was sharp, witty and bucked the trend of being just a pretty face required for comedy.
You’d definitely want this lady on your side.
EMMA PEEL (THE AVENGERS, 1961-1969)
Portrayed by: Diana Rigg
Another badass lady out of the 60’s obsession with spy narratives was the awesome Emma Peel, portrayed by Diana Rigg in The Avengers. Peel was basically a superhero without the supernatural powers.
She knew martial arts, how to fence like a master (not to mention wield a gun impressively), was a certified genius and was in a committed marriage. Even though her character enjoyed flirtatious banter with partner John Steed throughout the show, Rigg’s portrayal of Peel was never dialled back to being a woman fitting a Bond-girl shape (although funnily enough, Rigg would go on to star in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).
Peel also became a fashion icon for women in the 1960’s – that catsuit she donned in early episodes is probably her best remembered outfit.
Portrayed by: Krysten Ritter
Marvel’s Jessica Jones has got to be easily one of the best Netflix shows to make its premiere this year. Krysten Ritter’s portrayal of Jessica Jones, former superhero turned private eye, was an inspired bit of casting.
Jones is sarcastic, aggressive and caged off. She day drinks and focuses on getting paid at the end of the day. When her nemesis Kilgrave brings her out of self imposed-retirement, Jones’ determination to bring him down shines.
The show itself is graphic but opened up a whole conversation about the flip of gender roles, sexuality and female empowerment.
Portrayed by: Summer Glau
Another Joss Whedon creation, Summer Glau’s River Tam in both Firefly and then Serenity is another powerful lady worthy of a mention here. Glau’s background in dance aided the character’s physicality in combat scenes.
The structuring of River drew obvious comparisons to Buffy in the way that they were women obviously striving to better themselves by learning more and through confrontation, but River has often been seen as more of an anti-heroine.
Portrayed by: Emilia Clark
Possibly one of the most popular characters in the Game of Thrones universe, Daenerys in the TV series is a remarkable figure within this graphic visual landscape. The development of her character throughout the show’s history until now has seen Daenerys grow from a timid girl into a commander of armies and of course, mother of dragons.
Her relationships, stature within the wider list of characters and her storylines have fuelled many conversations and debates about the portrayal of sex, race, gender, war and politics on screen and just as Game of Thrones has done in many other ways, Emilia Clarke’s performance as Daenerys has been praised for her riveting and captivating nature.
CLARA OSWALD (DOCTOR WHO, 2012-2015)
Portrayed by: Jenna Coleman
Doctor Who fans have only just recently said goodbye to Clara Oswald, the ‘Impossible Girl’, but it’s been made clear that her role as companion to the 12th Doctor in particular will not easily be forgotten.
First introduced as ‘Oswin’ during Matt Smith’s tenure as the 11th Doctor, Coleman’s role in the Doctor Who universe quickly expanded (to the chagrin of many fans) to the point where Clara was easily one of the most important and pinnacle individuals in the Doctor’s life.
It’s made abundantly obvious that the companions are probably the most important element about the show save for the main character himself, but this recent season of Doctor Who showed the female lead performing more like the show’s namesake than he himself in a lot of ways.
Constantly saving The Doctor’s life, providing a voice of reason, taking charge herself, all the while somehow managing to hold down a job on Earth (for the most part), Clara’s endearing personality made her a favourite among many fans, although there were a large portion of Whovians who thought she became too much like The Doctor… which ultimately led to her downfall.