These Female Characters Forever Changed TV and Movies

From Annie Hall to Hermione Granger, these roles reimagined on-screen expectations for women.

June 27, 2018 5:00 am
Emma Watson as Hermonie Granger in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" (Getty)
Emma Watson as Hermonie Granger in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" (Getty)

We all have that leading lady we look up to and strive to be. Every year, female characters take the screen and battle sexism and gender inequality, all while smashing stereotypes about what a female character should look or act like. We take a look at some of the current and past characters who have changed Hollywood for the better.

Princess/General Leia, Star Wars franchise: Carrie Fischer 

Carrie Fischer in Star Wars (Imdb)

Princess Leia was a smart, fearless leader who went on to become General Leia Organa. She broke stereotypes about the meek female who needed to be saved—she saved herself and her male counterparts too.

Jane Villanueva, Jane the Virgin: Gina Rodriguez

Gina Rodriguez as Jane in “Jane the Virgin.” (Imdb)
Robert Voets

She’s a writer, she’s a mother, she’s a friend and a partner, there is nothing Jane Villanueva can’t do. She was raised by two strong, independent Latina women and is proud of who she is. She doesn’t back down from a fight, sticks up for those she loves, and isn’t afraid to ask for help.

Clair Huxtable, The Cosby Show: Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad as Clair Huxtable in “The Crosby Show” (Imdb)

Clair Huxtable had a successful career while also raising five children and would not listen to anyone who told her she couldn’t do both. She was a strong feminist voice in one of America’s all-time favorite sitcoms.

Mary Richards, The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Mary Tyler Moore

Still from The Mary Tyler Moore Show showing Moore standing, smiling, inside of the WJM newsroom.
Bettmann Archive

She proved that women could find happiness outside of relationships and starting a family. The show looked at single womanhood, divorce, and even equal pay in the workplace all during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s.

Sophia Burset, Orange is the New Black: Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset in Orange Is the New Black (2013)

Cox’s role as a trans woman of color in prison is not just thrown into the story line as a way to diversify the cast. Her story line is given time and dignity, and the show demonstrates Burset’s transition period and how it was a difficult period to work through. The show also shows the struggles she has as a trans woman inside a prison, and her fight to obtain her regular hormones after the prison makes financial cutbacks. Cox is an inspiration and a force to be reckoned with on and off screen.

Jessica Huang, Fresh Off the Boat: Constance Wu

Constance Wu as Jessica Huang in “Fresh Off the Boat.” (ABC/John Fleenor)

Fresh Off the Boat is the first Asian-American family sitcom in 20 years. Wu steals the show as Jessica Huang, and outspoken woman that is the matriarch of an immigrant family. She has been open about how the show is not supposed to be a voice for all Asians, but hopes the show encourages others to invest in different stories about Asians.

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games franchise: Jennifer Lawrence 

Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” (Imdb)

Katniss Everdeen proved that you can take care of yourself, your family, and your friends. Her loyalty and bravery was inspiring and she’s the rebel we all support.

Annie Hall, Annie Hall: Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” (Imdb)

Keaton helped earn Annie Hall four Oscars for her role. She was a style icon with her androgynous outfits and she forever influenced women’s style on and off the screen.

Letty Ortiz, Fast & Furious franchise: Michelle Rodriguez

Michelle Rodriguez in The Fast and the Furious (2001)

On the screen, Rodriguez is a badass who can fix cars and race them. She holds her own in a cast heavy with men. But off-screen, she fought to bring more women into the spotlight and threatened to leave the franchise if they didn’t tell more women’s stories. Talk about a badass.

Coffy, Coffy: Pam Grier

Pam Grier in Coffy (1973)

Coffy took no prisoners. She is considered to be one of cinema’s first female action heroes and she is absolutely a feminist icon.

Elle Woods, Legally Blonde franchise: Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001)

Elle Woods fought back against harmful stereotypes of women, sexism, and sexual harassment all while solving a murder case and going to school at Harvard. She is a hero to us all.

Hermonie Granger, Harry Potter franchise: Emma Watson

Emma Watson as Hermonie Granger in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Hermonie made us realize that it is okay to be book smart. And let’s remember, without her, Ron and Harry would’ve died numerous times before defeating Lord Voldemort.

Annalise Keating, How to Get Away with Murder: Viola Davis

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder (2014)

Annalise Keating is a strong, powerful black woman who goes against the one-dimensional stereotype most women of color characters play on TV. She is sexy, brilliant, and remarkably real. Her character behaves like a real person, who has real shortcomings, but doesn’t hide them. She embraces them in her fight for what she believes is right. She protects those she loves to the very end. She is also a queer woman of color on screen who has sexual agency in her relationships in a way that women rarely have on screen.

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot

Gal Gadot as Diana in Wonder Woman (2017)

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman literally gripped the world. The film raked in more than $820 million worldwide. She completely smashed the idea that audiences don’t care about female superheroes and opened the door to endless women-led superhero films.

Olivia Pope, Scandal: Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal (2012)

Olivia Pope is a three-dimensional character who is highly intelligent and a leader in her field. She trusts her guts and follows her own rules, and tries to always do what she thinks is right.

Mulan, Mulan: Ming-Na Wen

Ming-Na Wen as Mulan in Mulan (1998)

At just 16-years-old, Mulan uses her wits and strength to defeat the Hun army. She is dedicated and loyal to her family and her friends, no matter the consequences. She is incredibly introspective for a teenager, and the song “My Reflection” is a tune that almost all young adults can relate to as they try to find their place in this crazy world. The movie proved that looking inside yourself and staying true to beliefs is a great way to defeat the obstacles in life.

Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Rachel Bloom

Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015)

It is really hard to find an accurate and fair portrayal of mental illness on television and in movies, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does an excellent job of showcasing what mental illness can feel like. Rebecca Bunch deals with anxiety, depression, OCD and more throughout the five seasons of the show in an honest and real way. The show addresses suicide, therapy and medication with authenticity. Not too mention, Rebecca is a staunch feminist who loves and lifts up her lady friends. To top it off, she’s incredibly intelligent and a successful lawyer and she’s not afraid to be proud of her accomplishments.

Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project: Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project (2012)

The character of Mindy Lahiri can be dramatic and a little off-beat, but she’s also a confident and hilarious female lead who is incredibly successful and at the head of her field. She is body-positive and has great style, and she gives herself pep talks, which we can all learn from.

Ellen Ripley, Alien franchise: Sigourney Weaver

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien (1979)

She’s got nerves of steel and was a powerhouse with a gun. Her role laid the groundwork for women to be heroes on the big screen.

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