According to a recent study from Dr. Martha Lauzen of Diego State University, the representation of female protagonists and BIPOC women in top-grossing films has ticked up slightly from the previous year. The representation of leading women has risen from 29% in 2020 to 31%.
Many would argue that this still leaves representation heavily tilted towards men, but it is undoubtedly a small win for gender equality.
How does the image of the leading woman contribute beneficially to the shaping of our culture? This is a question that many movie producers have considered for a long time and answered definitively in movies like Gunpowder Milkshake, The Protege, and Black Widow, three of the highest-grossing female-led movies of 2021.
Wealth strategist, social media savant, and best-selling author of From Tragedy To Triumph, Lakeisha Marion, explains just how powerful the visual of seeing women in the most prominent roles is.
“I grew up in a single-parent home, my mom was on government assistance, and I never saw my dad till I was 18. I was involved in a lethal accident as a 13-year-old and lost my sister and my two aunts, yet I still had the fortitude to go from seven foreclosures to seven figures in a few years.”
“Today I am teaching and mentoring hundreds of women to come out of debt and build a legacy for their kids. There is no way I would have even had the belief that these sort of feats were possible if these leading women had not shown me that the glass ceiling really shatters if you hit it hard enough.”
The mirror effect of the leading woman
Many women in the BIPOC community do not just want to be like the characters in these movies; they want to be them. They want to reflect their successes in their own experiences. These characters may not be real, but they feel real enough to push some women to want to change their circumstances.
According to Psychologist Robin Hornstein, Ph.D. “Who we emulate and admire in film becomes so important to people who feel marginalized by class, race, gender identity, sexuality, or religion when one of ‘us’ shows up as the hero of the film.”
The leading woman metaphor
“For many of us, the concept of the leading woman has become a powerful metaphor,” Marion explains, “the inspiration may have come from Hollywood’s portrayal of the strong female lead, but what many other amazing women, and I, have done is to take it a notch further and become leading women in real life and in our neighborhoods and societies, and to teach women how to break the stereotypes and become leading women themselves.”
Marion has managed to turn her life around with this mentality shift. She has channeled all her success as a realtor, award-winning network marketer, talkshow host, and licensed minister, into coaching young women in disadvantaged communities. She works to inspire her over 131k social media followers to come out on top and become leaders in their communities. This is her definition of a leading woman.
From exposing stereotypes to shattering stereotypes
The golden age of Hollywood was not so golden for most women in the industry as they were constantly underpaid and less appreciated than their male counterparts. While we have not yet arrived at parity in 2022, we have certainly come a long way.
Most of the early movies that featured women as leading or major characters did more to expose the stereotypes that attach to women in society than they did to change them. The depiction of women, especially BIPOC women, often showed them as submissive, marginalized, oppressed, and abused.
While many of these movies were well-meaning efforts at exposing the inequality in society, it is the movies that have shown women as powerful, conquering, and self-sufficient that have done more to fight this inequality.
“The major fight is in the mind,” Marion explains, “If we can show women what is possible, then their hearts begin to believe it, and their hands begin striving at it. Pictures are very powerful things, and this is why the image of a conquering woman is so powerful in transforming the modern woman from a victim to a victor.”
The realities in 2022 are certainly a stark contrast to the early days of Hollywood, but there is still room for improvement. The cultural landscape is changing; women are leading in their societies, in political positions, and industries. Not everyone ends up in Hollywood, but a little bit of Hollywood always tends to end up in everyone.