top of page

Empowering Female Characters in Film

Collage (using stills from films mentioned) by Nahomy Ortiz


For a long time, it was very hard for me identify myself with female characters in film.

As a child, I looked up to female characters like Catwoman (2004) and Cady Heron (Mean Girls 2004), but I later came to realize that characters like Catwoman were just oversexualized characters that taught young girls that being pretty and sexy was the only goal to stride for.

Within media, some characters have become more and more degraded or just ‘yet another’ female side character. When we do see empowering female characters, they are no longer the main focus in movies, but rather turned into little more than a filler character or romantic interest.But there are some characters that are better examples of well-rounded female characters.

Here are a few of my fave characters from recent (2015-2016) films that are empowering and innovative, whether entrepreneurs, wives, artists, mothers, or just young women with incredible coming of age stories. These are female characters that use their intellect, personalities and courage when making decisions throughout the course of their story.

Joanna Hoffman (Steve Jobs) Portrayed by Kate Winslet in the 2015 film about Steve Jobs’ life, Hoffman is a marketing executive who works with the eccentric Steve Jobs. Joanna lands on our list due to her hard work, compassion, determination and self control in difficult working conditions. Joy Mangano (Joy) Portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell's 2016 film, Mangano is a divorced mother of two trying to provide in any way she can for her children. Mangano has had innovative ideas ever since she was a child that never tend to flourish, but when she is suddenly thrown into the business world due to a self wringing mop idea, she learns to never take ‘no’ for an answer.

Gerda Wegener (The Danish Girl) Portrayed by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (which won her an Oscar) in 2015 Tom Hooper’s stellar movie, Gerda Wegener is a loving and accepting wife who supports her husband’s gender confirmation surgery. Meanwhile, Gerda has to make hard decisions, think of her own future and about what it all means for her.

Therese Belivet (Carol) Portrayed by Rooney Mara in the 2015 book to movie adaptation of Carol, Therese is a young girl trying to figure out what exactly is that she wants for her future (like many of us). Then she meets Carol, an older elegant woman. Therese forms an incredible bond with Carol, who she soon comes to love. Therese shows bravery, making decisions for herself and accepting love into her life in such a difficult time in history.

Eilis Lacey (Brooklyn) Portrayed by Saoirse Ronan in the 2015 film Brooklyn, Eilis is an Irish immigrant that moves to New York in the 1950’s leaving her family, her culture, and entire life behind to begin a new one for herself. Eilis encounters homesickness, love, temptation, and faces it all with bravery.

Lili Elbe (The Danish Girl) Portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in the 2015 film The Danish Girl, Lili Elbe is a woman born in the wrong body, but with bravery and support from her wife and doctors who comprehend what she is going through, she undergoes the first gender confirmation surgery.

Sacha Pfeiffer (Spotlight) Portrayed by Rachel McAdams in 2015’s film Spotlight, Sacha is a journalist who works with an all male team in Boston Globe’s Spotlight. The team begins muckraking the Roman Catholic Church to uncover the truth on cover-ups of sexual abuse. Sacha Pfeiffer makes difficult decisions, interviews victim, and tries to unseal documents to bring light and justice to the case.

bottom of page