I raved about 50 fictional men in my December 2017 post and have finally, finally, FINALLY finished the sister list, “My Top 50 Favorite Fictional Female Characters”! Yaaay! This list has taken me about 6 months to compile, effectively putting my blog on hold, and I apologize for that. The delay was due in part to a few things, most notably a deep depressive episode I outlined in my April 2018 post and rewatching a number of things to make sure I did these ladies and my love letters to them justice.
So let’s see how I did, shall we?
I love these women. In many ways they offer to popular culture much more than sugar, spice, and everything nice. They offer intelligence, physical and emotional resilience and spirit, and the ability to rise above what meets the eye through sheer talent, will or power. At the risk of sounding like an egotistical jerk with delusions of grandeur, I see myself in many of them, admiring those who share and embody feminist beliefs, those who remind me the full spectrum of women’s intrinsic strength and those who personify traits I simply do not have myself as a flawed being. What I have instead is them and like the men on December’s list, I carry them with me and have carried them throughout my life and wherever I go, and I do thank God I’ve been placed in circumstances blessed enough to be able to do that. Everyone needs some inspiration, after all.
Here is where I find some of mine.
50. Lee Harris – from American Horror Story: Roanoke, portrayed by Adina Porter
“I don’t know if one day you’ll forgive me. I just want you to go on without the weight of lies and doubt. You go on, Flora, and rise up. There’s nothing holding you down.”
American Horror Story: Roanoke begins as a frame-story narrative told in the style of a documentary. The ordeal of Matt and Shelby Miller is chronicled by adjoining segments of interviews with the couple and reenactments of the macabre goings-on at the Roanoke House of North Carolina. The tough and pistol-packing Lee, Matt’s sister, shares in their experience, originally brought to the property to protect Shelby from the spooky events that seem to plague her when Matt is not present. Lee is a disgraced former police officer and divorced mother of an 8-year-old named Flora. Injured on the job, she fell victim to an addiction to painkillers and was subsequently fired. She managed to sober up but couldn’t save her marriage, which resulted in the loss of most of her parental rights, paining her more than any psycho, sick sight or flesh wound ever could, and trust me, she endures each of those traumas too. Lee is slick, assertive, cantankerous, skilled in deception…and a murderer. She’s also a very hurt individual, desperate, and giving. She has a ferocious love for Flora and will do anything to protect her. Because of this heart and the fact that her past stretches beyond what I’ve written here shape many of her choices and motivations, I find her to be the most interesting character of the Roanoke season and notable for becoming what is essentially the lead in a horror-drama. You don’t see black women as horror leads too often. Being a hard-core horror fan who is also a woman of color, I was touched by that inclusion and by Lee’s own will and love for her daughter. Now, my mother isn’t nearly as dark or complex, but I know she loves me like Lee loves Flora and would do just as much for me. And while I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother myself, I know what it’s like to be a daughter watching a mother scratch and claw and speak and cry and fight men and fight like mad to do everything in her power to take care of her baby, and for all her faults, that was always the heart of this character to me.
49. Carol Peletier – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Melissa McBride
“Sooner or later you’re gonna have to do it. You’ll have to do it or you’ll die. So you’re gonna change the way you think about it. You have to change. Everyone does now. Things don’t just work out.”
Introduced in its inaugural season, Carol is a survivor on the hit horror series The Walking Dead. I’m an active part of the fandom—well, hanging on by a thread at this point, to be honest—and am aware the biggest and most current audience irritations with Carol are her distant/rude attitude toward others and tendency to swoop in and save the day. I’m bothered by neither of these traits. and feel they are justified by her development throughout the series. God forbid the silver-haired woman with the crystal green eyes isn’t the picture of sweetness she appears and often pretends to be. But you know. Haters gonna hate, and so it goes. Every one of The Walking Dead’s survivors’ ability to process trauma is different and the loss of family, friends, foster children, community members, etc. has firmed Carol’s nerve and mind into that of a seasoned warrior, making her capable in ways others do not expect or conceive of themselves. If you believe Daryl, with whom she shares a kindred kinship, is the male on the show who has fundamentally changed the most since the onset of the apocalypse, you’d probably have to say Carol is his female equivalent. Hers may not be the most plausible arc, but I find it both feasible and captivating enough—hey, it’s thrilling to see an actress in her 50s do this stuff! And frankly, I love a story about a person, particularly a survivor of domestic abuse, who finds and fosters strength she didn’t know she had, and Carol does indeed go from the wilting flower to a thorny rose. She is so strong, psychologically, it’s scary, and sometimes it scares her too. She’s more cunning, duplicitous and resilient than most, reluctant at best to ingratiate herself with others, antagonistic at worst. Despite her unexpectedness, sarcastic wit and harshness, there is an enduring softness; she is forever a mother figure, much to her dismay, but she often takes on the role in spite of herself. Her tether to Daryl and budding friendship with King Ezekiel always manage to thaw her heart. And for all the people who have been taken from her and all the people she’s taken—and she’s taken scores according to her own count—she still hangs on. That in itself is like Carol herself: surprising, admirable and, above all, fascinating.
48. Lana Kane – from Archer, voiced by Aisha Tyler
“Ohh…and it just keeps on getting better.”
The daughter of academics, Lana is a leftist and environmentalist drawn into espionage after staring down the barrel of Malory Archer’s gun. With her strong will and skills in hand-to-hand combat, gunplay and reconnaissance, Agent Kane is second in the spy game only to Archer himself, though that’s mostly according to him. A 6-feet-tall Glamazon, Lana is caring, cognizant, sexy without trying and so delectable when she is that even her good friend Ray elected to have sex with her and he’s gay. At the same time she is distrustful, discerning, and hot-headed. I like that she only approaches motherhood when she feels she’s ready and has no qualms about preparing for the baby by herself. Turns out she’s even got a knack for mothering…unlike her boss (yikes). Moreover, Lana is half of the admitted heart of the show, the will-they, won’t-they, on-off relationship with fellow field agent and professional asshole Sterling Archer. I much prefer Lana to Archer, and while his immaturity and general dickishness irritate me, I do like to see the couple together—not just for A.J. but because of the characters’ chemistry (there is some world-class voice acting on this show, people) and because they have clearly always loved each other. As a fan, I want Lana to be happy. Archer, for the few minutes and sequences when his head, his heart and his junk are all in the right places, makes Lana happy. She is the only character on this show I don’t feel guilty for liking, lol, since she’s the one with the most visible sense (although she’s not really into animals or supportive of immigration, despite her liberal leanings). I relate to her self-righteousness and defensiveness as well, and because she’s a beautiful, badass African-American female lead on a long-running adult animated show, how she’s represented and what she represents to me are very special.
47. Pamela “Pam” Poovey – from Archer, voiced by Amber Nash
“Don’t try to body shame me, dog tits!”
Where I am the Queen of Unpopular Opinions, Pam is the Queen of Inappropriate Humor. This former head of Human Resources for the International Secret Intelligence Service is an uncouth chatterbox, spiller of secrets and proud bisexual who mostly just wants to have sex with everyone, with or without their consent (e.g. yeah, I’m calling out that implied sexual assault on Cyril in season 2, which is one of the few moments in the series during which I am decidedly NOT cheering Pam on, of course), and accomplishes that goal with most of the main characters. Archer himself even admits she’s the best sex he’s ever had (sorry, Lana and Katya). Pam maintains a good rapport with everyone despite their claiming to dislike her and, to Malory Archer’s surprise, proves invaluable in a crisis. Pam grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm with an unruly and ruthless sister, which made her as solid as a barn and yet soft at the center like cheese. She can be sensitive (not usually about her weight) but is also an ex-underground fighter who dominates in most brawls, dabbles in race car driving, takes on the Yakuza. It’s a nice contrast. Pam and I have almost identical builds and I love that she’s a positive representation of a husky woman, like her girth is almost always incidental to her character and when it is brought up, she doesn’t believe her girth detracts from her sex appeal or physical capabilities. And she is sexy, for as forward and lewd as she can be. Yes, here is a woman who drinks, smokes, burps, farts, strips, actively pursues sex—all the stuff society deems “un-ladylike” and that’s precisely why I admire her. She’s not a “lady.” She’s a hot mess, a confident, independent woman and a regular human being. Novel concept, right?
46. Officer/Detective/Lieutenant Debra “Deb” Morgan – from Dexter, portrayed Jennifer Carpenter
“Are we done? I need a fucking nap.”
Dexter isn’t even my favorite character on his own TV show. The most interesting? Probably. Yet the title of “my favorite character from Dexter and #46 on this list” goes to his adoptive sister, Debra, who is the only person, other than Harrison, whom I believe Dexter truly loves. And what’s not to love? She’s efficient as fuck, funny as fuck, and her favorite word is—have you guessed it?—“fuck.” (Sorry, I’m not one of those Christians who believes curse words are corruptive by nature. Every person assigns every simple word meaning and I happen to think the F word is funny half the time. However, I do apologize to anyone who is offended by the overabundance of “F bombs” that go off in this post.) Don’t be fooled by her long, lean body and unique attractiveness—she is a fierce force for Miami Metro, moving her way up from Vice to Homicide and from a more peripheral character to integral to every plot. Wiry and emotionally complex, Deb is shrewd, snappy, heated and piercingly blunt but always with a layer of vulnerability to her at the same time. The young detective has the magnetism and allure of the type of badass who would rather be a layabout but instead spends all her time being badass by committing herself to her job and showing up and showing out. I admire her wit, work ethic and low tolerance for bullshit and relate to her tendencies to question herself and to engage in passionate but doomed romantic relationships. What’s also familiar is her conscience. She is not Dexter’s twin and never is it more evident that they are not related than when it comes to matters of the heart. With that being said, she’s still as tough as a petrified corpse and has to be to endure all that she does over the course of the eight-season series. Through Dexter’s apathy and double life as a serial killer who kills serial killers, the younger Morgan suffers the slings of secrets, blood and bullets, all of which break through her walls one way or another, irrevocably changing who she is. While she’s as strong as the other women on this list, I don’t believe she’s as resilient. This does not make me love her less nor does it make her weak. It makes her fully human, something her brother and her harshest critics evidently cannot understand. But that’s okay. What the fuck do they know anyway?
45. The Mistress a.k.a. “Missy” – from Doctor Who, portrayed by Michelle Gomez
“Your version of good is not absolute. It’s vain, arrogant, sentimental. But if you’re waiting for me to become all that, I’m going to be here for a long time yet…”
Leaving a legendary mark on the Doctor Who series in just 15 episodes, this truly raving beauty is one wicked, tricky witch of a character. This is going to sound bad, lol, but I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a middle-aged woman get the opportunity to play—and slay—the part of an unpredictable yet charming psychopath. It’s glorious, as is the divinely devilish Michelle Gomez. Before she was Missy and Missy was Missy a.k.a. The Mistress, she was The Master, the Doctor’s oldest friend and perhaps fiercest rival, the one who arguably who knows the most about him. In each incarnation the Master always tries to test the Doctor, to see how far he’ll bend until he breaks…then how many pieces he’ll break into…then how many of those grains he can crush into oblivion and so on and so on. All to prove they’re not really so different and the only order is mayhem. It appears not much has changed when the Time Lord regenerates into a Time Lady—other than the more overt physical attraction, of course (Missy plants a big one on the Doctor moments after they meet in person. Long-time fans are sure to have seen this coming XD). Missy, like her male predecessors, has a commanding and charismatic presence. I want to say she’s a bit less insane than John Simm’s Master, but that’s really rather subjective. She continues to be volatile, smooth-talking and comedic in both a kooky and frightening sort of way with her lopsided sense of right and wrong. For as devious and scheming as she is, I do, however, believe she loves the Doctor more than she despises him. Loves him even more than she wants to win against him. If you believe Missy can actually love, that is. I also believe the Doctor’s efforts to rehabilitate her do, to put it in one word, affect her. It makes for a fascinating series 10 for Missy, I’ll tell you that. I’d tell you more but, you know, *River Song voice*: “Spoilers!”
44. Allyson “Ally” Mayfair-Richards – from American Horror Story: Cult, portrayed by Sarah Paulson
“You were wrong. There is something more dangerous in this world than a humiliated man: a nasty woman.”
In another torrid season of American Horror Story, mild-mannered, fragile and phobic restaurateur Ally Mayfair-Richards, a firm leftist and lesbian, makes a complete 180-degree emotional and moral turn ultimately in response to the onset of the Trump era, and whether it’s for the best is up to each individual viewer. She is aligned first with Kai Anderson’s murderous clown cult before rising to power in the United States Senate and disavowing established political parties to operate out of the radical feminist cult of SCUM, created by the real-life Valerie Solanas. She doesn’t just walk away from Kai or her wife, Ivy, though, both of whom terrorize and bully her throughout the season; instead she spearheads Kai’s downfall and exacts a particularly pungent revenge against her cheating spouse. I am of a mixed heart and mind regarding this character, as her actions and character satisfy the righteous anger I feel as a feminist and as a person who struggles with some level of anxiety every day (oh, how I’d love to conquer my phobias and fears). However, Ally also symbolizes a lot of what’s wrong with radical feminism, specifically calling for or doing the wrong things—like manipulation, intimidation and murder—for the right reasons, namely equal treatment, rights and opportunities for other women, the LGBTQIAP+ community and minorities. I liked that this season criticized both conservatives and liberals because I’m not one to pretend either side is completely correct in its beliefs or actions. Ally embodies the type of hard lean—okay, more like a rough shove—to the left I don’t wholly agree with but enjoyed witnessing. I laughed so hard every time she turned sexist stereotypes on their heads, like men believing women not to be emotionally or mentally capable of carrying out certain types of duplicity and, of course, the “make me a sandwich” trope. I’ll probably never look at Manwiches the same way again, but I digress. In a perfect world men and women would work together to further human advancement, respecting each other as equals and partners in this life. I don’t want to see a patriarchy or matriarchy, but since we live in more of the former, it’s nice to see the latter, even as a dark alternative to the shadowy reality where a man who brags about sexually assaulting women and wastes time and attention riling up the North Korean dictator is elected to be President of the United States. The main aspect of this story that I feel may frighten some people when they realize how much they relate to it is that Ally, from her own viewpoint, is just a mother determined to make a better world for her son to grow up in—that’s certainly a relatable goal even if you don’t approve of how she goes about it. There’s also a good number of us who don’t approve of what’s going on here in America either. The wrong type of power, the wrong people in power—it’s everywhere, unfortunately, and in this series, the social system made a monster. And you know what? I do like hearing her roar.
43. Sasha Williams – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green
“You’re still the same. And that is good. I don’t think I can be. Not anymore.”
This former firefighter is much more than a pretty face, her spirit more potent than her great pain. Despite her enduring toughness, Sasha develops one of the most severe cases of PTSD and depression depicted on The Walking Dead. While I don’t like seeing this character in pain, I’m grateful she (and Sonequa Martin-Green, with her raw portrayal) was chosen, as a woman of color, to depict to a broad audience how difficult and disorienting it is to try and find a reason to go on in the midst of madness, strife and grief. She is able to hold on to enough humanity to form a deep friendship with Maggie and forge a respect and understanding with Abraham’s ex, Rosita. And though Sasha has seen both the past and the future die, she decides to make every move beyond those moments count for the greater good of the group, putting her athleticism to use to become a skilled sharpshooter and slayer of the undead. She is calculated and principled, despondent and hopeful, vicious and courageous as well as a loving and tender-hearted sister and girlfriend. To put it bluntly, she’s got a hell of a lot of depth and moxie and those characteristics, along with her best and biggest choices, cement her place on this list as a sad but strong person whom I admire and by whom I am impressed.
42. Dr. Mindy Lahiri – from The Mindy Project, portrayed by Mindy Kaling
“Well, I did just have an enormous meal, but a doctor told me that my metabolism is so high that I basically have to eat every hour. That doctor was me.”
Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a zany, zippy, zesty Indian-American gynecologist on the lookout for love in New York, is one of the most perfect female characters I’ve ever seen, about which I’m sure Mindy herself would agree, and all of her perfection is due to the fact that she is so imperfect. Writer and creator of The Mindy Project, comedienne Mindy Kaling, designed her irresistible lead to be a real person with many recognizable traits: wittily quick-witted, annoying, astute, self-confident, self-involved, self-aware and, like my #1, a romantic who enjoys relationships but whose character, purpose and goals do not revolve around being someone’s girlfriend. Dr. Lahiri is also a Princeton graduate and effective OB/GYN, a loving sister and a fashionista—in her own right. Besides her unabashed sense of humor, my hands-down favorite thing about Mindy is the undeniable love she has for herself. For me especially and the type of gray-to-gloomy headspace I occupy, it is beyond refreshing to see a truly beautiful, medium-sized, dorky but also cool woman-of-color be and act more confident than not. This is not to say she never has a bad or sad moment, it’s to say there is strength to be celebrated in both her states of vulnerability and self-assurance. She is unapologetically herself, and I am so grateful to and thankful for Mindy Kaling for writing and doing and being basically everything in life that I want to write, do and be…sans being a mother (for her, that’s great! Mazel tov! For me? No thanks). I shall eat copious amounts of cake in your honor, non-fictional and fictional Mindy!
41. Sonmi-451 – from Cloud Atlas, portrayed by Bae Doona
“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
As one of the numerous lead characters in the David Mitchell grand, spiritual epic that is Cloud Atlas and its 2012 film adaptation, Sonmi-451 is a Fabricant—a being similar to the genetically engineered Replicants who make up the slave labor force in Blade Runner—who lives in futuristic, cyberpunky Neo Seoul, Korea, spending her time as an overworked server in a restaurant, merely one among many. Wide-eyed, silent but ever the slightest bit curious, it isn’t until she makes the choice to learn from and follow others—first her sister-clone Yoona-939 and later Union commander Hae-Joo Chang—that she becomes prepared to lead. Cloud Atlas is one of my all-time favorite films, an artful masterpiece I feel blessed to have seen during its theatrical run. I even wrote one of my final college papers on it, lol, and love it for so many reasons, one of which is for how the simple story of a human clone rising up to become a beacon of hope, faith, free will and salvation. How it warms and fills me over and over again, in my heart and in my mind. Sonmi, as she regales to an archivist what she’s done that will lead the governing body of Unanimity to execute her, is keen, serene and at peace with her life and what is going to persist beyond it, and as well she should be. Thanks to the choices she dares to make, every “yes” and every “no,” and her courage and dedication to the revelations Hae-Joo helps her to realize and asks her to spread, she becomes a legend, even a goddess to others grasping on to hope, the symbol of humanity’s intrinsic interconnectivity. Seemingly unassuming, she is deeply expressive and feeling, played to the hilt by Korean actress Bae Doona with such authenticity and grace. I am touched by Sonmi’s valiance and will to espouse the truth no matter the cost. Clone or not, that kind of resolve is nothing to wink at. And frankly, far as I’m concerned, Sonmi isn’t a clone—not since she slices those Papa Song strands of color out of her hair. She’s not quite a goddess and yet more than a person. She’s a heroine.
40. Sally Bowles – from Cabaret, portrayed by Liza Minnelli
“I suppose you’re wondering what I’m doing working in a place like the Kit Kat Klub…That’s me, darling: unusual places, unusual love affairs. I am a most strange and extraordinary person.”
I was introduced to Sally and Cabaret in my favorite college English class, 20th/21st Century Literature, in a unit about “excess” and “performance as a mask.” Spectacle as distraction, artistic beauty in realistic ugliness, that type of thing. This musical drama/satire juxtaposes the high-flying livelihood of a cabaret club, its performers and patrons with the somber climate of WWII in 1931 Berlin, the whole show presented by the playful and ominous emcee who encourages you “leave your troubles outside.” Enter Sally Bowles, the archetype of an actress acting all the time, gifting a grand performance to the world to hide from it the lonely daughter of a neglectful ambassador who will likely spend the totality of her days scraping by in a hole-in-the-wall German nightclub with Nazis and warmongers running rampant just outside the door. Liza Minnelli is mesmerizing in her Oscar-winning role, just terrific, darling. Of course I’d relate to someone in the arts, especially someone who is talented but no real star but wants to be, someone charmingly obnoxious, someone who dives so deep into her dreams, she can’t bear the probable reality of their not coming true—see what I mean? Separate from our shared tendency to dance with delusions, Sally also flirts harder with the follies of fame and true love with Brian Roberts, because for a free spirit like hers that can’t, at its core, settle, these goals of the everyday person are just that: folly. Sally herself? She’s young, exuberant and garrulous, forward, self-involved, self-inflating, sexy and starry-eyed (her eyelashes especially merit a mention of this phrase), fascinating in that she tries so hard to be fascinating, from her wild anecdotes to her cutesy yet vampiric makeup and ’do (yes, I do feel “vampiric” is a more than apt description since, as she casually mentions to Brian, her lifestyle is surely going to run her into the ground sooner rather than later). A vibrant singer and sultry dancer, she engages in all of the theatre actor stereotypes: booze, sex, chain-smoking, lying—all for the chance to advance her career and become a bonafide actress. It’s just so…recognizable (I mean, I didn’t do any of this to get ahead in drama club in high school or junior college, but I’ve experienced enough of the environment to recognize her wants, actions and reactions. Actually, isn’t Sally Bowles more or less the character who created the female version of this archetype?). And sad. Settled and sad. Think about it. There’s a reason the two theatrical masks are depicted as a smile and a grimace…In short, I feel for this character, I feel like this character, I want to shake this character, I want to be friends with her, I don’t want to be friends with her—and I love when a character elicits all these different reactions within me. Sally and her story are a true study in, as she puts it early on, “divine decadence.”
39. Honey Daniels – from Honey, portrayed by Jessica Alba
“You know what I see living in this neighborhood? I see kids go from bad homes to bad schools and back again. And I’ve seen you unlock a door to a place where those kids can feel safe. Now maybe I’m dumb because I haven’t been to Paris or Milan or wherever, but to me…it doesn’t get much better than that.”
I think it’s safe to say many people critique Jessica Alba for her acting. I, for one, enjoy the natural warmth she always brings to her roles and admire her for proving to the world, with her billion-dollar business empire and happy family life, that there’s much more to her than a gorgeous face and figure. And so it is with Honey of the eponymous dance drama, a 22-year-old savvy street dancer and choreographer whose ultimate goal is to hit it big in New York. Not the most original premise, but it definitely has its charms, starting with the nostalgic early 2000s music and aesthetic (am I right, Millennials?) and persisting with a kind, charismatic female lead helming the picture. Humble and hungry, this sunny stunner tends bar and works in a records store, breaking to dance with her best friend, Gina, every chance she can. On the side she auditions for music videos and teaches hip-hop classes to exercise her creativity and desire to help others. The talented Latina’s love for the art of dance is evident in the way she moves and improvises, with confidence, conviction and flow, as well as in her joyous range of expressions. By chance (of course given it’s only a 93-minute movie, lol) her skills attract the attention of a video director while her general allure leads strapping barber Chaz to ask her out. All is well and good until the director, Michael, makes an inappropriate pass at her and she refuses him, leading to his dismantling her project to include the neighborhood kids in a music video. This, however, doesn’t deter Honey, and like a true star she rises to the occasion for the sake of her community, putting on a benefit show to raise money to erect a studio for her students. She’s a part of this list because she’s an artist, she’s fun and even though she should’ve reported that fool to somebody (#MeToo), she’s got integrity. In other words she’s a simple role model in a simple movie and sometimes I like simplicity. I’m caught up in doom and gloom and the overwhelming complexities of the human mind for so many of my waking moments that it’s nice to be able to appreciate a character like Honey who’s simply oh-so-sweet.
38. Julia McNamara – from Nip/Tuck, portrayed by Joely Richardson
“I don’t need you to tell me who I am anymore.”
When Nip/Tuck was airing, I suspect plenty of viewers were irritated with Julia’s fluster and indecision in life and over the two loves of her life, Sean and Christian, and which she is truly in love with and when, but Joely Richardson’s captivating portrayal as a wife, mother and former pre-med student stuck in the doldrums of the life and marriage she thought she wanted was never boring to me. Driven by commitments to her family and later herself, Julia perseveres through many situations I feel would fell a lot of others, developing more emotional and financial independence over time. Unlike with many females in more contrived love triangles, I agree Julia is a desirable woman: learned, kind-hearted, responsible, coyly beguiling, a statuesque and natural beauty who seeks and values true intimacy. On the other hand she can also be hypocritical, impatient and rash. Like the rest of the show’s cast, she is an altogether well-meaning parent but nowhere near the perfect role model. I recognize a sad sense of desperation about her that often swells into an emotional explosion. She’s been the victim, played the victim and though rarely the victimizer, even turns out to be a killer of sorts. Boring, my ass! A lot of her arc consists of learning to stand up for herself, to rediscover the value in herself as a person and not just as Sean’s wife or Christian’s lover or Olivia’s girlfriend or her children’s mother or Erica Noughton’s daughter. Ooh, I never love Julia more than when she serving ice-cold reality to her psychoanalyzing, condescending bitch of a mother, ironically portrayed by Joely Richardson’s real-life mom, Vanessa Redgrave (whom I presume is not a condescending bitch in reality). I admire Julia for doing the hard work that’s required to change, including facing down and examining your choices, excuses and mistakes, your triumphs and misfortunes, what you settled for then and what you refuse to settle for now and who is or isn’t willing to make change with you. Throughout its 6-season run, she doesn’t remain one of the most prominent characters on Nip/Tuck, but the journey she takes is a very full and real depiction of a woman in her 40s coming into herself and I appreciate the elegant messiness of it all.
37. Carrietta “Carrie” White – from Carrie, portrayed by Sissy Spacek
“Please see that I’m not like you, Mama. I’m funny. I mean, all the kids think I’m funny—I don’t want to be, I want to be normal. I want to start to try and be a whole person before it’s too late…”
A quote so pitiable could only belong to the namesake and subject of Stephen King’s first-ever published novel. Carrie, portrayed first in 1976 in the most heart-breakingly beautiful manner by Sissy Spacek, whose interpretation garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, is an awkward, skinny teenage girl with stringy hair and eyes like a Margaret Keane waif, a social pariah completely cowed by her domineeringly devout, emotionally neglectful and abusive mother. Carrie’s upbringing plays into her naïve and child-like nature, demonstrated most famously in the scene in which she mistakes her first period for a fatal hemorrhage. On the other hand, she is quickly thrust into a position of power once she realizes her physical maturation has unlocked more than an intrinsic sense of womanhood: a superpower known as telekinesis. Carrie’s discovery forms the basis of her attempt to be more assertive at home, notably by accepting an invitation to the senior prom from a popular boy named Tommy (who asked her at the behest of his girlfriend, Sue). What comes after…you probably know by virtue of popular culture. What I know and understand about this story more than anything is Carrie’s determination to be “normal” or at least more in control of her own life. This journey makes her an antiheroine at best and a tragic villain at worst. I champion for the former classification, because for all the abuse she suffers, she is a good person—kind at heart, patient, appreciative… and more susceptible to peer pressure than most. She’s so desperate to do what it takes to be “one of them,” to complete the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation, that her longing is unfortunately what brings her closer, step by step, to a bucket of blood above her head. Please don’t mistake me: what starts the catastrophic climax at the senior class prom is not her fault. How it ends is. Inciting in me the strange mix of fear and bloodlust that only a good revenge fantasy film can ensure, Carrie proves to be both a victim and a perpetrator, betrayed by her own breaking point and later by the only person she ever loved. Ugh. And even in its barest form, it’s a sad tale. Every girl deserves a good prom experience. Carrie’s lasts for twenty minutes of screen time during which she experiences her first dance, first kiss and the first time a respectable guy tells her she’s beautiful. You know horror is rarely without some hope. But of course, the rest of her life is a limping tragedy and a baleful reminder to me that though I have undergone some bullying and lived much of an outcast’s life in college, it could have been much, much, much worse. Ultimately there are two morals of Carrie: count your blessings and be nice. Go one cruelty too far and the piercing, manic eyes of vengeance may just be the last things you see. Sadly, this warning seems more pertinent now than ever before, so be careful out there, kids, and God bless you, all you Sue Snells and Tommy Rosses. …And may God bless you Carrie Whites too. God bless you too.
36. Special Agent Clarice Starling – from The Silence of the Lambs, portrayed by Jodie Foster
“You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you—why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.”
One of the bravest, cleverest and most dedicated officers to grace the silver screen comes in the form of Special Agent (in training) Clarice Starling, played with such strength and finesse by the consummate Jodie Foster, who won a Best Actress Oscar for what is perhaps her most famous role. For as green as she is in the field, Clarice is considered by many to be one of the great thriller heroines for her razor focus, keen mind and will to be open and honest—with both herself and serial killer Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, no less. Tenacious, earnest and astute, she, like my #1, neither sacrifices nor overly flaunts her femininity to get ahead in the game; she’s not afraid to get physical and sweaty and authoritative but is still the type to wear nail polish and make note of her male counterparts’ ogling without letting it faze her. And frankly it’s nice to see a pretty woman as the protagonist of a film where the story has nothing to do with her love life. Clarice is a career woman—the personality type I relate more to than a family woman—wholly devoted to becoming an FBI agent her father would be proud of and, later, to matching wits with Lecter to crack the Buffalo Bill case, and match wits she does. The woman is no fool and does not suffer them, which is not to say she isn’t also a pleasant person. I also love that her vulnerability is often heralded by audiences and critics as a positive attribute; I’ve been told by others that I share the same strength in my writing, when I was acting in school theatre and in my regular life. Members of my voice class said my honesty made me likable and named it an asset, and to do so, I feel, is the truth. Lecter would have said nary a word if Clarice hadn’t chosen to be so forthcoming and daring enough to forge an intimacy with him, and we would have no award-winning movie, lol. But in all seriousness it’s that sincerity I admire the most about Clarice. I don’t think you can truly be great at what you do without it.
35. Erin – from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), portrayed by Jessica Biel
“What’s wrong with you fucking people?”
I know, I know. Putting a character from a Platinum Dunes horror remake above #36 should be counted as blasphemy. Nevertheless Erin is one of the first leads I felt a genuine connection to upon delving into the vast and colorful horror community at the ripe old age of 12. This feminine tomboy—a juvenile detention parolee with loose hair, a bare midriff, a tattoo and mean lock-picking skills—is traveling across Texas to attend a concert with friends and her longtime boyfriend when the group happens upon a near-catatonic girl lumbering along a stark country road. The rest is cinematic history. To be honest I enjoy the 2003 remake and 1974 original equally. Erin, thankfully, is written better than Sally Hardesty. She’s on my list for the compassion, altruism and clear-headedness she demonstrates in an unimaginable emergency. It’s true she’s also the gorgeous, gutsy, respectful and virginal final girl, but I relate to those archetypes more than any others in the horror genre and love seeing these kittens turn into lionesses. Erin has plenty of great moments, from displaying a sense of decency often absent in modern horror to devising an inventive trap in the slaughterhouse, the result of which gives her quite the upper hand against Leatherface (lol for the people who know what I’m talking about). She goes from face down in the dirt, snotting and weeping, to running and dodging and kicking and chopping and hotwiring—just the badass we’d all hope to be under horror-movie circumstances. Erin is also Jessica Biel’s best performance until The Sinner. She comes across very likable, so when people sacrifice themselves for her in this movie, you really feel like she’s worth it and comes to make it count, even answering back for the Hewitt family’s previous victims. As I mentioned, this was one of my first forays into the slasher subgenre and Erin has always been a protagonist who stood out to me. Perhaps its childhood loyalty, perhaps it’s something else. That chainsaw blade may be steel, but Erin’s mettle is made of metal.
34. General Okoye – from Black Panther, portrayed by Danai Gurira
“For Wakanda? Without question.”
This Marvel marvel made such a lasting impression (and impact) on me back in the movie theater in February that I removed Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl of The Incredibles, from this list to make room for her. Now just who is awesome enough to make me dispense with such a great wife, mother and heroine? The loyal and dignified General Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, a contingent of African Amazonian guards to the royals of Wakanda, similar to the president’s Secret Service. Already I find her to be one of the sharpest and coolest women portrayed in the superhero medium—hell, in the cinematic action genre. She is a masterful fighter and soldier, wielding her Vibranium spear as smartly and poetically as Shakespeare wielded a quill. Though classy and utilitarian, she also possesses a sense of humor, which she uses mainly to tease her king. With Okoye I am floored not only by her skills and unexpected wit but also the focus and honor with which she operates, especially in the moment she chooses her duty over her love, W’Kabi. As a big fan of Zimbabwean-American actress Danai Gurira, I must say it appears she infused Okoye with much of her own integrity, wisely and effectively playing her with a wink (literally, in one scene). Okoye is the epitome of female force and African beauty, and she makes me want to celebrate my own, making her an extraordinarily special and worthy addition to this list of inspirational fictional women.
33. Anne “Annie” Wilkes – from Misery, portrayed by Kathy Bates
“I’m your number fan. There’s nothing to worry about. You’re going to be just fine. I’ll take good care of you. I’m your number one fan…”
Ah, Misery. My favorite book from my favorite author. The story that makes all of us aspiring writers think twice about choosing this career, lol. Acclaimed actress Kathy Bates portrays King’s infamous Annie Wilkes, a strong, hefty former nurse living alone in a mountain cottage in what I presume to be the state of Maine. The character she presents is that of an earnest, pious Christian whose words never darken beyond “cockadoodie” and “dirty birdie,” a woman with a warm face who comes across very nurturing…when she wants to be. Switches go on, switches go off, those green eyes calcify and Bates earns her Best Actress Oscar with each passing minute as Annie goes from giddy, breathy admiration to uncontainable rage to conveying the cold hard truth about her control over author Paul Sheldon as icily as the winter wind blows outside the isolated farmhouse. The townsfolk know she’s temperamental, but she largely goes unnoticed, as many women over the age of 40 do. If only they knew how volatile she is, how unbalanced, how wily yet gullible, how depressed and lonely and in love. Annie is like several different people who all, in their own ways, range from sad to unnerving to terrifying. She’s almost like a living Rubik’s cube with different colors and mismatched patterns on each side. Well, what is there to say? Misery loves company, after all. Though I have no real armchair diagnosis for her, the fact remains that this is another strong depiction of a mentally ill character, one who is more dangerous than sad and thus harder to sympathize with than many others, so the fact that I ultimately DO warrants all my love and praise to my favorite author, Stephen King, and one of my favorite actresses, Kathy Bates, and earns Annie a well-deserved spot on this list.
32. Jamie Lloyd-Carruthers – from the Halloween series, portrayed by Danielle Harris & J.C. Brandy
Jamie, canon to me and anyone else who ties the Thorn trilogy or, God help you, every film in the Halloween series into a contiguous timeline, is my favorite horror movie heroine. For as young as she is, she’s a full, complex, tragic character and, as I’ve implied many times, I’m drawn to sad little girl characters. It’s a familiar mirror… Anyway, when we’re introduced to little Jamie, she’s worried her foster family doesn’t love like she’s theirs and misses her parents, who have purportedly died in a car accident (we find out in Halloween: H20 Laurie Strode faked her death, so I assumed this is the way she faked it. The father of her child, Jamie Lloyd, was Jimmy Lloyd, the paramedic she built a rapport with while at the hospital. He likely died in actuality, giving Laurie an out to figuratively follow suit and put her daughter up for adoption. Haunted by the knowledge that Michael kills his family, I supposed that Laurie figured only she would know Jamie had a biological link to Michael and would therefore be safe with a foster family. She then took up the alias Keri Tate, moved to California and bore a son when she thought it was “safe” to do so. There, easy-as-pie continuity. Gotta love headcanon!). She’s bullied at school for having a mass murderer for an uncle. (I also believe Halloween 4 makes some allusions to Jamie having an extrasensory sense as well, since she is confronted with images of Michael before she ever meets him in the flesh. However, it isn’t until Halloween 5 that her psychic abilities fully manifest.) Then enters the relentless maniac, her long-lost uncle, Michael Myers, who chases her to the point where she eventually collapses into tears out of fear and it’s like, “Holy shit, I feel for this baby girl so much!” I don’t care that she’s not real. Danielle Harris’s performance sure is. Watching her in this role year after year during those Halloween marathons on AMC is where I became a fan of hers and it’s not hard to see why. This Scream Queen’s reign began here, as she fostered that precocious-yet-sweet-kid quality as a child actress. I both wanted to hug her to me for 87 minutes and then run screaming from her in the 88th. Now that takes talent, people.
In Jamie’s second appearance, which takes place the following Halloween, she’s been rendered mute, seizing in fear and terror, experiencing premonitions about Michael in the form of dreams, having become psychically linked to her uncle after touching his hand in the previous installment. Again, Danielle Harris does a fantastic job conveying all the pain, horror and dread (let’s get it straight now: J.C. Brandy is good, but she ain’t no Danielle Harris). On the brighter side, even though Jamie never has a lot to smile about, I notice she still finds joy in simple things like ice cream and princess dresses and hugs and kisses and, eventually, holding her child. Yeah. You know these long-running horror series get weird…But, to focus on the good again for a moment, I love how Jamie is still cared for despite the ill her existence brings to Haddonfield and her foster family. I love Rachel and Tina and how motherly they are to her and love that Billy from the clinic has a crush on her. She even kisses him to thank him for his good-luck charm—so cute! It’s comforting that she gets these moments because God knows characters like her deserve them. And while my fangirl heart can barely take the circumstances that call for it, I love how courageous Jamie forces herself to be when it comes to (potentially) taking down Michael. When Michael’s chasing down Tina with the car, Jamie screams, “Here. HERE!” to direct his attention to her instead. She agrees to be Loomis’s bait in the Myers’ house (well, the first time around she does). She dares to talk to Michael and tries to touch him, to wipe his face even. She is the sweetest character! By the end of the film, for all her goodness and ingenuity—the girl hides in a laundry chute for heaven’s sake—we have our last look at young Jamie, the final shreds of her innocence torn and bleeding, hear her haunting, “No. Nooo,” and then I die of feels because what I want for this character is the exact opposite of what happens to my little horror heroine. *sigh*
I’ve heard it told before that some people, with the way they live their lives, are put on Earth solely to teach others a lesson. They may live short, horrible, pain-filled lives, but it’s all supposedly worth it for the little good that is wrung from their miserable existences. I believe that’s the case here. Jamie is a charming little girl who battles internal and external demons for half her life, all the while maturing into a brave, loving adolescent who is able to both think and function through the mind-numbing terror, which is more than I can say as a 26-year-old woman who’s currently popping Ativan on the regular just to get through the work day. That primal nerve is what I need to tap into and I’m grateful to Jamie—and Danielle Harris—for what her existence has taught the scared little girl inside me. I only wish she could have been part of a kinder series, because at the end of the day, at the core of this slasher movie character—a character who’s in a story predicated on a guy murdering his own family members—is the desire for family, and all irony and sadness aside, I find that very effective and affecting as a long-time fan of the horror genre.
31. Amanda Young – from the Saw series, portrayed by Shawnee Smith
“Then help me! Fix me! Fix me, motherfucker!”
Amanda is the broken badass of the Saw universe. Such a pained character, she’s hard-core without being stone-cold, and I think all she knows is fucking: getting fucked up, getting fucked over, fucking someone else, fucking someone else over. Her drug addiction makes her a desperate personality, a woman on the edge. Jigsaw’s test is what puts her over but not how you’d first guess. When John Kramer came to her, he came as a man impressed with the young woman, came as a man who believed in her, a wise man, a father figure, as she cited in Saw II. And so she vows to do his bidding… But Amanda is emotionally unstable—my guess would be that she suffers from either major depression or bipolar disorder amid whatever traumas or circumstances convinced her to start taking drugs—and cannot easily disassociate herself with the razor-blade pain of a life gone awry jabbing away at her every moment, with each new test. She remains a cutter even under Jigsaw’s tutelage (which is an act and mentality I very much relate to. You just want, so badly, to feel something other than the hellstorm inside, so you harm yourself physically to distract yourself emotionally. The slicing hurts less than everything going on internally) as well as depressed, rageful and rueful, sometimes all in the same scene. Shawnee Smith deftly portrays the whirlwind of emotions that lead to self-harm and self-hate: the anger, sadness, grief and envy. I was 15 years old and had depression and the death of my grandfather—the only male relative who ever truly loved me—hanging about my shoulders at the time Saw III came out, and I totally identified with Amanda without becoming Amanda. The difference between us is I had and have no desire to hurt others. Amanda grows twisted and turns Jigsaw’s tests into torture devices set to kill. She disappoints her mentor, which disappoints her. I’m actually touched by their bond; I love student-mentor relationships, especially when they feel familial. John Kramer cares for Amanda deeply, of that I have no doubt—she and Jill are the last two people he thinks of before his death—and to see her disbelieve herself worthy of a life and identity beyond that of a murderer is sad. Furthermore, her devotion to her mentor is also what undoes her, as she apparently doesn’t think he, despite his teachings, can forgive her for what she has done. That’s even sadder. She never has a real chance because she never gives herself a chance, always looking externally for fixers—men, drugs, violence. That’s the tragedy of her character. But I do love Amanda and have all the sympathy in the world for her despite the fact that she also scares me. That’s thanks to good writing, good characterization and Shawnee Smith’s committed performance. Plus, you know. I think sad people recognize other sad people. What else is empathy if not recognition and reflection?
30. Rosalind “Roz” Russell – from Night Court, portrayed by Marsha Warfield
“Look, Christine, I like you. That’s why you got a warning shot.”
Probably the wisest woman on this list, Roz is a tall, rotund African-American bailiff armed always with a quip and a half-lidded expression of mild interest regarding the wacky goings-on of Manhattan Criminal Court Part II. Most of the time she’s a gruff personality— temperamental, tactless, impatient. She is also super funny and funny in different ways, from when she’s huffing and puffing mad to subtle and sarcastic to loony on the couple occasions she doesn’t have control of her own faculties. She has plenty of personality beyond the banal meanness, expressing much of it through the array of colorful socks and stylish earrings she sports episode to episode. Over time, as the rest of the courtroom crew gets used to her threats and jibes, Roz becomes a good friend of Harry’s and gets even closer to Christine and surprisingly Dan but comes across as more of a big sister figure to fellow bailiff and constant companion, Bull. Roz is a big softie at heart, viewing herself as shy and a person who just doesn’t enjoy feeling vulnerable, though she opens up a lot in the 6 seasons for which she’s present. Like a good officer of the court, she really cares about other people, despite being mean to the general public 23/7 (that’s a reference to a season 7 episode, by the way). She’s as strong as ten men, neither overly sexual nor sexless, wise-cracking and observant, both a firearm enthusiast and a talented ballroom dancer. In fact, during the same episode in which we find that out, we also discover the reason she, like Christine, refuses to sleep with Dan: “Because I’m more than you can handle.” He agrees. Surprised? Please don’t be. She’s not the stereotype some of these adjectives may suggest.
29. Fa Mulan – from Mulan (1998), voiced by Ming-Na Wen
“With all due respect, Your Excellency, I think I’ve been away from home long enough.”
A kind, bright young lady with more depth and less interest in courting and primping than most of the other girls in her modest Chinese village, Mulan is requested by her father, mother and grandmother to immerse herself in the tradition of her culture to prepare for marriage. Mulan, on the other hand, would rather honor her family with her mind and heart rather than her physical attributes. Nonetheless her reputation as an outspoken maiden destined for dishonor proves incidental when she begins her quest to reconcile who she is with whom her family asks she be. After her ailing father is called upon to serve in the imperial army to protect China from the ruthless Huns, Mulan, unbound by the expectations of her gender and moved by love for the family she feels she has disgraced, takes it upon herself to abscond with his summons, disguise herself as a man and serve in his place—an act for which the penalty is death. She doesn’t want to fight but does so to protect her family, friends and people and starts out as a fumbling fighter who has to train her way up, making her performances in battle and the respect she earns even more impressive. She is proof to all that modernity and tradition can work together in harmony—quite literally, given she is a 20th-century take on a Chinese legend known as “Hua Mulan.” And look what happened. Over time this myth manifested into a brave and beautiful Disney princess whose tale pervades throughout the world, elevating the character to the level of feminist icon. And for what it’s worth I take issue with the assertion that she had to “become a man” to get the job done. She’s not powerful because she fought as a man; her disguise didn’t give her magic she didn’t have before. Mulan’s power lies within the fact that she always fought as herself. There’s a difference between Batman and Bruce Wayne but no real one between Ping and Mulan. As a thin, young girl, she had to work twice as hard and be twice as tough as the men around her, and the determination, fortitude, resourcefulness and empathy that she embodies—traits that are intrinsic to the majority of women in the world—carry her through battle. That she succeeded not in spite of her womanhood but because she is a woman is the message of adaptation and empowerment women all over tap into, and I have always loved her for it. I always felt so strong as a little girl when watching Mulan, and I’m very excited for the live-action adaptation due for release in 2019. This is definitely a story worth telling and retelling and retelling, as the Chinese have known for centuries.
28. Vanessa Diaz – from Six Feet Under, portrayed by Justina Machado
“Don’t worry about me.”
The addition of Vanessa to this list may surprise some seeing as how she’s one of the more ancillary characters on the critically acclaimed HBO dramedy about life and death, Six Feet Under, but ever since the first time I binged the show, this character has made and continues to make an indelible impression on me. For that I credit the impeccable writing—not one character is wasted in those 5 sensational seasons—and Justina Machado’s lovely and heartfelt performance. Vanessa starts the series as the stressed but supportive wife of restorative artist and undertaker Federico Diaz, juggling the duties of nursing with motherhood. It’s not long until she adopts her own arc, one demanding perseverance as she struggles with every side of grief, betrayal and depression (the apathy and numbness, the hurting and aching, the irritability and understanding) before walking her way toward forgiveness by the end of the series. Overall, Vanessa offers a warm, caring presence to her family as well as to the bereaved on the rare occasion she attends one of the funerals her husband officiates. I enjoy her as a realistic and positive portrayal of a Latina wife and mother with a career, especially when she calls Rico out on any “machismo bullshit,” reminding him she works just as hard as he does. And while she is a nice, honest, practical and authoritarian person, she has a tendency to hold grudges and act out her anger on those she feels have wronged her. Frankly this is a quality that makes me love her more because it’s recognizable and relatable. (No, it’s not one of humanity’s better personality traits, but I’ll be damned if I’m not rooting for her when she’s out to kick ass and take names just as much as I am when she’s content and providing for her family.) The writers didn’t need to pad out this character; she’s presented authentically and, to me, always comes off as more than just “one of the supporting characters’ spouses.” Vanessa holds her own throughout the series with and without Rico—the mark of a strong, independent female character, a person I like and admire and a woman who deserves to be on my list.
27. “Heather Donahue” – from The Blair Witch Project, portrayed by Heather Donahue
“I just want to apologize…to Mike’s mom and Josh’s mom and my mom, and I’m sorry to everyone. I was very naïve. I am so, so sorry for everything that has happened because in spite of what Mike says now, it is my fault because it was my project, and I insisted. I insisted on everything. I insisted that we weren’t lost. I insisted that we keep going. I insisted that we walk south. Everything had to be my way and this is where we’ve ended up and it’s all because of me that we’re here now: hungry and cold and hunted… I love you, Mom… and Dad. I am so sorry… What is that? I’m scared to close my eyes, and I’m scared to open them… Oh, God. I’m going to die out here…”
I’m in the camp of horror fans who loves The Blair Witch Project. I watch it all the time and it manages to remain creepy to me, so much so that I have a hard time watching it at night, maybe because I live in a wooded area…not in Maryland, though, lol. Anyway, as most people know, the movie acts as a documentary on the filming of a documentary about an urban legend called The Blair Witch. Three student filmmakers hike into the Maryland woods to investigate the legend and never come out. What we’re left with a few years later is some crusty old footage depicting their deteriorating camaraderie, resources and hope as the forest—or is it the witch?—wears them down. Simple, scary, raw.
In my research to make sure I have all the background information correct, I hear tell Heather Donahue’s acting received backlash from people who either weren’t paying attention or had the wrong focus. Her performance is purposely pretentious and fantastic at that. An additional stray point I came across during the research is one I appreciate as a feminist fan: that Mike and Josh don’t blame Heather’s gender for their plight. They blame her, a fallible human being, for her mistakes in judgment. Blame the fact that she’s too confident to consider she hadn’t properly prepared the route. Blame her for being proud to ask Josh for help reading the map. Blame her for refusing to admit she’d lost control. For these reasons, including her pretentiousness as a student director and general bullheadedness, defensiveness (passing the buck about the map, arguing about hurrying a crying Josh along) and overall lack of foresight or concern for the group’s collective safety until it’s too late, I consider Heather to be more of an antiheroine than the majority of the other women on this list. While she’s no conniving villain, she’s not one to play nice either, criticizing a nervous Mike one night for not leaving the tent. Even so she’s not strictly a jerk—she has a sense of humor and tries to comfort Mike later in the movie, but throughout she certainly has an agenda and, for a while, lets nothing—not discomfort or trepidation or the safety of her crew or herself—get in the way of her goal to make the best student documentary ever.
I think I’m willing to empathize with and defend Heather more than most because, admittedly, I used to be like her when I was in high school, to a less aggressive extent. I’d be pretentious about my art too, while writing papers, aware that everyone knew I wanted to be a writer. I was desperate to have control over how the general populous viewed me so of course I wanted them to see me as a talented genius (and I hated myself for not being the prodigy I’d always wanted to be). My problem was a lack of confidence whereas Heather’s is overconfidence, a forceful kind of naiveté. I do see that similar desperation in her to prove herself, maybe even just to herself, and it’s that ambition that proves to be the group’s downfall. That apology, though…what a great piece of cinema. And people pick on Heather Donahue’s acting in this movie? Bitch, please. I’m glad she apologizes. Not only because it’s one of the best scenes in the film but because it was necessary. This character walks herself and two others into darkness and she needs to acknowledge it and atone for it the best she can to derive from audiences enough sympathy to care about her fate, and for me she does. I already like Heather for the most part and find her character interesting, but her monologue on Night 8 also makes me feel for her in a way the previous scenes have not. She finally faces reality and the reality is she—fucked—up. (It’s a feminist statement, I believe, to tell stories of women screwing up same as men; we’re no better and no worse than they are.) I don’t admire or like everything she does, but I get her and feel for her so much by the end of this 80-minute chronicle of tree-bound terror.
26. Tiana – from The Princess and the Frog, voiced by Anika Noni Rose
“My dream wouldn’t be complete…without you in it.”
The Princess and the Frog is my favorite Disney film. It’s terrifically written and drawn, handles class and race delicately and is one of the first animated films to give us a heroine whose first concern is not marrying or finding a man to fall in love with/take her away into the wild blue yonder. From hyperactive Charlotte to downtrodden Lawrence to alligator Louis to free-wheeling Naveen, every character has his or her own story. The jazz-inspired tracks are fervent and divine, speaking directly to my old band soul, and best of all the lesson that goals are good to have but better when shared with loved ones is one I know I need to be reminded of. Tiana is an optimistic, hard-working waitress with two jobs, a tenacious, sentimental, giving young woman whom most find to be a little too mature for her age. With a speaking and singing voice as richly and roundly beautiful as she is, she turns out to be more flexible than she first thought and not just because she’s turned into a frog. Eventually she’s tempted by the frighteningly charismatic Dr. Facilier, who offers her her human body as well as the restaurant of her dreams, but Tiana realizes romantic love can be just as important as familial love and self-love, learns that you don’t have to fear it or avoid it—you can have them all—and resists the corruption. I relate to Tiana so much, and not just because she’s the first African-American Disney princess (which is part of the reason, and I was SO HYPED for this movie back in 2009 because representation matters! Seeing a likable, enterprising young black woman with dark skin and kinks in her hair in whom all little black and mixed girls could see themselves was and still is very important) but also because she had a childhood dream she wanted to make come true. For me it’s writing that brings all peoples together; for her it’s cooking and erecting a restaurant that will bring all peoples together. Not so different, eh? I also related to and appreciated the fact that she has no real concerns about being in a relationship until she’s already in a friendship with Naveen, until they’re partners who learn how to work well together for a common goal. That’s realistic and I’m dying for more realism in kids’ movies. I’m not saying a fantasy isn’t nice, but teaching children that hard work, cooperation and compromise are required to achieve your goals is even better. This film combines the right amount of fantasy with actuality and combines in Tiana the right amount of realism with heart.
25. Andrea Harrison – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Laurie Holden
I don’t care that I’m 1 of 3 people I know who likes this character. I honestly have always liked her, all the way to season 3, my personal favorite season. I know—your head’s exploding with disbelief right now, isn’t it? Bear with me. Walk with me through my reasoning. Andrea is a slick, busy, city girl, a lawyer before the apocalypse—headstrong, practical, sexy, assertive yet sensitive and willful…to a detriment. She has a need to prove herself that belies her independent nature, one among many things about her I relate to. I also admire her physical prowess, in that she’s a great hand-to-hand fighter and crackshot with a gun, admire her articulation and ever-lasting bond with Michonne and especially love the way she verbally bitchslapped Lori’s antifeminist assertion that the men don’t need her help (like sit down, chick, for real). Furthermore, I just…think I understand Andrea more than a lot of people do. As someone who has contemplated suicide numerous times, I certainly recognize her conflict about whether to go on. I understand this is why she’s willing to choose Woodbury over life on the road with the then-nomadic Michonne or the stark, walker-infested prison. She thrives around people and ideas, craves structure and society and tangible hope—a life—and can’t bring herself to accept what the world is or who the Governor is, as another of her downfalls is a poor taste in men. However, she possesses natural leadership skills and takes it upon herself to try to broker peace between the megalomaniac and an emotionally spiraling Rick…to no avail. What is memorable and respectable about that to me is that she tries. For all her stupid mistakes and bad decisions, she tries, because what is the point of anything at all if not that? I admire her heart. Though her vulnerability—the kind that both whispers and shouts “I’m trying really hard to be strong”—annoys most others, it’s endearing to me. Her arc from suicidal to spending her life trying to help others is the same journey I desire for myself, and it’s for this reason, that among all her flaws and the tragedies that befall her, I find her inspirational.
24. Martha Jones – from Doctor Who, portrayed by Freema Agyeman
“I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best, but you know what? I am good.”
Yes, you are, Martha. You so are. You’re many things. For instance, Martha is the first companion to come after the Doctor’s infamous love, Rose Tyler, as well as the first companion of color in the series (I was so pumped! In fact Freema Agyeman’s inclusion is the main reason I started watching Doctor Who in the first place because as a 16-year-old girl iffy about the international sci-fi drama, I wanted to see if I identified with anyone, especially a fellow woman of color. And I did, far beyond that. But representation matters so much, people. It really does). She is a doctor who became one of the Doctor’s most reliable allies. She is also a warm, caring, cheeky and radiant young woman, resilient in times of crisis and excellent under pressure, true to the nature of a physician. Martha is a doer more than a thinker, which, as the exact opposite type of person, I respect. She walks across the world to proclaim hope in the name of the Doctor, stands up in a world ruled by the Master as the human symbol of hope and perseverance. She even goes on to become an invaluable asset to UNIT and Torchwood. And despite her prettiness and desirability, she is in love with someone who is not in love with her, yet she has the strength to walk away so she can have a future, pursue her vocation, pursue someone available. I have always been impressed with that and with her, specifically her maturity and independence. True, she’s forced into the mold of a soldier, so I’m not sure how Twelve would feel about her, but Ten? Well, when he wasn’t distracted by mournful thoughts of Rose, he admired and counted on her and rightfully so. Martha’s arc isn’t from that of a girl to a woman though that always is a fine arc; hers is from hoping to acceptance—of her family and where they stand, of the Doctor and where he stands and of herself and what she’s capable of which, in my opinion, is absolutely anything.
23. Lana Winters – from American Horror Story: Asylum, portrayed by Sarah Paulson
“I am tough…but I’m no cookie.”
The larger narrative of American Horror Story: Asylum is set in 1964 and features a voraciously determined investigative journalist named Lana Winters as its main protagonist. Although a thirty-something with a classic face, Lana is anything but a classical woman. Like many she is charismatic but also outspoken, unapologetic and unforgiving, and for all her merits, she doesn’t always know what’s best. One might say it’s due to her nonconformity and superior drive to obtain a story that will help her excel in her field that winds up costing her her freedom. The tyrannical Sister Jude, who oversees a sanitarium for the criminally insane known as Briarcliff Manor, would, seeing how she’s the one who pulls some strings to have the prying reporter committed. Trapped with few options and fewer friends, Lana must rely on her brilliant mind and an alternately considerate and cold heart to face down demons, both figurative and literal. Despite undergoing aversion/conversion therapy, she holds on to a quiet acceptance of her sexuality, born from the core of her being that won’t apologize for loving a woman, and does not view being a lesbian as an illness or a choice because she knows it’s neither, not that anyone at Briarcliff takes her truth into consideration. Oh, no. It’s never that easy for Lana, and her response to that quickly becomes “Then so be it.” Torture, murder, rape, threat, the breath of death—none of these is unfamiliar to Lana by the time Bloody Face is revealed and the season is done. But everything in and about this writer is a survivor. These are two identities—or at least one—I know and understand well from an experiential and rudimentary level, and I love her and the masterful Sarah Paulson for embodying them so thoroughly. I’ve always considered Lana one of the greatest characters in the pantheon of great characters in American Horror Story. I feel she is unmatched in emotional durability, power of will and even longevity, given she tends to appear in other seasons of the anthology series, one way or another. There’s a reason the other characters have heard of her, and this list is just a glimpse into why you’ve now heard of her too. Want the whole scoop? Step into the asylum. Trust me, if you’re a fan of horror stories that specialize in strong female leads, you’ll be sure to enjoy your stay.
22. Jules Thomas – from Sweet/Vicious, portrayed by Eliza Bennett
“This is the only way that I feel alive! This—this is the only way that we stop him from turning girls into me.”
Jules is one of two potent protagonists starring in this young-adult dramedy (don’t be fooled by the silly name, this 1-season wonder is way too good—and way too timely—to miss) centered around female friendships, college life, inner strife and a more vengeful approach to the campaign against abuse. While I also love Ophelia, who reminds me of my cousin, lol, I relate far more intimately to Jules, who is more emotionally conflicted and coping episode to episode, moment to moment, with the aftereffects of the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of a former friend. I don’t have her pixie-like appearance and never was I a sorority girl, but Jules’s depression and the destruction and slow rebuilding of her self-esteem and self-confidence is so familiar to me, it was actually painful getting through the series. It was also integral to the examination and consideration of my overall emotional health. Art helps, you know. Of course you know.
To be brief, I have never been raped and do not presume to understand such a heinous act or violation. At the same time, I have been mistreated by a couple of influential men in my life—my father and someone I called a “friend” while in college but who didn’t even come close to being a real one until years after we’d graduated. In the three years I hung out with him (we were both English majors and he was the only person I interacted with regularly; I was lonely and desperate for a male influence, as I was away from my hometown friends and not coping well with hating the college experience and the majority of my pretentious peers), he betrayed my trust on a daily basis by verbally beating me down, undermining my opinions and making sexual passes at me until I would berate him back, degrading my own character in an attempt to get back at him. But I couldn’t; everything just rolled off him like a little wooden wagon wheel tumbling downhill. He was solid. I was a mess. All I could do was ask myself why he was like this and why I let him treat me so poorly. Why didn’t I fight back harder or simply walk away? Why? It frightened me to be so weak, and it made me distrust and hate myself more than I already did as someone with chronic depression and anxiety. And let’s not even get into the emotional trauma my father inflicted…
Point is, I know what it’s like to have abusive experiences that render you feeling profoundly powerless. This is how Jules feels after her best friend’s boyfriend rapes her at a party. When he denies any wrongdoing and the campus counselor encourages her to brush it off, Jules decides to avenge herself and every other sexual assault survivor she can track down by swiftly beating the ever-loving SHIT out of users and abusers on campus. Having practiced a number of self-defense techniques after the rape, she teaches her newfound friend, Ophelia, all she knows and works with her to carry out vigilante justice for the duration of the season. It’s not that I think this is the right approach to dealing with offenders, but there’s a primal part of me that’s not going to say it’s entirely wrong either. Abusers should be punished. Make of that what you will. The legal and punitive systems, when it comes to dealing with rape cases, are a joke, and like with #44, I enjoyed watching every second of these women kick ass in the name of righteous anger. Of course extracurricular vigilantism isn’t all that Jules is about, though she’s darkly and delightfully cheeky when she is about it. She’s also in college on a scholarship, a loving and attentive friend on the days she doesn’t feel like she’s falling apart and still full of temerity even on the days she does. Takes the chance to trust both a man and herself again. What happened to her does not define her. What she did or didn’t do and what she does while she figures it out are not all she is. I admire Jules so much and feel moved to make it clear: I don’t just identify with her struggle—I identify with her amazing strength.
21. Matilda Wormwood – from Matilda, portrayed by Mara Wilson
“She shouldn’t be allowed to treat people like that. Somebody’s gotta teach her a lesson.”
Matilda, the sweet child savant with the red hair ribbon, is the 6 ½-year-old heroine of the classic Roald Dahl book, and also the heroine of my favorite childhood movie. I was around her age when the film adaptation came out and this girl was living my childhood fantasy fulfillment: to be adopted by a teacher, to be a genius, to feel cherished and to have a superpower (in this case, telekinesis). I related to her very much since I too had a parent who was as mean, ignorant, horrible and frightening as the Wormwoods and felt safe with my loving teachers and mom who looked and acted like Miss Honey. Matilda is precocious but not pretentious, highly practical with good comprehension skills and a sense of humor. She loves books so dearly, others look at her as weird and yet she still cultivates a circle of friends. She is self-sufficient, never complaining about her solitude, and unintimidated by ignorant, loud dunderheads. I love this character very much with a love that eclipses any envy for how her story ends; she has always been inspirational and comforting to me because she grew up in an abusive environment but managed to blossom, to hold on to a high self-esteem and unapologetic sense of self. Best of all her superpower felt deserved because she’s a wonderful, strong little girl who doesn’t sit on her savant qualities and yearns to keep learning. I admire that. In truth I don’t like being challenged. It’s scary, uncomfortable and I’m always focused on potential failure. Not Matilda. She’s the kind of character who makes you stronger just by your being in mere proximity to her story, lol. I also like that her telekinesis is only used to service the story and defend against Principal Trunchbull, who is as terrifying as her name implies, and not as a flashy gimmick. It bears repeating that I’m enamored with the lovely and loving bond Matilda forms with Miss Honey and consider it the heart of this warm youth film. I know I’m always praising my male teachers as good role models and they were, but that’s not to say I didn’t have strong female teachers and role models as well. Women have always been a force of love, understanding and empowerment in my life, starting and ending with my mother, Debbie. So when I say I used to fantasize about being adopted by a teacher, I mean I wanted to procure an adoptive father because I already had the perfect mother for me. In fact Jennifer and Matilda Honey remind me very much of a younger version of my mom and me. This fanciful reminder is probably the crux of Matilda’s staying power with me, though it doesn’t hurt that it’s just nice to see a little girl be so brave, confident thoughtful—simply the best kind of kid—despite the circumstances she’s born into. Even when you’re a dark person and you’re used to gloom, sometimes it’s nice to see the sun come out and shine on someone, to see good rewarded and to celebrate that, and I will always be celebrating Matilda.
20. Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman – from Wonder Woman (2017), portrayed by Gal Gadot
“I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed a darkness that lives within their light, and learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves—something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world…so I stay, I fight and I give…for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.”
For as much of a geek as I am, I’m not much of a comics fan and only pay moderate attention to the hype of superhero movies. Be that as it may, I have looked up to Wonder Woman since I was a little girl thanks to the revered 2001-2004 Justice League, which ran Saturday nights on Cartoon Network back in the day, oh yes, and I feel the cinematic Wonder Woman encapsulates everything I loved about Susan Eisenberg’s animated version and more. In Patty Jenkins’s 2017 film, Diana, Princess of the isolated island Themyscira, is raised with her Amazonian brethren to prepare for battle, should the God of War, Aries, arise again to carry out his goal of slaying both the Amazons and the mortals the warrior women are charged to protect. Upon meeting American spy and pilot, Steve Trevor, Diana discovers the world outside her homeland is fraught with the kind of strife she has anticipated and leaves with him to fight who she believes is responsible for all of humankind’s ills and evils. She comes to learn a harsh and necessary truth during her mission yet, true to her godly, empathetic and loving nature, gifts to the world her all of her strength and compassion.
No other film or film heroine inspired me last year the way Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman did. The actress successfully embodies the protectiveness, sensitivity, intensity and power of a woman, and did some of it while pregnant to boot (motherhood affords you an extra-special type of strength or so I’ve heard…and seen and know to be true, honestly, and Gal Gadot sure uses hers here). My first time through the movie I’m pretty sure I cried watching the way she both kicked major ass and spread a timely and pertinent message of love and consideration. It’s an empowering series of sequences to behold, especially for us young women and feminists but for everyone in between too, of course. Diana is naïve but well-read and multilingual, possessing an outer beauty that matches an inner beauty epitomized by honor and grace. To be frank she is a sweet badass with a soothing voice and a helpful, righteous spirit, and in spite of all her goodness, she is not without her missteps, one of which proves lethal. But we know her mistakes and naiveté are not the sum of her being nor of her worth, and I find that one of the most comforting aspects of the film. Diana/Wonder Woman symbolizes everything I want to be/do as an intersectional feminist writer: empower and help others, particularly other women; celebrate and expand the understanding and tolerance of others, particularly minorities; and revel in, without fear, resentment, persecution or guilt, the joys of being a woman. I get all that from this film, from this character—this feminist icon—and I love her and have love for all who have been involved with her evolution for giving me and so many girls such an heroine. I am so proud and excited when I watch Wonder Woman because it’s my favorite fantasy: to see a woman appreciated as an all-around astounding fighter. The best part about this fantasy is, as the world continues to turn and women continue to fight like warriors, fight like wonders in every way, the fantasy may one day just come true.
19. Shosanna Dreyfus – from Inglourious Basterds, portrayed by Mélanie Laurent
“Marcel—burn it down.”
Dexter Morgan is said to have been “born in blood.” Shosanna Dreyfus is born from fire—gunfire to be specific—baptized by the blood of loved ones. The female protagonist of my favorite Quentin Tarantino film spends much of the 2 ½ hours as both a chess piece and player in WWII, biding her time and maneuvering into position in order to carry out her goals. Though she is in hiding, Shosanna suffers no fools and is not easily distracted as she plots a fiery revenge against the heart of the Third Reich. Her youth and beauty belie a sly nature and errant boldness. A lot of her personality comes across in Mélanie Laurent’s brilliant micro-expressions. Cool, cunning, but not without nerves or heart, she is a survivor, a schemer and a symbol of the concept of righteous retribution—if there is such a thing. It’s not for me to say. But I will say that I, without a doubt, enjoy this film as a revenge fantasy and admire Shosanna for being the unexpected badass. The blaze no one could stop or see coming. “The Face of Jewish Vengeance.”
18. Bill Potts – from Doctor Who, portrayed by Pearl Mackie
“Hey, um…Oh, you know how I’m usually all about women and then, kinda, people my own age? …Glad you knew that.”
Bill is basically me. We’re the same age. We’re both a little nerdy (meaning you’re knowledgeable in an academic sense) and geeky (meaning you’re knowledgeable of and into pop culture). We both love Little Mix. We have similar physical aspects—brown skin tone, eyebrow definition, big, pretty smiles :D). We’re both on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum—she’s the L, I’m the A. We even have the same initials. She is definitely me, if I were English, gay and had better hair. And if I were a better person. This isn’t a knock against me, this is a praising of her. Bill is someone I admire for her optimism and resilience. Mentally, I consider her to be the strongest companion yet, the young woman who, for only being in a single series, comes across with the surest sense of self. The moments that best showcase her mental might include her maintaining the truth when the Monks invade Earth, her will to kill her best friend to save the world and the way she fights to stave off the completion of a Cyber-conversion. Wow, girl! But where there is triumph, there is trouble.
Sadly, I’ve read a lot of nasty things on the internet about Bill since her inception as the latest companion: “She’s only here to fulfill Doctor Who’s politically correct/liberal agenda”; “Couldn’t they get anyone prettier/hotter?”; “She’s annoying/bland/talks about being gay too much.” I was appalled and stung, of course, to see Pearl Mackie and the character I revered so much and, honestly, someone so similar to me, received like this. The intolerance of the Doctor Who fandom, unfortunately, is staggering and pretty damn pathetic if you think about it. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to watch it, and while you’re at it, please go right ahead and shut the fuck up. Let us people of color and the lesbian community enjoy our representation. Let us average viewers enjoy representation! Bill feels more real to me than any other character in the history of this show, and I adored her from minute one because she is an ordinary young woman with extraordinary qualities like a depth of compassion, intrigue and the ability to grin in the face of the unknown. That’s what caught the Doctor’s eye. That’s it, that’s all. I also very much enjoy and relate to the student-mentor relationship/friendship/surrogate parent-surrogate-child trope and found the one between the Doctor and Bill to be especially endearing because of how much it reminded me of my relationship with my kookier and more tender teachers and professors. They saw my potential and nurtured it. They cared about me as both a student and a person and I cared for them too. So it is with Twelve and Bill, and their love and appreciation of one another creates a tether that follows them to the end of their lives and even further—of that I have no doubt or other interpretation. But Bill is is the walking truth that a person can be special just by being herself, and I love her for who exactly who she is: quick-witted, quirky, honest, clever, passionate, loving and, in the vein of all her recent predecessors, a great companion. I am so proud of her thirst to learn, her pride in her sexuality, her excitement and zest for life among and beyond the stars and how that enriches the Doctor in series 10. Now I can’t wait to see how it will continue to enrich her—and me!— in the future.
17. June “Junie” B. Jones – from the Junie B. Jones book series
“Yeah, only guess what? I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And so that means I can’t come to school on Monday. And now I’ll probably flunk kindergarten.”
I believe Junie B. Jones is the first literary protagonist with whom I identified. Ever. I remember getting these thin, early-reader books at scholastic book fairs and tearing through them and practically tearing up with laughter at the (mis)adventures of the intensely silly kindergartner/first-grader. Unlike Roald Dahl’s Matilda, who was mostly who I wanted to be as a little girl, I essentially was Barbara Park’s Junie B: loud, friendly, loud, rambunctious, loud, eager, loud, funny, loud and excited about words and learning. By the way, did I say quiet? Because I meant loud. Living with her mom, dad and baby brother, Junie B. is a normal kid—normal in that she’s kind of weird, smart in that she’s of average intelligence and creative in that she loves taking (plenty of) liberties to express herself properly. Throughout the series, she’s perpetually at that age where anything is possible, where it’s easier to move on when you’re hurt. Where you’ve got an imagination wider and deeper and more colorful than the ocean. I love the nostalgia Junie B. brings to me. She reminds me of how much I love and miss my younger self and, mostly importantly, reminds me that occasionally it’s okay to go back and let her out to play once in a while. (I even read this series to my mom while she feeds our tons of cats. We’ve had a great time bonding and wailing in hysterics over the cute stories. Yet another great memory Junie B. Jones has given me!)
16. Kimberly “Kim” Wexler – from Better Call Saul, portrayed by Rhea Seehorn
“I dig myself out of this hole. You do your job, Jimmy. Prove you can go one week—hell, one day without breaking the rules of the New Mexico Bar Association or pissing off your boss. And don’t insult my intelligence by saying you are doing any of this for me. You don’t save me. I save me. Just please go.”
One of greatest gifts to the Better Call Saul universe, Kim, with her industrious, independent and conscientious personality, incites many reactions from me: she impresses me, enthuses me and scares me to death with the goodness she represents in the increasingly corrupt life of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman. We’re heading into the 4th season of the Breaking Bad prequel and Kim’s fate as a successful attorney, Jimmy’s lover and as a human being safe from the criminal underground remains up in the air, and I am so freaking nervous for her since she never appears in or is mentioned in Breaking Bad. *shivers* Anyhow, this blurb is meant to celebrate Kim and why she’s #16 on my list of fictional female favorites, so allow me to get away from grim possibilities and into why I admire her so greatly. Beginning the series as an underappreciated employee at the mega firm, Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, she is an exceptional lawyer with even greater potential, who’s low-key demeanor sometimes gives way to a more a playful side, best showcased when she plays the Giselle to Jimmy’s Viktor (no, it’s not a kinky sex game. Weeelll, it’s more intellectual-based foreplay). Kim eventually branches out with Jimmy to co-found Wexler McGill, doubling her efforts to secure a client base. However, it is inevitably Jimmy—and Kim’s determination to stick by him—that hampers each lawyer’s true success. To my own surprise as a feminist and as someone who is almost completely uninterested in romance, I totally empathize with Kim’s choices. Jimmy has been her friend and closest ally for years, and the two are more than friends with benefits—they have a very simple love story predicated on a deep sense of care, respect and belief in one another (and unless Jimmy’s crooked ass gets her hurt or killed, I, fighting my better instincts, will continue to ship them). But even as a fan of their friendship and relationship, I feel pained knowing it’s Kim’s concern and sympathy for the undeniably charismatic Jimmy that keeps her ensnared in the midst of his plots to provide for both her and himself. Kim is an ethical person, and watching her struggle against what she does and doesn’t know in regards to Jimmy’s ploys keeps me enmeshed with the heart and integrity of the characters and the show. Altogether, Kim is the voice of reason and a very full, very real representation of a thinking and feeling career woman in her 40s, and if I haven’t made it clear enough, I only pray the flaw of her seemingly bottomless compassion for Jimmy doesn’t prove to be a fatal one.
15. Officer/Detective Judith “Judy” Hoffs – from 21 Jump Street, portrayed by Holly Robinson (Peete)
“Hanson, if you don’t tell me what’s going on here, you too will be a girl.”
Before 21 Jump Street was a film series starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, it was a 1987-1991 young adult cop drama with the same basic premise: a group of youthful police officers go undercover on the regular and infiltrate high schools and colleges to prevent and solve crimes. Partners with Harry Ioki, Judy Hoffs has a special relationship with the free-spirited Captain Jenko, sly Captain Fuller and all her fellow officers, as is generally to be expected on shows with a sole female in the gang and Hoffs holds her own, the respected and duty-bound one–the only one to persist from the beginning of the series to its end. Judy is hip, fashionable and easy-going, lithe and beautiful with twig legs. She’s also authoritative without being intimidating, articulate, approachable, independent, nervy and stubborn. This was a show about role models and Judy is an excellent role model for young women, especially young black women and girls who have seen and been through the shit but don’t let it get or keep them down; she is proud of her ethnicity and aware of the privilege she is both denied as a woman of color in the ’80s and afforded as a higher-middle-class, pretty woman of color. This is not to say her African-American heritage defines her character but it’s not ignored either (nice job, writers). Like many officers certain she enjoys a certain sense of control and advocates extra hard for cases that touch upon her heart more than others, making her call into question her ethics or those of others. It tends to take her a while to ask for help but she gets there when she needs to, always arriving at a sense of balance and righteousness with a lot of grace. What I see in her is a special kind of intelligence, a chameleon-like mental and emotional flexibility that allows her to pose as different types of people, from street toughs to college medical students. Judy is a great example of one of the features I feel is intrinsic to strong, successful women in potentially hostile or male-dominated environments: adaptability. A fighter and a survivor. While I didn’t watch this show when I was little—it ended the year I was born, lol—I did look up to Judy as a youth and am so grateful I could see myself and many things I wanted to be in this skilled, compassionate, vibrant African-American police officer.
14. Claire Fisher – from Six Feet Under, portrayed by Lauren Ambrose
“… I’m just sort of like, sick and tired of everything…Just like all the lies we’re fed and the bullshit we’re supposed to care about and like how everybody is so scared of anything that’s different from everything else.”
Though surly, snappy and sarcastic, Claire is not exactly your typical angsty teen. She actually is deeper than many of those around her, possessing the pretension of adolescence but genuine precociousness as well. In the 5 years we watch her mature on Six Feet Under, from ages 17 to 21, we witness this smart, free-thinking, unique, outspoken, impulsive, creative young woman search for, discover and harness her power in the world as a daughter, a sister and an artist, unearthing purpose and self-worth to see herself beyond just the “annoying, extra person” in the family, the “forgotten” child, the one nobody seems to understand. I understand, and also realize some audience members are turned off by how derisive and hostile Claire can be about most anything and everything, but I find her dour yet passionate disposition grants her a special perspective on life. Makes her realize she, like all of us, takes some things for granted and points out to her the necessity of counting her blessings without compromising her personality. I am enthralled by Claire’s character even though we don’t have much in common. She’s lonely and disconnected to people her age, and I’m not (when I don’t want to be, lol). She’s attracted to troubled men whereas I never have been. She experiments with drugs and alcohol and I haven’t. She photographs, I write. But we are both intense, questioning, artistic people and all those things form the basis of my love and appreciation for her; they all translate into strengths I feel I have and also admire. I love that Claire can both take care of herself and ask for help. Love that she has a bond with each member of her family. I love that she wants to say something with her art and has a reason for creating it. Love that she wants the best for who she loves and basically gives the middle finger to the rest of the world because she’s going to do and be what she wants. Most poignantly, I love that Claire eventually and essentially learns the meaning of life and what it means to have a full one, and I love it because I sincerely believe having her character and Six Feet Under in my life has brought me a little bit closer to those Truths too.
13. Clementine a.k.a. “Clem” – from The Walking Dead: Telltale Game Series, voiced by Melissa Hutchison
“I can handle it. I’m not a little kid.”
The Telltale video game spinoff of the televised Walking Dead is as much Clementine’s story as the first 8 TV seasons are Rick’s. Clementine is an almost-9-year-old girl who survives on her own for 2 nights before a stranger named Lee enters her home and takes it upon himself to take her under his wing. The little girl starts out doe-eyed, as cute as the fruit that bears her name, until that innocence is ripped away by hunger, terror, betrayal and death. Fast forward 4 years into the zombie apocalypse and you have a 13-year-old going on 35, a warrior with remarkable presence of mind despite facing all of the horrors that come from being a child caught in the crossfire of many a life-threatening crisis. This is a practical survivor who becomes adept at killing walkers without assistance by the second season—a giving and helpful little girl with a gentle, melodic voice who quickly gives way into a mature young woman with a deepened, somber tone who is equal parts caring and duplicitous and more instinctual than hesitant. She doesn’t get to be a kid anymore, which is the sad reality viewers/players come to terms with once they dive into the reasons she’s such a boss. What else can you expect when you’re called upon to decide the impossible, to save and take lives? And yes, she has the clout of any other adult in her group in seasons 2 and 3. She’s a runner, a fighter, a killer, a mother (not literally, calm down, but just about; it makes sense in the game), a rose growing from a pile of shit and none too different: pretty, prickly and also a gift to others. She lies and hustles, is quick to pull a gun—all to survive. She’s so mature it hurts. And yet…at her core she remains kind, some days even hopeful. Later in the storyline, we are even given the options to explore her first period, her first crush and first kiss. She is and is not a woman, has been through and seen so much! It’s heart-breaking. We’ve seen her shot, scarred and searching, always searching and never finding a place to which she could really belong, this in-between girl with no family. However, she always manages to find people along the way whom she grows to love and who grow to love her. Eyes, limbs and lives are sacrificed to keep her safe, and not one of those sacrifices has been in vain because Clem is always paying them back by paying it forward. One way or another, she always does. As bad and as sad as I feel for this young woman, I also feel proud and lucky as a video game fan to have gotten to know her. The arc for Carl on the TV adaptation should have been similar to this. At least we can see this depth and development and experience it through the game and through Clementine. I know there’s no other kid I’d rather have walked beside.
12. Christine Sullivan – from Night Court, portrayed by Markie Post
“I didn’t do it for you, I did it because it’s my job and I’m damn good at it. I spent way too much time believing that my success was due to you. Well, you know what? It was due to me. You remember that the next time you see a student in a short skirt.”
Despite the fact that I was an infant when it went off the air, it’s no secret to me that Night Court, the NBC sitcom revolving around the nightly antics of a jokey but efficacious judge and his madcap cast of court officials, was an ’80s comedy darling, earning scores of award nominations, including four consecutive Emmy wins for John Larroquette, who is genius throughout the series. When a TV show is this successful, clearly everything has to come together: the showrunner, directors, writers, production and art teams and especially the cast. I’m a fan who believes nearly everyone involved with Night Court was a gem in this crown of comedy, and for a leading male character as wonderfully offbeat as Harry Stone, I could ask for no better leading female than Christine Sullivan. Replacing the boring and charmless Billie Young permanently in season 3, Christine enters Manhattan’s Criminal Court Part II as a highly ethical, intelligent and passionate attorney. As we progress through the years, we also discover she’s plucky, friendly (sometimes to a fault), a little dorky and quite a bit prudish, a trait that plays nicely against her obvious attractiveness. I grew up watching Night Court on the TV Land reruns when I was in high school and adored Christine, identifying with her wholly and immediately, and frankly seeing a character generally rewarded for her virtue made me feel better about being such a goody-goody student, lol. Moreover, Christine has earned a place as one of my favorite fictional feminists due to the righteous fire that keeps her riding the line between solicitous to challenging and taking down ignorant asses. The level of respect she commands from her clients and coworkers is impressive, considering Dan Fielding, the womanizing prosecutor, can’t even bring himself to sleep with her in light of her reluctance. She’s fun and pleasant as both the prankster and the straight woman. She’s not afraid of love but doesn’t let it hinder her career goals. Christine is a good defense lawyer, a good mother and a good friend, and because she’s so good, to me she’s absolutely great.
11. Kimberly “Kim” Possible – from Kim Possible, voiced by Christy Carlson Romano
“I can do anything!”
My favorite fictional redhead. Middleton High student Kim Possible does the impossible: keeping up a straight A average and captaining the cheerleading squad all the while saving the world in her spare time. Her eponymous TV show ran for four seasons, from 2002-2007, on the Disney channel and has turned out to be one of those action/adventure comedies other Millennials and I feel privileged to have grown up on. I even remember distinctly being blown away by the premiere. The series is for both girls and boys, for the popular kids and the misfits, filled with trendy slang and characters who run the gamut from cool to so uncool, they are cool. It also has one the catchiest theme songs ever, done right by Christina Milian—hip, poppy and kickass, just like Kim herself, whose greatness is effortless. Kim is responsible, quick, smart and peppy, both athletic and a girly girl but still a maturing teen who makes misjudgments, gets nervous and questions herself. She’s also a globe-trotting, crime-fighting vigilante and combat expert supported by her laid-back, genius parents, haphazard but hilarious best friend, Ron Stoppable, and technology prodigy, Wade, who provides her with original gadgets she uses to complete her missions. Though much of it is born from childhood loyalty, I still have a lot love toward this show for maintaining such a positive presence in my life, and I adore Kim for being such a phenomenal female role model, possibly the best ever in animation, due to the fact that she is a normal, friendly, thoughtful girl propelled to accomplish the extraordinary all because she practices, persists and believes in herself. And I cannot WAIT for the live-action movie to hit next summer! *squee!*
10. Nina Sayers – from Black Swan, portrayed by Natalie Portman
“I just want to be perfect.”
This Darren Aronofsky dark drama with metaphorical elements of the fantastic illustrates what it means to come into the complexity of womanhood, not just adulthood, and serves as an evolution story where the side of light isn’t exactly the most desirable position to take. To be “light,” to be the White Swan, is to be gentle, elegant, conscientious and ultimately weak whereas to be “dark,” to be the Black Swan, is to be alluring, forceful and so perfectly imperfect that you’ve actually tricked those watching you into believing you are perfect because every move you make is deliberate, just and divine. It’s an interesting slant on a common contrast, and Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning portrayal of mental fragility at its finest is my personal favorite of hers and possibly my favorite film performance by an actress period. Nina is a diffident though beautiful professional ballet dancer for a New York company whose journey of self-discovery, set off by her casting as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, is unlike that of any other coming-of-age tale ever told. I relate to this character so much it simultaneously frightens and excites me. Like Nina, I am a perfectionist who possesses an innate drive to execute my craft flawlessly (I also took ballet for two years and although I was too big to be that good at it, I remember the practice and precision that goes into interpreting the steps to make it art and not just movement, and it’s very easy to get caught up in trying to do it “perfectly” all around); I live with my mom in my soon-to-be late 20s; and cowardice is also tied into my awareness of my potential. I feel the yearning and the pain of this soft-spoken, rash, obsessively technical and exquisite dancer, almost as if I were one of the many mirrors of herself—well, “selves” is more accurate, really—that appear to her throughout the picture (Lily, Beth, Nina’s mother). Yes, so many familiar faces and yet both the white swan and black swan begin and end always with Nina, specifically the Nina waiting in the wings, waiting in the shadows to stride forth and claim the light. But before she can, we must endure the bittersweet and the unnerving—her descent into instability and ascent to self, which involves turning the tables on the power play between her and the charming but abusive Thomas Leroy, breaking away from a condescending, coddling mother who wishes to live through her vicariously as well as from repressed sexuality (a theme many feminists feel is not explored enough in mainstream cinema) and from the acts of over-apologizing and tiptoeing to the spotlight by instead demanding a place in it. Earning it, by suffering for your work and, if necessary, dying for it, an artist’s arc of birth to death. Because answer me this: where else is there for an artist to go once she has achieved perfection? I know my answer to that and suspect you do too. Nevertheless I have so much love for Natalie Portman’s portrayal and for Nina herself as one of the most complex, dramatic and well-conceived female characters I’ve seen in a psychological thriller. I recognize, comprehend and feel her struggle with her stunted life and firmly believe her story ends with the appropriate Swan. Which Swan is that? Well, you’ll have to watch the film and make that determination yourself. It’s your turn now…
9. Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Cruz – from Nip/Tuck, portrayed by Roma Maffia
“You really want to get inside a woman? Stop thinking like a dick.”
While ever the voice of reason on the medical drama Nip/Tuck, Dr. Liz Cruz is all too aware of what it’s like to be in an industry and society obsessed with the physical and yet not be one of the beautiful people. I live that life as well, walking around with artistic ambitions and with what one of my therapists coined as an “average beauty,” and whereas I feel I have to compensate for what I lack in looks with intelligence and an eloquence that I hope and pray is seen as talent, Liz is smart, sage, patient and tender because that’s just who she is. A practiced anesthesiologist and the most empathic and professional member of McNamara/Troy, she’s also a vocal, liberal lesbian and feminist—well-spoken and outspoken, funny and forward-thinking, both bold and insecure. Despite her enduring confidence, Liz is a deeply self-aware and lonely individual and certainly not without her share of foibles, poor decisions or tragedies, all of which are best showcased during her first pregnancy, run-ins with gangster Escobar Gallardo and the cold, strained relationship with her traditional mother, who attempts to make her ashamed of and question her sexuality and career choices. However, because she has long since discovered and held on to her self-worth as a doctor, a partner and a friend, Liz is, deep down, proud of who she is, and I’m proud of her for that. She’s a very easy character to look up to.
8. Brenda Chenowith – from Six Feet Under, portrayed by Rachel Griffiths
“Being alone is the prison. Just thinking about yourself, just being trapped in this fucking vortex of always watching yourself…which I suppose is okay if you’re interesting. But the truth is, nobody’s that interesting.”
Oh my, Brenda Chenowith. This brilliant woman is many things: droll, sardonic, forward, unorthodox, liberal, lying, nihilistic, an atheist—and those adjectives barely scratch the surface, really. Underneath her placid visage she is burdened by ruthless, self-centered shrink parents who exploited her genius and talents and raised her under a microscope (Brenda herself refers to her mother, Margaret, as “a fucking evil bitch” and she’s not exaggerating one bit), a bipolar younger brother who needs and loves her a bit too much (which is portrayed much more delicately than one would believe incestuous feelings would be) and by the paradox of both loving and fearing a future with Nate Fisher, lest she lose herself in the process of committing to someone else. I love Brenda. She’s seen some shit, said some shit, been through some shit, and I really respect people who come out on the other side of years of adversity more determined than downtrodden, who actively work on themselves to either beat what they’ve faced or change what they can. Seeing them fight in such a way actually gives me hope that some problems aren’t insurmountable (because they all damn sure feel like they are 95% of the time…). Due to her stolen childhood and lifelong exposure to psychology and observation, Brenda is sometimes blind to how she hurts herself and others, like when she mind-fucks people because it’s second nature and adopts other personas half for the enjoyment, half for the control aspect since she never had any control in her youth. She fantasizes, crosses the line, gets promiscuous, but all of it always serves her character and how she expresses herself—it’s never done to exploit her or her attractive actress. And though she questions whether she is or not, I find Brenda to be a loving person. Why else would she keep in touch with her volatile brother or cruel basket case of a mother (besides the fact that it’s TV gold)? She gave up a future at Yale to take care of Billy, leaves message therapy behind for clinical therapy and ends up adopting and mothering children. She is a free spirit with a scientific mind, both confident and vulnerable, so strong, so resilient—what she withstands in the last season alone would be enough to make me check out of life…but Brenda doesn’t. She both endures and makes things happen. She lives her life without excuses. I don’t know how to do that, and it’s kind of my secret hope that studying this complicated and infinitely interesting character may help me figure out a way to be more like her…in that respect anyway. 😉
7. Detective Lydia Adams – from SouthLAnd, portrayed by Regina King
“Sorry, Russell, I’m just really not in the mood to date right now… Well, what do you want me to do? Put on a little outfit, go out, get drunk, stagger to my car, get raped and end up here for ten years waiting for somebody to do something about it?”
So impressed am I with Lydia, portrayed by the regal and relatable Regina King, as she is one of the finest African-American female role models in television history, like #15, and just like #15 being black is part of her identity but not the whole of it. Lydia embodies every definition of cool; she’s calm and matter-of-fact without coming off as detached. An intelligent, thorough and respected detective in the Robbery-Homicide division of the LAPD, she is intuitive, discerning and rare in that she’s not hardened by what she’s seen like other officers so much as galvanized by it, determined to continue excelling in the business of serving, protecting, catching killers and cleaning up the Los Angeles streets. While on duty she displays a fierce proficiency at fisticuffs and a superior running form. Off duty she doesn’t get out much, giving others a stick-in-the-mud impression about her. In fact the distance they sense in her personality contributes to the revolving-door relationship she has with her partners, with the exceptions of Russ and Ruben, with whom she feels close. Furthermore, for all her ethics and merits, she doesn’t always make the wisest choices, such as choosing to sleep with an unhappily married ex and taking risks while pregnant, falling prey to the denial many a career woman experiences once the realization is stuck in the corner of her subconscious that her life and best-laid plans are all about to change. I say this not to discredit Lydia as a woman or as a detective, a daughter or a mother; I present it as proof that she is not a perfect woman but rather a loner who works well alone, someone nurturing without being smothering, someone who has to learn how to be comfortable with and grow into a deeper sense of family—a feat she achieves by the end of the series. My whole life, artistically and personally, as a mixed girl struggling to be proud of her African-American lineage, I’ve been starved for outstanding African-American role models, both male and female, and I love the character of Lydia Adams so much for filling some of the space left open in my heart for beautiful, flawed and realistic people of color because that’s who I am and what I aim to depict in my work. All my love and thanks goes especially to Regina King, to Ann Biderman for creating this gift of a show and to every writer who fleshed out Lydia and all the other incredible characters of SouthLAnd for us audiences. We are watching, we are taking note and representation DOES matter, I’m telling you.
6. Hermione Granger – from the Harry Potter book and film series, portrayed by Emma Watson
“Oh, honestly, don’t you two read?”
Hermione Jean Granger is not only one of the most inspirational female characters on my list or in popular culture, she’s one of the most inspirational and aspirational women in existence. Her blossoming beauty is incidental—what’s at the forefront of this witch’s keen mind is exactly that: her keen mind and how to use it to better the lives of those around her. Like most Millennials, I was an avid reader and viewer of the Harry Potter series and totally related and looked up to Hermione from the time I was about 8 years old. She’s bookish, opinionated and enthusiastic about learning and applying school lessons to life, just like I was as a kid. Her bonds with Harry and Neville let me know I wasn’t alone in forging loving and lasting friendships with the opposite sex. Most endearingly, Hermione is one of those “perfect head-and-heart girls” to quote actress Emma Watson herself, who was speaking at the time of both Hermione and Beauty and the Beast’s Belle. A head-and-heart girl is logical and pragmatic but also passionate and compassionate. Unlike her Mary Sue of a sister-in-law, Ginny, Hermione is not perfect—she’s got some neuroses, annoying know-it-all tendencies (which I also relate to) and proves time and again to be unskilled at flying. Ultimately she is a strong and sensitive soul, eloquent and refined. She also once socked Draco Malfoy in the face. That alone just about made her my personal heroine, but these are the reasons she is truly beautiful, truly badass, truly iconic: that she is a young woman with depth, work ethic and dimension, a crusader for the downtrodden and just as valuable and courageous—if not more—as any man with whom she crosses paths. Another nice touch is the pride she has in her Muggle-born status—I found that admirable and comforting as well. For anyone who doesn’t know, the term “Mudblood” is an epithet for those without preexisting magical heritage, the Muggle-born witches and wizards like our Hermione, and although Hermione is portrayed as white (barring the stage), I’ve always understood her initial reaction to it in Chamber of Secrets as a person who has had an epithet or two thrown her way as well, and I’d like to relate even more to the way she rises above the prejudice. She is a testament to the truth that your own opinion of yourself should come first, that you are always more than what others think of you. Her feelings and feminism don’t appear in grand speeches, just as tidbits sprinkled throughout the years as she grows more confident and even more capable. Frankly she is the anchor for every success Harry and the others achieve in their battle against the forces of evil and, according to the expanded universe, she even obtains the most powerful position in the English wizarding community: Minister for Magic. Hermione is the epitome of what it means to me to be successful, and I love her (and Emma Watson and J.K. Rowling), am so proud of her and feel blessed to have grown up alongside such an exemplary role model for adolescent women.
5. Elizabeth Swann/Turner – from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, portrayed by Keira Knightley
“Then what shall we die for? You will listen to me. Listen! The Brethren will still be looking here, to us, to the Black Pearl, to lead. And what will they see? Frightened bilge rats aboard a derelict ship? No. No, they will see free men, and freedom! And what the enemy will see is the flash of our cannons. They will hear the ring of our swords and they will know what we can do! By the sweat of our brows, and the strength of our backs, and the courage of our hearts. Gentlemen…hoist the colours.”
This governor’s daughter-turned-Pirate Lord is a character I’ve looked up to for a long time; in fact it was Keira Knightley’s lovely performance as the strong and cunning Elizabeth Swann that inspired me to pursue theatre and act in a few plays in high school and junior college (I remember my 12-year-old self going around, quoting her, essentially saying, “I want be a girl/play girls just like that, Mom!”). Theatre acting was a worthwhile endeavor—I certainly enjoyed it and absorbed confidence from the experiences, making me forever grateful to my third-favorite actress for all that she gave to me and other Millennial youths with this portrayal. What Elizabeth offers growing girls is a modern role model in an 18th-century epic, a sea-faring adventure tale full of action, romance and fighting for what you believe in. Young and curious about life outside her home of Port Royal, England, she has always been excited at the prospect of meeting a pirate and quickly becomes an old hand at swashbuckling, making the transition from rescuee to rescuer all within the first film! Throughout the series Elizabeth proves to clever beyond her years, both classy and impertinent, deceptive and even ruthless. Her strength does not come without a price, however, as she struggles and suffers with some of the decisions and actions she takes as means to an end that she hopes will benefit the greater good. An exquisite beauty, she is desired by most of the men of the Pirates trilogy, though her heart belongs only to one—her childhood friend, blacksmith and fellow pirate Will Turner…or rather, you could say, his heart belongs to her. Trust me, it’s more accurate if you say it that way. If I may get fangirly for a second, Elizabeth and Will were my first OTP and remain a favorite “ship” of mine due to the fact that they are equal partners who bring equal worth and weight to the story, appreciate and nurture each other’s strengths and remain fully dedicated to one another despite long periods of separation and disparate motivations. Also their wedding is one of the only ceremonies in film history that gets to my heart every time. Aside from being half of one of Disney’s best power couples, Elizabeth is a talented swordswoman and adept leader, rising to the rank of Pirate King with the help of shady ally—but good man—Captain Jack Sparrow. And she isn’t just voted into the position—she earns it. Embodies it. Embraces it. I love Mrs. Elizabeth Turner. A lover, a fighter, a daughter, a wife, a mother. A true queen of the high seas as, despite being no stranger to tragedy or the privileges of birth, she has always been a sly pirate at heart, free, willing and able. She remains one of my most potent artistic and personal muses.
4. Clara Oswald – from Doctor Who, portrayed by Jenna Coleman
“You…Now you listen to me. You’re gonna be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re gonna be furious and you’re gonna be sad, but listen to me: don’t let this change you. No, listen, whatever happens next, wherever she is sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor…Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So…I’m not asking you for a promise. I’m giving you an order.”
Clara, a nanny-turned-high school English teacher and friend to the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, is my favorite companion in all of Doctor Who history, and I love her dearly. While very much aware of the fandom’s general dislike of her character and the amount of screen time she received during Twelve’s run, I, with my ever-popular unpopular opinions, loved every bit of her time with the Doctor and love every bit of her, from all her faults to all her strengths. It’s true she’s bossy, smart-mouthed, reckless and a bit vain. She’s also affectionate, resourceful, highly intelligent and good with kids, and it’s quite a fun and poignant ride to witness her growth from the little-sister-type to Eleven to a confident and capable young woman and partner to Twelve. Her arc from a mystery to be solved to an energetic assistant to a calculating equal, coupled with both her appealing and exasperating qualities, contributes to my viewing Clara as a full, relatable person rather than a Mary Sue, helpless hottie or fawning love interest. She feels real to me, and I’m so grateful to Jenna Coleman, whose powerful performances thoroughly and regularly move and comfort me. (I can’t tell you how many times I listened to the speech Clara makes at the end of “Listen” back in 2014, my last year in college. Jenna Coleman’s gentle delivery about fear being all right, even empowering, because it can make you kind got me through many a night as I lay in bed crying, terrified for what life held in store for me beyond the academic world I once loved.) Though the actress herself is cooler and more articulate than Clara, all the honesty, spirit and presence she puts into her work comes through the character in every episode in which she’s featured. I also admire Clara because she inspires me to be better, to be kinder, braver, smarter, more thoughtful and more patient to either achieve victories tantamount to hers or to avoid repeating similar mistakes. She is everything I love in a fictional female character in that she really makes me think and really makes me feel. She is the definition of heart to me—what else can you say about a main character who is willing to sacrifice herself for a mere acquaintance, a transient character who appears in only two episodes? I don’t think Clara gets near enough credit for her integral contributions to the Doctor’s lives, but that’s okay. We fans are elastic enough to take the barbs and happy enough to point out all the times and ways in which the Impossible Girl saves the day. There’s even an app for that, lol—one of my personal favorite podcasts, The Impossible Girls Podcast! Bold, beautiful and brilliant, just like our beloved Clara herself.
3. Maggie Greene/Rhee – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Lauren Cohan
“The decision was made a long time ago, before any of us knew each other, when we were all strangers who would have just passed each other on the street before the world ended. And now we mean everything to each other…You were in trouble. You were trapped. Glenn didn’t know you, but he helped you. He put himself in danger for you, and that started it all—from Atlanta, to my daddy’s farm, to the prison, to here, to this moment now—not as strangers, as family, because Glenn chose to be there for you that day, a long time ago. That was the decision that changed everything. It started with both of you and it just grew, to all of us, to sacrifice for each other, to suffer and stand, to grieve, to give, to love, to live, to fight for each other. Glenn made the decision, Rick. I was just following his lead.”
As I mentioned previously, I keep up with The Walking Dead fandom online. When people aren’t lambasting Maggie for allegedly forgetting about her little sister when the group was separated in season 4, they’re accusing her of being “boring.” My response? “Are you people even watching this show with your eyes and ears open?” Admittedly that’s a little mean (who cares, I never say that to anyone directly, lol), but apparently they’re not because she asked about Beth in episode 410 and the Maggie I’ve loved for years and years is the polar opposite of boring. She’s a beautiful badass. Maggie Greene begins her tenure on The Walking Dead as the prototypical farmer’s daughter—a sassy Southern stunner and faithful Christian girl who still knows how to get a bit rowdy. It’s not long after she meets her future husband and his group before she blossoms into a truly fierce and formidable young woman, riding in on horseback to save Andrea from a stray walker, surviving sexual assault and telling her accoster to “go to hell,” saving Father Gabriel, forgiving Tara, punching jerkass Gregory in the face, declaring herself to him as Mrs. Maggie Rhee and rising, in his place, to become the leader of the Hilltop community. Most poignantly, she cuts open a pregnant woman at her own behest to deliver a baby—I don’t think any other character would have been able to do that at that time, in those circumstances. Maggie is like a special kind of steel, both tempered and malleable. She’s physically and emotionally strong, quick-witted, generous and nurturing, spirited and spiritual. She is Glenn’s other half and the whole of his heart and I love them as one of the horror-drama’s power couples. Additionally she’s one of those women ready and able to establish strong bonds with other women, namely Sasha, Michonne, Enid and Deanna. She endures, perseveres and, as Rick has done since season 1, makes the decisions necessary to protect and provide for her people. Although her character arc has darkened over time, I understand and can appreciate every move she makes, and I admire, respect and love her as the durable and decidedly NOT dull woman she is.
2. Michonne – from The Walking Dead, portrayed by Danai Gurira
“I found what I was looking for. I wanted to go with you and Aaron, but I couldn’t. I had to go my way. But when I found it, I realized…that I didn’t want it to be my way. I wanted it to be ours, me and you. There are more of them, even more than we thought. We are outnumbered. It’s not even close. But that doesn’t change the way that I feel, because it doesn’t change the way that things are. We’re still alive, Rick. So much has happened, so much that we shouldn’t have lived through, and in spite of it, or maybe because of it, we did. We’re still here, the two of us. We’re still standing, and we’re gonna keep standing. So what do we do with that? How do we make that mean something? We’re the ones who get things done—you said that. We’re the ones who live. That’s why we have to fight—not for us but for Judith, for Carl, for Alexandria, for the Hilltop, for all of us. We can fight them, Rick. We can find a way to beat them. We can do this. But…but…only if we do this.”
I could celebrate Michonne and the actress who plays her—the remarkable and ebullient Danai Gurira—all day, so I’ll try to keep this as succinct as I can. If my #5 is Queen of the Seas and if #24 is Queen of the Earth and #4 is the Queen of Space, Michonne is the Queen of the Future. Queen of the Apocalypse, of War. Rick Grimes’s Queen. My Queen of Fictional African-American Female Characters, and Queen of the Richonne community of which I am a proud part on The Walking Dead website Tell It to the Dead. The reason I feel “Queen” is the correct descriptor is derived from the fact that Danai Gurira so profusely embodies the intelligence, heart, elegance and emotional eloquence of a queen and of fan-favorite Michonne, and it’s because that’s who she appears to be too. Seriously, I could listen to this woman talk all day. But I myself am not done (almost).
An alpha female with luscious African features, Michonne defies the types of roles in which people are accustomed to seeing black females. Clearly, as the harshest, loudest backlash comes with the most unfamiliar—and “threatening”—territory. “She’s just Rick’s mammy”; “She’s ugly/a monkey/a man”; “She’s like Rick’s sister/their relationship is like incest”; “She and Rick just don’t look right”; “She’s perfect/boring”—I’ve seen it all. The assessments are simple. They are ignorance. They are racist. They are myopic and they are bullshit. Thank God the faction of fandom I’m part of and the actress herself are above it because we all know Michonne’s above it, has been above it, and that inspires me to be above the prejudice and discrimination I’ve faced as well as the dread that tells me I will inevitably face it again. But that’s okay. Why? Because Michonne is very likely the strongest character in The Walking Dead universe in terms of resilience (which is not to say she hasn’t also kicked an ass or two or 100 in her time). An arty, contemporary woman of the times before the ZA, Michonne lost herself when she lost her boyfriend, friend and toddler son. Her PTSD primed her to survive, to become less of a persona and more of a weapon, but through her interactions with Rick’s group, she’s able to develop into much more, like a good friend to Andrea, Hershel, Daryl, Maggie and Glenn to name a few. A mother to Carl and Judith. A co-leader of the Alexandria Safe Zone. An unstable ally of to a best friend of to a lover to Rick, acting as the best of his heart and his Northern Star. The intimacy Michonne and Rick share, that silent, sexy synergy they’ve always shared—is a force I call a lovefire, in that its power and passion and truth have served only to make each of them a stronger character, parent and leader to their family unit and extended family. And recently, interestingly/controversially enough, it may have made them more merciful as well.
Besides her natural leadership skills, Michonne is a pseudo-samurai, an expert with both a katana and with words, otherworldly eloquent. What I relate to the most is how deeply she feels everything and what I admire about her the most is her determination to keep going. She is a true survivor, as she knows it’s not just about surviving—it’s about finding a way to live, laugh, love and build a future, and I’d like to think that’s what life here in reality should be too. In addition to her uncanny intuition, Michonne is a genius strategist, a silly, sentimental introvert and a deeply tender woman. Like #1 on my “Favorite Fictional Males” list, Goku, Michonne’s strength is very much tempered by love. To me she is the epitome of a woman’s strength—a superb warrior in every way, a good wife, a doting caregiver, a durable leader and a tough survivor. She’s the woman I know will always be okay, even when she’s not, and that quality cheers and moves me always. For all she’s given the show and its audience, I love Michonne (and Danai!) so much. She is so much. Not just strength and not just love but humanity and hope and resolve. She is Magnificence.
1. Buffy Summers – from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar
“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.”
And I do. I live for her and all the women like her and for those like me and you. I persist in life for a sole reason: I want, with my writing, to make a difference in the world like this character has made. I want to make other people—especially girls and women—feel the way Buffy makes me feel: beautiful, capable, worthy, united to others and powerful.
I’ve spoken at length in previous posts about how integral the American version of Dragon Ball Z was to my childhood, namely for teaching me different types of strengths and the value and reward of goodness and perseverance. DBZ is indeed the most important TV show of my youth, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the most important TV show of my entire life. The stories told and the titular character herself taught me about life, death, sorrow, love, hate, isolation, friendship, relationships, sisterhood, self-involvement, self-respect, self-destruction, self-sacrifice and everything in between from more of a real-world point of view, despite the fantasy backdrop of each lesson.
Loosely following the film events on which the show’s premise is named and based, we are introduced in season 1 to Sunnydale’s newest guardian, sixteen-year-old Buffy Summers, a sophomore imbued by ancient magics and fate itself with superhuman strength, endurance and prophetic dreams. In spite of her supernatural abilities, Buffy is like most young people—her brightness isn’t reflected in her grades so much as it is in her spunky, vivacious personality. A romantic at heart, she is both a good friend and the not-so-popular child of divorced parents who longs for some stability. She is also not like most young people. She’s stronger, in every way imaginable, as her life demands that of her and she stands up to answer the call. She carries more responsibility than any teen or young adult should have to and chooses not to face it alone, recognizing the advantage and necessity of allies and extended family. Mustering up her maturity, she commits to a cause bigger than she is, revealing herself to be a caring, ingenious leader, resourceful and masterful tactician and righteous warrior many times throughout the series.
I admired this character from the moment I saw her. In each episode Sarah Michelle Gellar manages to convey the depth of Buffy’s ongoing battle with everyday life and problems and the darkness that abounds, and I do not believe anyone could have played the part better. I have a deep love and admiration for Sarah Michelle Gellar and all that she’s given this character and her audience and fully endorse her as one of the strongest selling points for the series. She is an actress I always find to be versatile and expressive if a bit underrated. But of course the main reason I love Buffy so much is a vainglorious one: I see my own life in hers. I grew up the lonely only child of divorced parents. Lived with a single, working mother whom I loved dearly but scarcely saw. My friends became family and teachers became surrogate fathers. Unlike Buffy I wasn’t beautiful or stylish and I did fit in with just about everyone in high school without reaching popular-girl status. Yet I too felt the burden of being chosen…chosen (by genes and nature? Nurture? Environment?) to have depression.
But I came with my own superpower, like Buffy: a strong creative talent with which I fought and continue to fight the unremitting mental stream of negativity, and like Buffy, sometimes I struggle. Falter. Fail. I trained just as hard as she did, only on paper and with pencils instead of with swords and sandbags. I’d get my emotional jollies off watching Buffy beat some monster ass, as if seeing her do it physically would charge up my endorphins and dopamine to help me do it mentally. I cried with her, lamented with her. Celebrated good days with her. Turned to her during bad nights. The show is a great coping mechanism. It’s one of the things that helped get me through three years at a Big 10 school—chiefly the much-maligned 6th and 7th seasons, which are my favorites because I understand their themes so thoroughly, and especially there at college, when I was at my lowest, hoping and waiting to rise from the fire a wiser, smarter, more mature and better woman. A woman who had figured out what she wanted to live for. A woman who knew how to articulate her vulnerabilities and experiences. How to share her might. In fact season 7, with its main plot revolving around Buffy training Potential Slayers to come into own as their overseer, mentor and general, is my most beloved season because never is Buffy a better leader than when she decides to allocate her power to fortify the present and change the future. In my whole life I never felt more moved or invigorated than when I would watch the series finale in my dorm room at night, scared, excited, enriched, emboldened and crying.
Now please let me clarify that I’m not psychotic, lol; I know she’s a fictional character, but Buffy has been a part of me since I was 12 years old. I understand her, feel like I’ve walked a few metaphorical miles in her shoes, emotionally. I’ve never felt closer to a person who isn’t real, and since she’s so well-written and well enacted, everything she symbolizes is real.
Look at popular culture or go online or talk to a Millennial and tell me I’m wrong.
She’s our heroine, and my favorite fictional character of all time.
I called #20 and #29 “feminist icons” and #2 the “epitome of a woman’s strength.” Buffy Summers is my feminist idol and the epitome of a woman period—of her triumphs and failures, her fears and tears, her sovereignty and softness, her sass, grit and pride, her loneliness, lovingness and loveliness. What she goes through, fights through and what she represents transcend age, race, gender and language, and her impact is universal.
“I want to do that,” I think. “Can I be a Slayer too?”
“Make your choice,” she says. “Are you ready to be strong?”
On most days I answer yes. Some days I cry no. But no matter what I think I believe, Buffy helped me make my choice a long time ago…
And there you have it! My 50 Favorite Fictional Female Characters from television, film, literature and video games. I feel so blessed to have grown up with them and know I will continue to grow with them as I carry their characters in my head and in my heart on my journey to become a better writer and woman.
Please, if you’ve got a list of your own, feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear which ladies you admire, which inspire and which scare you or make you quake in laughter or awe.
And thanks for reading. Always.
P.S. Stay frosty—I’ve got a short analysis regarding my #100 favorite fictional characters and a couple of bonus lists on their way as well as a big announcement regarding the near future of my blog!