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Year in Review: 2016’s Laudable Leading Ladies

Laura Cafasso ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

It has been a horrible year for women (except Beyonce, of course). Our country could have had the first woman president. The female reboot of Ghostbusters wasn’t given a chance by internet trolls or prospective audiences. Victims of alleged sexual assault (mostly by our President-elect) were degraded and unacknowledged in the long run. The media continues to perpetuate unrealistic beauty and body image standards for women (news outlets’ Snapchats are a slew of risque Kylie Jenner poses).

After all this dreariness, there remains a hope that the film industry can finally get it right and make progress. While fair salaries still need negotiation, actresses are calling out the rampant sexism and limited roles for women in Hollywood. It can’t be solved overnight, but in Trump’s America, strong women in the arts are a necessity.

So, here’s a collection of commendable female roles and subjects of 2016 that show us what we’re missing and what we desperately need:

Blake LivelyThe Shallows

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Blake Lively in The Shallows. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Talk about chutzpah. Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) is a medical student drawn to a Mexican beach, the same one her late mother visited when pregnant with her. Searching for sentimentality and meaning, Nancy ignores her father’s wishes and surfs on the dark, ominous waters for several hours. The suspense violently ripples and the escalation punches with a vicious shark bite, rendering Nancy helpless — or so one would think.

Miraculously, Nancy survives by using her medical school knowledge, badass strength, and quiet hope. Lively captures a tireless, ferocious spirit that is much needed amidst all the male-dominated survival and action films. She isn’t grossed out by her own blood and guts and fights for her life against a manic great white shark, instead of relying on the cliched male savior.

Nora EphronEverything is Copy

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Nora Ephron in Everything is Copy. Photo Credit: HBO films.

This HBO documentary premiered in the spring and was a loving project by her son, Jacob  Bernstein (who she had with the Watergate journalist, Carl Bernstein). In this inspiring film, Bernstein captures his mom throughout her impressive career as a journalist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, producer, and director. Ephron is the brain behind When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.

She was a gifted, tenacious powerhouse that unfortunately lost her life to leukemia in 2012. Ephron spoke her mind when it was almost virtually impossible for women to be the known driving force behind a creative enterprise. The recently cancelled Amazon series Good Girls Revolt fictionalized Ephron’s true feud with Newsweek when they wouldn’t allow women writers. Instead of being discouraged, Ephron went on to write for The New York Post, Esquire, and blogging and editing for The Huffington Post. Today, we need women writers more than ever to express women’s stories and new, original ideas.

Anya Taylor-JoyThe Witch

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Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. Photo Credit: A24.

Set in 17th century New England, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her staunchly religious family are banished from the settlement over an absurd New Testament disagreement. Forced into isolation, the family builds a modest home beside a creepy forest. Strange things start happening, such as the violent abduction of the newborn Samuel and the talking black goat.

While it’s slow paced and dependent on vernacular, Joy has a subtle worldliness beyond her twenty years. She commands the screen with a brightness and energy that combats the dull, languid cinematography. She doesn’t allow her role to be pigeonholed as the poor, victimized girl; rather she triumphs as wicked witch-in-training.

Emma StoneLa La Land

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Emma Stone in La La Land. Photo Credit: Summit Pictures.

Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) directed this decent dazzling homage to old Hollywood musicals starring the perfect on-screen lovebirds, Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia). While it is a story of two struggling artists, Mia steals the cruel spotlight.

Mia may have the cliched penny-pinching job (a barista on the Warner Brothers’ lot) while juggling multiple auditions, but her spunk and gumption outweigh the typical undiscovered actress. For instance, she dances to a dreadful 80s cover band at a pool party despite the stuck-up crowd’s onlooking. Stone effortlessly morphs vulnerability into rage, joy to numbing depression with a pair of tap shoes and a bright dress. Mia ultimately pursues her passion and succeeds, but doesn’t fall onto the cold-hearted career woman stereotype (cough Miranda Priestly and Margaret Tate cough). She stays grounded, loving, and determined. She is the modern woman: a dreamer and a doer.

Emily BluntThe Girl on the Train

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Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Based on the national bestseller by Paula Hawkins, Rachel Watson is a lost, washed up soul besieged by flashes of idyllic families and homes alongside the railroad tracks. It is a reminder of what was taken from her, considering her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) left her for another woman. However, she unintentionally plunges into a murder mystery that tests her resolve, safety, and mental wellbeing.

Blunt turns Rachel into a raw and damaged apparition of a woman. She tremors with a sensitivity and fear that captures the wounds of a jilted alcoholic. Addictions are often portrayed as silly caricatures, strapped to barstools or Chaplin-like clowns. Or, the alternative, violent animals that are dangerous to society. Rachel is not a joke, a burden, or a menace. She has temporarily fallen to grief and self sabotage, but picks herself up to solve the heinous injustice committed against Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett). She plummets, but survives, as a crucial illustration to all women that you can overcome pain and learn to temper diseases like addiction.

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