"Strong Female Character" is a film and TV trope for women that are often represented in a literal or one-dimensional way, where a token woman is physically strong or powerful. Girls with guns, the warrior, the ass kicking action heroine- machoism is not the only interpretation of the word "strong".

The women I have chosen for my series of paintings are strongly written and represented as complex characters, who have integral roles in the plot apart from their male counterparts.  They are self actualized, independent and bonded in friendship with other women.  These paintings capture movie moments with female characters who drive the plot lines by expressing themselves, often as supporting characters or even, in the case of Anita Miller in "Almost Famous", leaving the movie entirely to accomplish their goals. 

"This Song Explains Why I'm Leaving" -Almost Famous Acrylic on Wood 24x12 As Anita Miller's eighteenth birthday approaches, she grows more anxious and excited to escape her mother's household. Anita's mother Elaine says Simon & Garfunkel promote promiscuity and sex and the two of them fight about household rules, morality, and Christmas. Anita runs away from home, leaving her music collection to her younger brother, and aspires to become a flight attendant. 

"This Song Explains Why I'm Leaving" -Almost Famous

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

As Anita Miller's eighteenth birthday approaches, she grows more anxious and excited to escape her mother's household. Anita's mother Elaine says Simon & Garfunkel promote promiscuity and sex and the two of them fight about household rules, morality, and Christmas. Anita runs away from home, leaving her music collection to her younger brother, and aspires to become a flight attendant. 

"Thelma and Louise" Acrylic on Wood 12x24 inches Acrylic on Wood 24x12 Thelma and Louise is an electrifying movie where two women are the stars of their own lives, and their lives do not revolve around men. The central theme is female friendship. It passes the Bechdel test easily as the characters, played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, deal with the consequences of an attempted rape. "No one would believe us" is the driving force behind their road-trip-turned-crime-spree. They can not trust the law to protect them so they take their lives into their own hands.  There is an unwritten rule in Hollywood that women will watch men but men won't watch women, so movies like this one are rare. Women rarely get away with outlaw behavior. In T&L, a rapist gets shot, cops look like fools, an unsupportive husband gets left behind, and when that gasoline tanker goes up in flames, its female audience temporarily blows away the agonizing constraints of gender, class and history.

"Thelma and Louise" Acrylic on Wood 12x24 inches

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

Thelma and Louise is an electrifying movie where two women are the stars of their own lives, and their lives do not revolve around men. The central theme is female friendship. It passes the Bechdel test easily as the characters, played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, deal with the consequences of an attempted rape. "No one would believe us" is the driving force behind their road-trip-turned-crime-spree. They can not trust the law to protect them so they take their lives into their own hands. 

There is an unwritten rule in Hollywood that women will watch men but men won't watch women, so movies like this one are rare. Women rarely get away with outlaw behavior. In T&L, a rapist gets shot, cops look like fools, an unsupportive husband gets left behind, and when that gasoline tanker goes up in flames, its female audience temporarily blows away the agonizing constraints of gender, class and history.

"Before That Strip Turned Blue" -Kill Bill Vol 1&2

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

"Before that Strip Turned Blue" Beatrix Kiddo was hell bent on revenge, motivated by her desire to be a caring mother and a strong role model for her daughter. The universe of Kill Bill was made up of powerful, complex, self interested women, kicking ass for all their own reasons.

When Beatrix (The Bride) Kiddo, the deadliest woman in the world, discovers she is pregnant, she decides to leave the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and start a fresh life for herself and her child. When Bill finds her, he arranges an assassination at her wedding at the hands of her former squad. Left for dead, she wakes from a coma four years later to find her baby gone and her life shattered. One by one she exacts her revenge on each member of the squad, using her physical and mental strength to defeat each person who wronged her. She is reunited with her child and cries with joy and relief for her clean slate.

"Pink Collar Ghetto" -9 to 5

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

9 to 5 is a workplace comedy featuring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. The plot centers around 3 named women (Doralee, Violet & Judy) and their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot boss, and it passes the Bechdel test as the women discuss many issues, including the merits of recreational marijuana.

They take their boss hostage and make some revolutionary changes at work- flexible schedules and a job-sharing program, set up a daycare center and ensure equal pay, creating a pleasant and efficient work environment in the process. These are still radical ideas all these years later, and most women in 2016 would kill to be working only from 9-5.

"Money Makes People Beautiful" -Madonna Truth or Dare

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

The central theme of Madonna: Truth or Dare is hard work. It passes the Bechdel test- there are many conversations between named women about fame, ambition, artistic expression, and sexual relationships between women. 

Madonna's appeal is her ability to exert power and control. As the cameras follow her and her team around the world on her 1990 Blond Ambition tour, she turns even the dullest moment into a work of art. When authorities in Toronto threaten to shut down her show, outraged by a scene simulating female masturbation on stage, and Madonna fights for her right to artistic expression. Madonna was a mother figure to her dancers, who looked to her as a counselor, an organizer, and a disciplined boss.

 

"I've Got a Sister" -Coffy

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

In the opening scene of Coffy, Pam Grier bares her breasts and blows a man's head off. Playing a gun-toting vigilante, she was the queen of blaxploitation films in the 70's. Her characters owned their sexuality and used it to further their agendas. Pam Grier attached a political voice to sexuality for women, fusing feminism and Black Nationalism with vigilante justice. 

Coffy is not a superhero. Clumsy and real, she wants to rid her community of the dope pushers who are responsible for her little sister's drug addiction, using her brains and her body to get close to the criminals who prey on the black community. Rape, racism and revenge in Coffy make today's movies look puritanical- Pam Grier brings power and humanity to her ass kicking roles.

"Tonight's All About You" -Sin-Dee and Alexandra in Tangerine

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

Two trans women of color travel across their Hollywood neighborhood on Christmas Eve, discussing their lives as sex workers. Sin-Dee is bent on revenge, after learning her boyfriend cheated on her while she was in prison. Alexandra, the calmer of the two, follows Sin-Dee with loving exasperation and begs her not to cause any drama before her upcoming cabaret performance. 

Sin-Dee drives this film forward in her no-bullshit, high heeled, larger than life storm across town, while Alexandra pays a doorman to let her sing on stage, slowing the film down to a thoughtful and somber outpouring of feeling. We see their vulnerability, their strength and their resilience.

"Pretty in Pink" -Iona and Andie in Pretty in Pink Acrylic on Wood 24x12 Iona is a sympathetic, understanding and supportive adult figure in Andie's life as she goes thru high school. She shares her clothes like a cool older sister, and is both a model of independent business woman and mother to Andie. Iona strongly encourages Andie to attend her prom, saying that it is a normal and exciting rite of passage that all teenagers should go thru, no matter their social standing. "You could say that life itself is a stupid tradition- don't analyze it. Just go."

"Pretty in Pink" -Iona and Andie in Pretty in Pink

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

Iona is a sympathetic, understanding and supportive adult figure in Andie's life as she goes thru high school. She shares her clothes like a cool older sister, and is both a model of independent business woman and mother to Andie. Iona strongly encourages Andie to attend her prom, saying that it is a normal and exciting rite of passage that all teenagers should go thru, no matter their social standing. "You could say that life itself is a stupid tradition- don't analyze it. Just go."

These paintings are 24x12 inches, matching the ratio of HD movies.  They colours are bold and very simplified in their execution. Like a film critic would use writing to explore themes in our culture, I choose frames of iconic movies to study a film director's composition and color choices to portray emotion, friendship and narrative, capturing these moments in paint. 

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -Jeannie Bueller of Ferris Beuller's Day Off Acrylic on Wood 24x12 Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey) from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" spends the entire movie trying to prove that her brother Ferris is not sick, but skipping school. It passes the Bechdel test- there are multiple named women in this film who talk about a variety of subjects, including why Jeanie gets arrested.  Jeanie offers many great suggestions ("Blow yourself"), engages in self care ("I'm very protective of my body. I do not want it violated or killed, alright?") and rages against a society that disregards her opinions, discounts her feelings and dismisses her as a jealous, angry woman. Jeannie says "That's it, I want out of this family" in the same way that many young, marginalized women feel they want out of this culture. In "Very cute, Very alone" Jeannie is the voice of reason in a pro-Ferris world.

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -Jeannie Bueller of Ferris Beuller's Day Off

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey) from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" spends the entire movie trying to prove that her brother Ferris is not sick, but skipping school. It passes the Bechdel test- there are multiple named women in this film who talk about a variety of subjects, including why Jeanie gets arrested. 

Jeanie offers many great suggestions ("Blow yourself"), engages in self care ("I'm very protective of my body. I do not want it violated or killed, alright?") and rages against a society that disregards her opinions, discounts her feelings and dismisses her as a jealous, angry woman. Jeannie says "That's it, I want out of this family" in the same way that many young, marginalized women feel they want out of this culture. In "Very cute, Very alone" Jeannie is the voice of reason in a pro-Ferris world.

"The Breakfast Club" -Allison (Basket Case) Reynolds in The Breakfast Club Acrylic on Wood 24x12 Allison is a marginalized character in The Breakfast Club. She lashes out and keeps people at a distance, sitting in all-day detention by choice. Her peers call her Basket Case- she is ignored by her parents, left out of the conversation by her peers, and she sits neglected and unwashed. As the characters develop, Allison lets down her defenses and allows Claire to do her makeup. She shows her vulnerability, finally allowing herself to be seen. Claire sees through her dark exterior, revealing the beauty underneath.

"The Breakfast Club" -Allison (Basket Case) Reynolds in The Breakfast Club

Acrylic on Wood 24x12

Allison is a marginalized character in The Breakfast Club. She lashes out and keeps people at a distance, sitting in all-day detention by choice. Her peers call her Basket Case- she is ignored by her parents, left out of the conversation by her peers, and she sits neglected and unwashed. As the characters develop, Allison lets down her defenses and allows Claire to do her makeup. She shows her vulnerability, finally allowing herself to be seen. Claire sees through her dark exterior, revealing the beauty underneath.

"We Don't Like a-Nothin Soft" -Varla in Faster Pussycat Kill Kill

Faster Pussycat Kill Kill is a feminist masterpiece. Three go go dancers send a clear warning- Men beware, female sexuality is dangerous. But Varla, Rosie and Billie are never reduced to mere sex objects- they have power and agency. After drag racing, smoking and drinking whiskey, they wrestle a man dead and try to steal another man's money. All of the sexual encounters are instigated by the women, and foiled by the men. Varla uses her muscle car to overpower the muscular young son, inverting all the expected stereotypes of the American man.

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photo by @gregmassiephoto

photo by @gregmassiephoto