Throughout time much has been said about the film roles of women. Everyone from scholars to bloggers has an opinion on the significance in society of how women on the big screen are portrayed. For me all of this debate only detracts from what the true focus of a film should be; an artistic expression of a story that reflects the values of the time in which it is written. Pauline Keel a respectable critic for the New Yorker once said “Movies of the past are like samples-swatches of cloth-of the period in which they were made” (Kael). The purpose of this essay is to analyze lead female roles in one action film from each decade starting in the 1940’s up to today to see if they do in fact reflect the current ideas of society.
The 40’s was a pivotal decade in the rethinking of the American woman. With all the men gone to war the country counted on woman to take up the slack and perform not only their designated roles of mother and housewife but also as a good percentage of the workforce. This is the beginning point where traditional ideas of the roles of woman were questioned and society started to understand that women were capable of doing much more than originally thought. However this new awareness did not reflect in most of the movies portraying women in the 40’s. Most of the roles were either maternal dramas or showed woman as the desire (or fear) of the male protagonist (A. S. Walsh). Of course let’s not forget the film noir style of dark shots and undertones of mistrust, cynicism, and despair. Although film noir depicts women as dangerous, manipulative, and needing to be exterminated it still confines them to the traditional roles and their behavior is a display of them rebelling against a situation forced on them by a man (Blase).
This being said there was still nontraditional woman in action films. Jeanine Basinger, head of the film department at Wesleyan University says "there is a tradition of strong female characters that have appeared in action films from the beginning" (Wloszczyna). One of the earliest action Female leads was Nyoka Meredith in the 1941 Republic Pictures Serial “Jungle Girl.” She was a daring heroin that taught (or at least gave pointers to) Tarzan how to swing on vines. When there was trouble Nyoka rushes in to save the day just at the last minute. She was smart, beautiful, and independent. She even was allowed to fight the bad guys, not a bad role model for women of that generation (Gifford). Unfortunately even Republic serials who cloned many of this type of women characters for decades still were not going to let the day be saved by a female so most of the main plot ideas were the men coming to rescue the damsel in distress who just kept getting captured by whoever the villain of this chapter was at the time. Even with its faults “Jungle girl” was at least a step in the right direction and I am sure at the time her cunning and ability to use logic and reason to get out of dangerous situations made here a...