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Nevertheless, She Persisted: Female Fighters, Thinkers and Dreamers in the Year of #OscarsSoMale

With their nominations (or snubs), these ten characters represent what Hollywood can do to defeat Trump culture and what still needs to be fixed

4 minutes


Thoughts of the 2047 satirical masterpiece Melania directed by the Clooney twins aside, the experience of witnessing Natalie Portman breathing life into Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín’s masterful not-quite-a-biopic is overwhelming, and one that will leave a bitter aftertaste in this year of political unrest in the United States.
Jackie’s Camelot was the promise of a better America, of a country ready to admit its issues and willing to fix them, a fairy tale that inspired some true change. Change that took a long time to even begin, that was partially reached, and that is right now crumbling down, but not without a fight. Women are the heroes in this new narrative of marches and political dissent, and one thing that Jackie does so well is representing the drive that will make women the ultimate winners against disgusting Grabbers-in-Chief.
Portman’s Jackie is not a glamour goddess on the cover of magazines. She’s tough, often grating, confused, scared and yet persistent. What we see is not pretty, it’s not pleasing; it’s blood drying on an otherwise spotless pink suit, it’s hands holding together pieces of skull and brain.

It’s the dirt, snot and ugly crying of Viola Davis fighting claws-first for the dignity of an imperfect man in Denzel Washington’s Fences, because every story needs to be heard, every voice needs to be understood.
It’s the claws and the shouts and the cries and the grief of a rebellion that won’t quit, under the watchful eyes of Princess Leia, a new icon brought in celebration through the streets of a revolting America.


Viola Davis in Fences © 2016 Paramount Pictures Above: Natalie Portman in Jakie © 2016 Fox Searchlight Pictures

Viola Davis in Fences © 2016 Paramount Pictures
Above: Natalie Portman in Jackie © 2016 Fox Searchlight Pictures


Fighting for the right to live…

And we can also consider fighters the characters played by Best Actress nominees Isabelle Huppert and Ruth Negga. In the controversial and darkly ironic Elle, the red-haired goddess of French cinema reclaims her role as maker of her own life. Her absurd, often indefensible actions are not driven by vengeance, but rather by the desire not to let men run her life by unspeakable acts of violence. Isabelle’s Michèle is a lioness that can be hurt but immediately knows how to turn from prey back to predator.


Isabelle Huppert in Elle © 2016 Sony Pictures Classics

Isabelle Huppert in Elle © 2016 Sony Pictures Classics

Ruth Negga in Loving © 2016 Focus Features

Ruth Negga in Loving © 2016 Focus Features


Ruth Negga’s Mildred in Loving, on the other hand, is a fighter whose weapons are a quiet smile and the unmovable conviction to be in the right. The aptly-named real-life Lovings fought and won a battle against prejudice and changed the history of interracial couples through the power of their union and the simplicity of their lives.


…Thinking of solutions to better the world…

All that is only the tip of the iceberg of this year’s women at the Oscars. Jackie, Michèle, Mildred and Davis’ Rose are the fighters, but defeating the patriarchy involves thinkers as well. American excellence is also female and black excellence. Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (nominee Octavia Spencer), revolutionary African-American mathematicians at NASA in the years of Jackie & Jack, reclaim their right to excellence in the crowd-pleasing Hidden Figures, an unexpected Best Picture nominee. The black women of Hidden Figures fight ignorance and prejudice with poised intelligence, proving that without them there would have been no American flag on the Moon.


Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe in Hidden Figures © 2016 20th Century Fox

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe in Hidden Figures © 2016 20th Century Fox


And, probably, no Arrival, another Best Picture nominee that excitingly mixes science, language and H.P. Lovecraft, once again with a woman at its core. It’s another kind of American excellence, one that involves wise and mutual communication, something that the current American administration can’t (and probably doesn’t want to) achieve. Amy Adams, who has received more nominations than any other actress of her generation, was not nominated for Arrival.
It’s an ugly snub that reeks of sexism, since the movie itself was nominated in all the major categories and any male star in the same role would have easily been nominated. It’s telling of what still needs to be fixed, with sci-fi still being seen as a boys club and, in a broader sense, it’s also the most prominent example of women being snubbed in traditionally male roles in the year of #OscarsSoMale.


Amy Adams in Arrival © 2016 Paramount Pictures

Amy Adams in Arrival © 2016 Paramount Pictures


Where are the women behind the camera? The glass ceiling was broken years ago by Kathryn Bigelow, the first and so far only female director to win an Oscar, but since then it has been slowly rebuilt with no female directing nominees and very few women in categories other than Best Actress and Supporting Actress. The Oscars woke up from their all-white slumber this year, after last year’s #OscarsSoWhite, hopefully women will be included in the sequel, as Moana’s nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda would put it.


…and daring to dream for something more

That leads us to the last category of this year’s Oscar women: the dreamers. Because Hollywood is an industry based on the power of dreams and it should give women the opportunity to fulfill those dreams in the real world, well beyond the fairy tales told on screen. What better way to fight a culture of hate than daring to dream, persisting in dreaming for something better, more hopeful, more beautiful, despite the ugliness of what surrounds us and the absurdity of our dreams.


Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins © 2015 Paramount Pictures/Lucky Red

Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins © 2015 Paramount Pictures/Lucky Red


Meryl Streep’s Florence Foster Jenkins is definitely absurd, yet so enchanting in her absurdity. She has one goal, to please, to make the world a little classier and a little more creative. It’s that drive that makes her so unique, and uniquely great, despite her lack of actual talent.


Emma Stone in La La Land

Emma Stone in La La Land © 2016 Lionsgate


Emma Stone’s Mia in front-runner La La Land, on the other hand, has talent, but she has to dig for it. And she finds it when realization hits her that the road towards our dreams, and not their fulfillment, is what makes life special. Her journey is symbolic of how important something as silly as film stars getting statuettes of golden naked men can be in an America that is slowly destroying the American Dream: no matter how hard those in power try, no matter how they bask in ignorance and fear, their favorite victims will always persist, will always think, and fight, and demonstrate that the world can still belong to the fools who dream.

Ciro Di Lella works as an Art History and Literature teacher in a private school in Rome and freelances as a translator of Young Adult and romance novels (English to Italian) for a publisher based in Brescia. In the past, he has worked as the artistic director for a film club aimed at high-schoolers. He got the film bug when he was in middle school and hasn’t stopped watching and writing about movies ever since. He’s also a voting member of the International Cinephile Society (

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