They're bold, sassy, powerful, and badass characters we all love.
Quentin Tarantino is probably one of the most controversial filmmakers today. Not only do people rant about his excessive use of violence, he’s also been accused of being the most anti-feminist director. And let's not forget about his misogynistic tendencies regarding the roles women have in his films. I seriously read tons of articles regarding this issue when I was doing my dissertation paper on his film Django Unchained (2012), but I couldn’t really agree with what people claimed. Yes, I’m a huge fan, but I tried my best to be objective, and I honestly didn’t see their points. I’ve probably seen each of his movies dozens of times (actually I reached the record of 60 times with Django), and I have always had the impression that he has some of the strongest and most empowered female characters in Hollywood’s cinema. So, why do people get another idea of this?
One of the things that came to my mind was the fact that his female characters aren’t precisely flawless. On the contrary, they are extremely flawed. The other thing is related to his use of violence and how he deliberately puts female characters under this, which gives the impression that he actually enjoys looking at women in violent and abusive circumstances. Still, in my opinion, that doesn’t really make him a misogynist. On the contrary, he doesn't just put women in these situations, but all his characters, and this fact makes them not only strong, badass characters, but also extremely resilient, complex, and unique, with no parallel in the history of cinema. So, let’s take a journey through some of his most iconic movies, each of these characters, and the lessons they left us with.
Attitude is all that matters to achieve what you want
“I do believe Marsellus, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted. Now I wanna dance, I wanna win, I want that trophy. So dance well.” - Mia Wallace (Pulp Fiction)
Mia Wallace is Tarantino’s first important female character –and one that’s extremely alluring, if you ask me–, to the point that she’s considered one of the most iconic female roles in the history of cinema. Being the wife of a dangerous and powerful criminal called Marcellus, her passion was to become a very successful actress, but after appearing on a TV pilot that fails terribly, she abandons her dream. However, this doesn’t really stop her from living the life she wants and doing what she pleases. Basically she forces Vincent into a dance contest, even when he clearly doesn’t want to. She speaks to others as equals and doesn’t care about what people think about her. The iconic scene where she overdoses is one of the best examples of why Tarantino’s female characters are some of the most authentic ones out there, showing us that they are flawed beings, but more importantly that women in films don’t have to be fragile and perfect.
It’s never too late to start living
“Well, I've flown seven million miles. And I've been waiting on people almost 20 years. The best job I could get after my bust was Cabo Air, which is the worst job you can get in this industry. I make about sixteen thousand, with retirement benefits that ain't worth a damn. And now with this arrest hanging over my head, I'm scared. If I lose my job I gotta start all over again, but I got nothing to start over with. I'll be stuck with whatever I can get. And that shit is scarier than Ordell." - Jackie Brown (Jackie Brown)
Jackie Brown tells the story of a flight attendant who has been downgraded to only fly small flights for a low budget airline due to her age. Bored of her situation, she gets involved with a dangerous gun dealer and agrees to smuggle money from Mexico to the US, until one day she’s caught by the police. Fearing that she might turn him in, Ordell, the dealer, pays a bondsman to bail her, only to kill her once she’s out. However, being a determined woman, she guesses Ordell’s intentions and forces him to make a deal with her. Even when she feels her life has plummeted, she’s a strong woman who won’t be taken down without making a fight. She’s probably one of the best examples of how even when everything look dark, it’s just a matter of attitude and determination to make things better and start over.
Always give closure to your problems
“It's mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack. Not rationality.” - Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill Vol. 1&2)
Well, what can we say about The Bride that you don’t know already? She’s probably the most fearless, resilient, strong, and determined character in Tarantino’s universe. Not only does she endure all sorts of atrocities, but what's great about this character is the fact that she uses these traumatic events to have a reason to live and give them closure. Yes, she basically kills hundreds of people to achieve it. However, she believes that through her revenge she will be able to lead a peaceful life.
Don’t let anyone judge for who you are
“The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is... I collect your fucking head. Just like this fucker here. Now, if any of you sons of bitches got anything else to say, now's the fucking time!” - O-Ren Ishii (Kill Bill Vol.1)
Besides Beatrix Kiddo, O-Ren Ishii is the only character whose entire life is depicted in Kill Bill, and probably she has an equally traumatic (or worse) life experience than The Bride. Both her parents were killed in front of her when she’s just a little girl, and the trauma makes her one of the toughest characters in the movie. But the lesson I mean is in the scene where she’s named “Queen of Tokyo's underworld.” The fact that she’s Chinese-Japanese-American is something she has had to deal with all her life, but she’s proud of it and won’t let anyone judge her capabilities because of that.
Never let the opinion of a guy bring you down
“You got two jobs: kiss good, and make sure my hair don't get wet." - Arlene (Death Proof)
Although Death Proof didn’t become a very successful film, I do think it’s one of Tarantino’s greatest and most shocking stories. Basically, the film features a wide array of powerful female characters. In the first part, we’re introduced to a group of friends who get killed by a psychotic stuntman. So, here I’m going to focus first on Jungle Julia and Arlene a.k.a. Butterfly. Both girls are leading an independent life doing whatever they like. They are intelligent women who bring fun to the next level. Still, deep inside they’re still longing for that romantic and lovely life we see in fairy tales, and even if this doesn’t really come for them, they don’t allow anyone to notice it. On the contrary, they make the most of every experience.
If you hit me, I’m going to hit you twice as hard
“Look, I don't know what futuristic utopia you live in, but the world I live in, a bitch need a gun.” - Kim (Death Proof)
Then in the second part of the same film, a new group of extraordinary fun and tough women appears. Kim, Abernathy, and Zoe know life isn’t pretty, but they are determined to make the most of it, no matter what. Still, they represent the free-spirited life we all wish to achieve. So, while they also have to face this creepy murderer, they won’t let him get away and decide to give him the most kickass beating of his life.
You’re not in debt with someone who treats you nicely
“You either do what the fuck we tell you, or I'll bury this ax in your collaborating skull.” - Shosanna Dreyfus (Inglorious Basterds)
This movie introduced us to a full set of awesome characters including two badass women. The first one is Shosanna Dreyfus, a girl who runs away and settles in Paris with a different name after witnessing her entire family being shot by Nazis. She isn’t only quite ahead of her time, but she’s determined to not let those in power get her. One of the great things I love about her is that she has a fixed stance on what she believes and won’t change her mind about it, even if it means getting into serious problems or getting killed. We can see this in her cold attitude towards the German soldier Frederick Zoller, although he's nice with her or does “favors” believing he's helping her. She’s always quite direct with him about how he despises him for his actions.
Don’t ever feel intimidated by anyone
“Everybody needs to calm down! You're letting your imagination get the better of you!” - Bridget von Hammersmark (Inglorious Basterds)
The other character is Bridget von Hammersmark, a German diva who creates an operation to put an end to the Nazi regime. As it’s explained before we meet her, the operation is her brainchild. What I like about her isn’t just her wits and charms to trick the Nazi, but her resourcefulness to achieve her goals, even when her life is threatened. Besides this, she’s much more than the beautiful film star. She’s self-aware and uses this to trick others, but more than that, we know she isn’t intimidated by anyone. I mean, even when she’s shot in the leg and is hurt to get information from her, she never really breaks down and even answers in a sarcastic and cynical way, showing that she won’t let anyone treat her as an inferior.
Never give up on your freedom
“Hey, big troublemaker.” - Broomhilda von Shaft (Django Unchained)
I’ve read a lot about how Broomhilda is one of the weakest female characters in Tarantino’s movie. Moreover it's incredible how having such fierce women in his movies, Tarantino resorted to the classic and lame motif of the damsel in distress. Yes, for the genre's purposes Broomhilda isn’t as active as other characters, but she isn’t the passive character that only exists to put the story on motion. We get to see her relationship with Django and their determination to live freely, even if that means challenging the norms of their time. When their plan of escaping fails and they are separated, she doesn’t settle and faces her doom. Even when we don’t see it on screen, we know she’s been trying to escape constantly, despite being caught and punished terribly.
Women can be as powerful and dangerous as any other man
“When you get to hell, John, tell them Daisy sent you...” - Daisy Domergue (The Hateful Eight)
It was probably this movie the one that sparked most comments about Tarantino being a misogynist, mainly because it’s the movie where we see more violence perpetrated towards women. Daisy is the only main female character from a set of hateful figures, and yes, she’s constantly beaten and talked to in a terrible way, but everyone else is treated the same way. Tarantino intended to make us question if a character as hateful as Daisy can be treated differently only because she’s a woman. Probably people's reaction to her role in the movie is the answer to the hypothesis he posed with this character. Daisy is a fearsome woman who happens to have been caught for her crimes by an equally despicable character, but even when she’s enduring so much pain, she knows that eventually, she’ll get away with her plans. At least that's what she thinks.
As you can see, these characters have one shared motto: life might beat you hard, but not as hard as you’re going to hit back. At the end of the day, that’s what makes them so empowered and alluring.
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