The manner of how a female character is written, be it in books or movies, has considerably evolved over the years. There has been a shift in focus from writing a tender and benevolent character in nature to writing someone who is more fierce and driven. But in no way either of these definitions were or are any less powerful.

A recent comment by Rachel Zegler, who would soon grace the big screen as Snow White next year, has opened yet another debate about the re-imagination of female characters. In a video interview, she stated “We’re no longer in 1937. Snow White won’t be rescued by a prince, nor will she be preoccupied with the idea of true love.” She further added, “She is dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be.”

The issue isn’t the general switch in what defines a strong woman, it is taking too much liberty to change the entire heart of the source material, thinking it wasn’t empowering enough.  

We had seen this happen with recent adaptations of Cinderella (2021) and Persuasion (2022). The female protagonists originally written as compassionate and gentle were modernised into someone sarcastic and unapologetic. Cinderella and Anne Elliot were feminist in their own definition. A character doesn’t require to be outspoken in order to be considered strong. 

The need to write in such a manner is influenced by the fact that for long enough, an ideal woman was considered to be someone kind and forgiving which isn’t entirely true. So to counter this, the definition has taken a complete turn around.

Now, there is a constant comparison between these two opposites to the extent where Hollywood thinks there is only one right way of how a woman should be, either a victim or an aggressor, compassionate or cold-hearted. Therefore, changing Anne Elliot completely to the point where she became a stranger to the actual essence of Persuasion, wasn’t something wrong in the maker’s perspective.

A perfect example of a movie maintaining authenticity while still delivering their message is Little Women (2019) by Greta Gerwig. It subtly and quite vaguely indicated two possible endings, giving the power to the audience to choose which one they would’ve liked better – self sufficiency or romance. 

Thinking that one characteristic is more empowering than the other brings us to square one. Instead of looking for new stories, Hollywood is looking for new ways to fit older entertainment into today’s narrative which isn’t working to the best results. It is eliminating the journey of the portrayal of women on the big screen. Female characters from any background or any life choices are embodiments of feminism. 

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