100 Greatest Movie Characters?
Right now, Empire Magazine Online has a list up of the "100 Greatest Movie Characters." Since I'm somebody who loves a good list, I took a gander at it yesterday.
And what I saw surprised even cynical me.
Of the 100 characters listed, 12 are female. The first of these female characters, Aliens' Ripley, appears at number 9. Then we don't see another woman until Mary Poppins (really? Mary Poppins?) shows up at number 41. Mary is followed by:
- annoying stalker Amelie at 45;
- poor pregnant Juno at 56;
- Natalie Portman's child killer Mathilda from Leon (The Professional) at 62;
- Tarantino and Uma Thurman's Kill Bill creation The Bride at 66;
- Marge Gunderson from Fargo at 75;
- animated Jessica Rabbit at 88;
- Princess Leia at 89;
- The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz at 90;
- Scarlett O'Hara at 91;
- and Jodie Foster's Silence of the Lambs Clarice at 97.
Not only could they only come up with 12 women, 10 of whom were in the last half of the list, but those 12 women are all white (well, except the witch, who is green) and all young (again, with that witch exception, and maybe Marge). Did nobody notice this when compiling this list?
The situation for non-white men (or at least non-white men portrayed by non-white actors) is even worse. The list boasts a grand total of six:
- Samuel L. Jackson's Jules, from Pulp Fiction at 19;
- Red, from The Shawshank Redemption, played by Morgan Freeman, at 22;
- Tequila, played by Chow Yun-Fat in Hard Boiled, at 33;
- Anton, Javier Bardem's character in No Country For Old Men, at 46;
- Wesley Snipes' Blade at 47;
- Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, at 78.
Six characters, and two of them are murderers?
So what does the list offer by way of comparison? Well, just about every major character from Star Wars seems to be included, and all of them are listed higher than Leia (Darth Vader at #2, Han Solo at #4, Yoda at #25, Luke Skywalker at #54, and Boba Fett at #79). Lord of the Rings is also a favorite, with Gollum at #13, Gandalf at #28, and Aragorn at #31. Both Michael and Vito Corelone from The Godfather movies are included, as are Agent Smith and Neo from The Matrix. There are weird outliers as well, some of which make sense to me and some of which do not. I couldn't fathom seeing Jigsaw from the Saw films at #30 or Tony Stark from Iron Man at #48, but I was thrilled to see nods given to Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands (#37) and Hugo Weaving's amazing V from V for Vendetta (#72).
The overwhelming white maleness of this list leads me to one central question: is the issue that there aren't sufficiently great characters available to women and non-white people, or is the problem that those characters aren't recognized by lists like this one? Most of the films whose characters featured heavily, like those mentioned above, don't have a lot of female or non-white characters in them. On the other hand, there are some. Why was Keanu Reeves' Neo included from The Matrix instead of Laurence Fishburne's more impressive Morpheus? Why is Dr. Hannibal Lecter #5 on the list while Clarice is #97?
This list is just one more example of female characters and characters of color being both underwritten and overlooked for acknowledgment when they are portrayed. It doesn't seem like a coincidence to me that Ripley, the highest featuring woman on the list, was intended to be a male character.
Who would you have included?