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Calling Out A Cult Classic

On a day when many Gen Y’ers are celebrating the ten-year anniversary of a cult classic, another has announced the cast for the first film of their three-part instalment. While one is centred on four females, the other is notably missing exactly that – women (which is so not grool).

In the newest addition to the Star Wars universe (for those counting we’re now up to number seven), there are only two women. Yes, you read that correctly – two. Just two. A set, pair, duo, whatever you want to call it; out of a cast of thirteen only two are of the female variety.

The first female in this ensemble cast is Carrie Fisher, who will reprise her role as Princess Leia (the woman in the white getup with the side buns who kissed her brother) from the original trilogy (IV-VI), while British newcomer Daisy Ridley is the second. But that’s it.

Source: Mashable

Now I’m not usually one to jump on the “we need more women in this because of these reasons” bandwagon, but it seems that as of late, films of the fantasy genre can only handle one or two female leads, and it’s starting to bother me.

While I can’t list the entire range off the top of my head, I can draw on some examples. Such as Disney’s Frozen, which is the tale of sisters Elsa and Anna, and Brave, which focuses on the relationship between Merida and her mother (even if she is a bear for most of the film). Or The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where Marvel Comics have shown us that girls too can kick ass through Natasha Romanoff (The Black Widow) and Agent Maria Hill. Even in the block world of The Lego Movie, WyldStyle/Lucy and Unikitty wave the flag for the girls and help Emmet save the day.

Overall, women tend to make up the background as the supporting roles, on par with the loveable, only-there-for-the-comic-relief sidekick. They’re the caring mothers/grandmothers, dutiful and doting wives/girlfriends, or the best friend who undoubtedly has an unreciprocated love for the male (ahem, Eponine). That’s not to say though that we haven’t had our fair share of incredible lead characters over the years, notably Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), as well as a string of fearless women that grace our small screens each week (see: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, etc).

Now try and remember the last film you saw. How many female leads can you think of compared to those of the men?

Exactly.

Even movies with huge casts such as Les Misérables and the Harry Potter series feature only a handful of female leads. So why is this? When we’re trying to teach young girls about self-esteem and empowerment, how can we expect them to feel any of that when we’re not giving them anyone to look up to?

At this year’s Oscars, Cate Blanchett made this comment in her acceptance speech:

“Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they are not [niche experiences]. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!”

And her comment does not come without warrant. Some of the most successful films of last year had female leads – Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Heat and Gravity, to name a few.

But these movies are targeted towards those who are older, the teens and adults. What about the kids?

Like most others my age, I grew up watching Disney films with princesses fawning over a man. Some even going as far as to trade in their voice and swap their fins for feet, only to then have to use nothing more than their looks to attract the man that they desired.

Great message that’s sending out, isn’t it?

But thankfully in the past four years, Disney has created some truly magical female roles in movies such as Brave, Tangled and Frozen that feature not women, but girls (keep in mind these characters are all young – Merida’s 16, while Rapunzel and Anna are roughly 18), that young girls today can look up to and admire.

These characters aren’t searching for a man, unlike their pre-2000s counterparts. Brave centres on the rebuilding of the strained relationship between Merida and her mother, while in Tangled, we go on an adventure with Rapunzel as she makes her way to the royal kingdom to see the floating lanterns (there’s more to it than just that), and in Frozen we get a heart-warming story of love between two sisters when Anna goes off in search of her older sister Elsa after a horrible and heartbreaking mishap.

So why can’t we have more stories like these? Whether animated or not, for kids or adults; the world could do with tales of groups of women searching for adventure, being the leader when it comes to protecting their family or simply just having a good time where their motive is not of a vindictive nature.

You know what kind of movie I’d like to see? One where there’s a bunch of young twenty-something’s who aren’t all friends but meet by chance in a city that isn’t New York. Each of them is struggling to find a full-time job after graduation, and boy problems are far down on their list of concerns. They want nothing more than to spend all day in bed watching movies on their laptop but get up anyway because they know they have to get on with their lives. They meet for brunch every Saturday at 10am and divulge the week’s ups and downs to each other over a good cup of coffee.

In other words, a movie with a simple story that’s well written and perfectly cast.

Now I’d pay to see that.

And I know, you’re probably sitting there telling me that I’ve practically just described Girls and Sex and the City (well, to some extent), but those types of shows/movies are filled with a rather large amount of unrealistic events to happen to one group of people. Seriously, who genuinely has a life like that?

Anyways, as Cate said, audiences want to see films with women at the centre, so much so that last year on average, movies with women as the leads earned more money than those with men. So if J.J. Abrams wants to make his instalments with a male-dominated cast, then may the force be with him. But given the fact that it’s 2014 and there’s an ocean of incredible female talent out there, I’m a bit upset that he’s only dipped his toes in the water.

Even if he had added an extra two or three, it would’ve been nice to see more than two lead women in this fantasy film. But it’s still early days. There are yet another two instalments to go in the J.J. Star Wars universe, and maybe Obi-Wan will hear our message and come to our aid.

Either way, I guess we now know how Luke felt when he found out that Darth Vader was his father.

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It’s Time We Learnt to Accept Our Bodies

Turn to a page in any celebrity magazine or website and sure enough there’ll be a remark from someone about the appearance of a celebrity. Whether it’s a snide comment at an actress’s choice of outfit or pointing out that they’ve gained a few kilos, it’s become all too common that these are accepted points of daily discussion.

But what kind of message is this sending to young girls? The ones who’ve already grown up playing with Barbie dolls that have less than ideal body proportions and watch Disney films where inadequate portrayals of life are projected on the screen. The girls who then go on to read these types of magazines, which at the same time are sending conflicting messages and telling us that we should love our bodies while pointing out flaws in celebrities.

When it comes to body image and how we perceive and are perceived, let’s face it. We just can’t win.

And that’s why I want to introduce you to Mindy Kaling. She’s a force to be reckoned with, having made a name for herself as a writer, actress, comedienne and producer. Fans will love her for her work on The Office and The Mindy Project, and last year Entertainment Weekly named her one of the “50 Coolest and Most Creative Entertainers” in Hollywood. But as inspirational as she is for her work, it’s her view on body image that makes her my idol.

I recently read an article by Elissa Strauss that outlines why Mindy Kaling is the body positive icon of the moment. Strauss compares her to Lena Dunham (Girls) who’s known for her portrayal of Hannah Horvath and the character’s “couldn’t give a sh*t what you think” attitude, noting that when it comes to appearances, Mindy Kaling absolutely cares about what she looks like, both as herself and her character on screen.

She likes to wear flattering clothing and often speaks of her conflicted relationship with food and exercise; and in a recent interview with Vogue, she unleashed this gem:

“There’s a whole list of things I would probably change about myself. For example, I’m always trying to lose 15 pounds. But I never need to be skinny. I don’t want to be skinny. I’m constantly in a state of self-improvement…”

And this is why we should all be a little bit more like Mindy Kaling. In an entertainment world saturated with stick thin models and actresses who are always trying the latest diet craze, she looks at the positives and focuses on the things she loves – writing, producing, dressing in gorgeous figure-flattering clothing and eating damn good food as her Instagram pictures would suggest – rather than on a desire to be thin. And she accepts that.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that there are definitely some things I’d love to change about my body. First and foremost would be my height. My license says 162cm but I’m pretty sure I barely scrape past the 160cm mark. My family are a bunch of shorties and that’ll never change (unless I procreate with someone much taller and keep my fingers crossed that our kids inherit his genes). Secondly, my wide-set hips. While the fat can disappear from that area (and it has been), my bone structure will always be the same.

It’s taken me years to accept my body for what it is today and as much as I’d love to be taller or have smaller hips, I know that will never happen and I’m okay with it. If these are the biggest complaints I could have of all the problems in the world, then I’m doing all right.

So next time you look in the mirror, I want you to challenge yourself. Don’t stand there and notice all of the imperfections or the things you wish you could change about yourself, instead find a reason to love them. Not overly fond of your big hips like I am? Well they’ll come in very handy when you’re trying to squeeze out that watermelon of a baby in ten year’s time. What about those small breasts you’re always feeling insecure about? Well you’ll be glad you have them when you hit your sixties and can only watch as your larger counterparts fall victim to the cruel nature of gravity, having to purchase spacesuit material undergarments to hoist those things up.

Too often we focus on the negatives and lose sight of the good things we have right in front of us. There’s not one person in this world that will ever be entirely happy with how they look, but you only have to turn to your friends who’ll rightfully put you in your place and instantly make you feel a whole lot better about yourself. Trust me. Or you can pick up a copy of Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)”. Either way, it’s time we all looked a little more on the brighter side of life.