15 Patriarchy-Smashing Female, Trans, & Non-Binary Characters Giving Our Lives Meaning in 2018
It’s hardly news, but cis, white, heterosexual men are eating up all of our film/TV screen time. Men have more lines to deliver, bigger paychecks, and no matter what tuxedo, bodysuit, or fedora guise it may take, traditional masculinity is always guaranteed a seat at the table. Scratch that, two seats—masculinity is an avowed manspreader. So, it’s been ridiculously exciting to see more roles going to unconventional women and gender nonconformists in 2018. Already, this year has seen no shortage of stories devoted to people of color, of size, of varying beliefs, the differently abled, and those on every frequency of the LGBTQA+ spectrum. Here are just a few characters you should definitely be following on the big and small screen:
15) Ava Hamilton, The Cloverfield Paradox
When The Cloverfield Paradox appeared in our Netflix queues immediately after Super Bowl LII, it was music to the ears of millions of sci-fi nerds and fans of J.J. Abrams’ loosely tethered alien franchise. The new addition gave us a scattershot story, but an infinitely winning cast of misfits, including engineer and astronaut Ava Hamilton, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She and her international team must get the Shepard Accelerator running—a device that could solve Earth’s depleted energy problem, or throw multiple dimensions into chaos. Hamilton is poised to either right the damage her team has done, or give in to the grief that still haunts her.
14) Elena Alvarez, One Day at a Time
Hear me out: I know this is a multi-camera, feel-good sitcom, but for the adults who remember tuning in for network comedies in the early 90’s, this one may win you back to them. It straddles the line between sweet and smart, and packs a surprising emotional punch, thanks in part to Elena, played by Isabella Gomez. She’s the teenage daughter of a single, Cuban-American mom, and is far more interested in pursuing social justice and lesbian relationships than her family is prepared for. That said, the elder Alvarez women understand that their thoughts on Elena’s politics or sexuality won’t change anything.
13) Trevor, Shameless
Actor Elliot Fletcher had been making the rounds on shows like Shameless and The Fosters, and I hope this means that Hollywood is ready to dub him it’s resident trans male hunk, because I sure am. As Trevor on Shameless, he swoops in to nab the heart of Ian Gallagher, and teach him that even though Ian may be the only openly gay Gallagher, he and the whole clan have a lot to learn about gender expression, terminology, and how not to bring up genitals in polite conversation.
12) Josie Radek & Anya Thorensen, Annihilation
It’s impossible to recognize one of these women without the other; Josie Radek is a fear-paralyzed physicist (played by Tessa Thompson) and Anya Thorensen is an angry and deeply paranoid paramedic (played by Gina Rodriguez). They round out an all-female research team, sent to observe an other-worldly crash slowly transforming and destroying earth’s landscape, knowing they will likely never return. Josie and Anya are perfect polar opposites, bringing sadness and rage to a film that is an oppressively sterile slow-burn whenever they aren’t on screen.
11) Janet, The Good Place
If you find yourself in the afterlife with a lot of questions about the order of the cosmos, there’s only one entity to consult: Janet. Not a human, or a woman, D’Arcy Carden plays Janet as a living embodiment of a Siri assistant that appears whenever someone needs an answer, a jalapeño popper, or a catalog of their Earthly misdeeds. But Janet is also discovering loopholes in her makeup that allow to her marry outside of her species, or even create other beings.
10) Meg Murry, A Wrinkle in time
As Meg Murray, the average kid in a family of scientific geniuses who is thrown headfirst into keeping the peace between a collection of interplanetary eccentrics, actor Storm Reid does something remarkable. She reminds the people who grew up admiring and relating to Meg that she has issues with self-worth, acceptance, and self-esteem. Underneath mountains of costumes and digital effects, Meg’s story centers on changing how much worth we assign ourselves.
9) Emily/Ofglen, The Handmaid’s Tale
She used to be a professor. She used to have a family. Now, under authoritarian rule, Alexis Bledel’s Emily is branded a “gender traitor” and forced to carry children for the rich and infertile. Last we saw her, she was whisked away, probably for conspiring against Gilead (and definitely for killing her escort), and in this season’s latest episode, we finally catch up with her. She’s working in a forced labor camp, dreaming of her missing wife and son, and taking every little revenge against her captors she can get.
8) Taylor Mason, Billions
So, I’m not a huge proponent of Billions. It’s centered on two egocentric rich men who live to defame each other and deliver ham-fisted monologues to their underlings. Meh. Whatever floats your boat. What drew me in for their latest season is the addition of television’s first non-binary character, Taylor Mason, played by Asia Kate Dillon. Taylor begins as an intern for Axe Capital with an eye for non-suspicious money moving and industrial espionage. They are fascinated by the trade, but are constantly reminded of their outsider status in an industry tailored to reward men. Money and prestige are not Taylor’s object, but they’d love to have their differences seen as valid/valuable by those on top.
7) Bridgette Bird, SMILF
This portrait of motherhood is extremely blunt, bleak, gratuitous, and so funny it’s painful. Frankie Shaw writes, directs, and stars as Bridgette Bird, a single aspiring actress who is raising a toddler, juggling tutoring jobs with whatever free childcare she can scrounge, and staving off abject poverty. She’s desperate to know if childbirth has ruined her body for sex, and just as desperate to ditch her kid for the five minutes to would take her to run to the corner store.
6) Lenny Busker/The Shadow King, Legion
Legion is the most stylish, smart, and mind-numbingly gorgeous addition to the Marvel universe you could ever hope for, and it owes most of its aesthetic to an enterprising villain who keeps everyone in their path in a mental vice. Call them the Shadow King, Lenny Busker, or Amahl Farouk, they are an amorphous being played by Aubrey Plaza, and they are too powerful, nimble, and sexually confusing to ever be captured.
5) Rose Tico, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Never meet your heroes. For every gifted Jedi with unnatural abilities in the Star Wars universe, there is also a Rose Tico, filled with vigor and unwavering support. Played by Kelly Marie Tran, Rose is surrounded by celebrities of the rebellion, and completely in awe of their bravery. As her journey progresses she learns that those we put on pedestals are not free of flaws, and her efforts are just as valuable.
4) Marina Vidal, A Fantastic Woman
In a late night fit, Marina’s older lover, Orlando, passes away, leaving her alone and entangled with his suspicious family and with the authorities. Things are fraught for Marina, played by Daniela Vega, not only because Orlando died suspiciously with no other witnesses, buy also because Marina is transgender, and the spotlight is fixed on her, no matter how unfairly.
3) Eve Polastri, Killing Eve
BBC TV has outdone itself with this compelling and silly serial-murderer manhunt series, following Eve Polastri, played by Sandra Oh, as she absent mindedly pursues a particularly deadly hit-woman. She’s got amazing instincts, but her timing and judgement are struggling to keep up, which is great for crime solving, but not great if you’re caught fudging witness statements and searches. She’s what’s next in a great tradition of oddball detectives.
2) Regan Abbott, A Quiet Place
In a strange new existence that condemns anyone who speaks above a whisper to be torn apart by fearsome creatures with ridiculous hearing, deaf pre-teen and badass Regan Abbott (played by Millicent Simmonds) is the reason her family has lasted so long (they use ASL to communicate without speaking). Still, because of her deafness, she struggles with the liability she poses.
1) Nakia, General Okoye, & Shuri, Black Panther & Avengers: Infinity War
What list of patriarchy smashers would ever be complete without the fearsome prowess of Nakia, General Okoye & Shuri? There’s Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o—a master spy, infiltrator, and Wakanda’s would-be global ambassador. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is the general of the Dora Milaje, and she may be staunchly traditional by her county’s standards, but she’ll make quick work of any colonizer who tries to talk down to her. And Shuri? Her mind is Wakanda’s true most precious resource, brought to life with dripping sarcasm by Letitia Wright. Forget T’Challa, I yield to these three women, the ultimate royalty.
(featured image: Sony Pictures Classics & Showtime)
Sean Margaret Wagner is a playwright, storyteller, comedy writer, and theater reviewer based out of Chicago, IL. She’s a Film/TV buff, pop-culture obsessed, and very shrill feminist.
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