daisy ridley: film’s new face of feminism

Why the silver screen is the place to find our feminist icons…

by Hattie Collins
20 December 2015, 3:00am

I went to see the new, very highly anticipated Star Wars yesterday. As a long-time fan, I was tentative. We'd been burnt before, would we be burnt again? The answer is a resounding no. I loved it even more than I could possibly have hoped. As the auntie of two young nieces, it was The Force Awakens' feminist dynamic that impressed me most. There's so much to love about this new offering from J.J. Abrams, but what struck me most was the legacy of equality that the film leaves in its wake. Sure, this is how all films should be, but real talk, few are. It prompted me to write a letter to my two favourite females, Scout and Issie, and to all the other girls around the world that need to know where - and who - to look to find fierce and fabulous women so that they too will become fierce and fabulous women….

Warning: this piece contains (practically) no plot spoils!

To my dearest nieces,

You are brilliant and smart and hilarious and you have so much personality that it sometimes overwhelms me. You make me laugh, and when I'm sad, one quick cuddle with you makes the world well once again. You have more magic in your little finger than a million Harry Potters (Harry is great, but Hermione is better). I can already see how clever and thoughtful and astute you are and you haven't even begun yet. You're going to grow into women soon enough (please not too soon though thanks) and when that happens you'll be even more awesome. Whether you work in a shop or own your own business, whether you're a scientist or a plumber or an academic or a creative or a bar-worker, I will forever be the auntie who thinks the sun shines out of your arse. Cos, to me, it does.

You already have brilliant role models in your mums. They're such incredible women, trust me. Watch and learn from them, but inevitably you'll become a teenager and hate everyone (maybe you'll hate me for a bit, though I doubt it) and it's at this point you'll need to seek out other women to teach and guide you. There's many brilliant books you can read. There's lots of incredible music to listen to. For a long time, there were woefully few films where you could gain a sense of feminist perspective, but boy the times they are a changing and now it feels like it's film that's throwing up the best portrayals of women.

Guys, when it comes to role models, be careful who you idolise in music. Listen to whoever and whatever you want to, but don't take in the visual messages from these female pop stars who serve only to reinforce the idea of femininity from a very male gaze. I hope there will be more choice in the future than there is now. For every Adele or Florence or Grimes who not only sing great songs but who say really interesting, intelligent things while managing to stay, you know, dressed, you will be faced with a plethora of pop stars that will undermine your gender, your size, your choice of clothes, your skin. These aren't the role models I wish for you.

Film is far from perfect too. When you hit up the local Odeon (do they still exist?), you'll be faced with many women in not many clothes playing the prop or stooge or the love interest or the best friend to the leading male. These actors are paying the bills, they're taking the only parts that are offered. As Viola Davis recently noted during her Best Actress Emmy speech (she was the first black woman to win in the award, which is incredible I know), "You cannot win an Emmy for a role that is not there". Increasingly though, we're seeing brilliant women on our screens; from Sofia Helin's Saga in The Bridge to J-Law's Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games which is mega awesome, and IRL the woman that plays her is bloody brilliant too.

And now there's a new hero in town and her name is Rey.

The new Star Wars is brilliant mostly because it puts women at the front rather than the back of the story. From Daisy Ridley as hero Rey, to Princess Leia's promotion to General, to Lupita's wise-cracking prophet to female x-wing fighters, The Force Awakens' very backbone is bolstered by brave and brilliant women. There's a lot to love about The Force Awakens, but the main two reasons are J.J Abrams and Daisy Ridley. Abrams has managed to create a sequel that is respectful to the originals; it has a clear point of view, a compelling story arc, and it's funny and camp and utterly tactile. To watch The Force Awakens is to live The Force Awakens. Your parents and I were taken to see Star Wars as kids and we loved it. We hope you love these films too and go back and watch the original trilogy (but don't bother with the middle three, they're utter arse). We had Princess Leia to look up to and now your generation has a brand new Leia.

Abrams, like Lucas in the early years, transports us deeply into the world of two suns, sand dunes and space. Like A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi (look, lets just pretend Attack Of The Clones etc., never happened), The Force Awakens is a thrilling, utterly immersive celluloid adventure that entertains and educates us all at the same time. It feels completely contemporary but - as is the magic of Star Wars - it's both archaic and futuristic all at the same time. It's tomorrow and now and yesterday all at once. It ties into universal hopes and fears and proves that going up against The Man and the forces of evil isn't a choice; it's a necessity. Ridley, who plays Rey, is a revelation; she's funny and focused and forceful. She captures the spirit of Princess Leia while making the role totally her own. She's strong and smart and better at flying the Millennium Falcon than even Han Solo and Chewbacca. She kicks way more arse than her male counterpart John Boygeya (who is also utterly awesome and almost as camp as C3P0).

I don't know much about Ridley, the actress yet, but I'm imploring you to watch and learn from her in The Force Awakens. Guys, she's legit. There's a scene at the beginning of the film when Finn (don't worry, it'll make sense when you watch) keeps trying to lead her and she says "What's wrong with you! Stop trying to hold my hand!" At one point - actually at many - it's Rey who rescues Finn - as is the way in A New Hope with the Leia/ Luke dynamic. Rey wears clothes that cover her body, which while that shouldn't be abnormal is often a challenge to find in film.

The Force Awakens is the place to learn a little about the feminist identity; women are as bad-ass as men and don't let anyone tell you any different. Traditionally Star Wars was marketed at young boys. Those days are long gone, thank god. We now have much wider discussions about gender and race and sexuality and body image. Things aren't perfect, far from it, but hopefully your generation will be the ones to make things really righteous. Girls, The Force Awakens is for you… I want you to watch Rey and understand that you too can take on the world. You might get things wrong sometimes, but that's ok. Do your best, be brilliant while you're at it and never, ever compromise yourself for The Man (or a man or a woman). Remember kids; Do or not do. There is no try. Yes, I do feel the force in you both and yes it is strong. The time is no more a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The time, my little friends, is now.


Text Hattie Collins
Film Still Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars
The Force Awakens
Daisy Ridley