It has recently been announced that Meryl Streep will play the U.S. President in Adam McKay’s upcoming film Don’t Look Up, a science fiction black comedy about an approaching comet that looks set to destroy Earth. Streep already has a track record of portraying strong female leaders on screen, her most memorable turn perhaps being her Oscar-winning performance in The Iron Lady (2011). Except she is far from the only woman to have stepped up to a position of power on the big screen. Here are just some of the powerful female leaders in film.
Charlotte Field – Long Shot
Charlize Theron stars as U.S. Secretary of State Charlotte Field in this adult romcom from 2019. She is a figurehead character, who is poised and professional in comparison to Seth Rogen’s stoner journalist Fred Flarsky. This forms a huge part of the comedy in the film, which ultimately sees Field become President, with Flarsky as her unlikely ‘First Mister.’ Throughout the film, Field refuses to bow to the wishes of corrupt politicians and businessmen who want her to compromise on her morals, and at one point she even negotiates with terrorists while on ecstasy. An unconventional leadership style? Sure, but it works, and she does it all while putting up with Fred’s inappropriate jokes and unfortunate way with words. She is a beacon of professionalism in a film filled with incompetent and corrupt men (like most of the women leaders on this list).
Tiana – The Princess and the Frog
In the hit Disney musical and also one of the studio’s last classically animated films, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) starts out as a cook with big dreams of owning her own restaurant. By the end, she’s a princess with a fancy restaurant in New Orleans. Her journey in the film focuses on her hard-working, resilient nature, and her ambitions beyond marriage. Though she does not officially join the exclusive ‘leaders’ club until the end of the film when her marriage to Prince Naveen makes her a princess, she demonstrates many important leadership qualities throughout. Her ambition, drive, ingenuity, and integrity (both as a human and a frog) all stand out. Her status as Disney’s first African-American heroine is crucial to her role as a leader, and she has inspired younger generations to see themselves in positions of power.
Miranda Priestly – The Devil Wears Prada
Perhaps the most notorious onscreen boss, Meryl Streep’s magazine Editor-in-Chief Miranda Priestly still strikes fear into anybody watching, With her perfectly coiffed hair, stylish black attire, and fixed stare, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Meryl Streep plays her with characteristic flair, nailing her chilling put-downs and icy demeanour. There’s no denying that Priestly’s management style borders on psychologically abuse wrapped up in a Hermes scarf however, and for that reason, while she’s an incredibly powerful leader and entertaining character, she’s hardly someone women should aspire to emulate. Streep has said she used Cruella De Vil as inspiration for her performance, which goes some way in explaining just why the portrayal is so terrifying. We only get to see her being vulnerable once before she is back to her overbearing, undermining ways. Ranking her amongst the great female leaders of cinema, Priestly stands out as one of the most memorable and terrifying at once.
Police Chief Marge Gunderson – Fargo
Frances McDormand’s small-town police chief is authoritative and willing to do anything to track down murderers who have disturbed the peace in Fargo, North Dakota. She does this while being one of the most polite and down to earth characters in a film full of deceptive and evil people–not to mention while she is also heavily pregnant and acting as an emotional rock for her husband Norm, a fledgling painter. McDormand brings an unapologetically feminine characterisation to her portrayal of Gunderson. She never resorts to aggression to get what she wants, but uses reasoning and clear-headedness to bring down her criminals. Her pregnancy barely seems to faze her despite the danger of her job. Instead, it actually works to humanise her in a position of authority that has typically been given to men with no traits but ruthlessness in other films. As leaders go, Marge is as inspiring as she is humble.
Judi Dench’s M – James Bond
When we think of the current collection of James Bond films, we first and foremost picture Daniel Craig running across rooftops in a sharp suit. But Judi Dench’s MI6 boss M is beyond doubt the most powerful of any of the leaders who have stepped up to the mantle in previous Bond films. In just her first film, 1995’s Goldeneye starring Pierce Brosnan as 007, she calls Bond out as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War,” helping to immediately solidify her status an iconic leader. She is cold and blunt, but some have described the relationship between Craig’s Bond and Dench’s M as also being maternal (particularly in Skyfall). There are certainly elements of the maternal in her leadership style, but she maintains an unflinching, analytical approach and a dedication to the job. Despite multiple accusations of being unfit for the job, and a public enquiry after MI6 loses an important hard drive under her leadership, M remains level-headed and professional.
Okoye – Black Panther
Okoye is the General of the Dora Milaje, a group of Wakandan female fighters who protect the king. She is fiercely loyal to Wakanda, her king, and her friends, helping the Avengers as well as looking out for the needs of her own. Her loyalty even goes as far as being willing to kill her own husband, W’Kabi, for her country. Her abilities on the battlefield, including fighting with a vibranium spear and using martial arts, help to ensure Wakandan victory in the clash against Killmonger. As a leader, she is authoritative and gets fully involved, leading her army into the throes of battle and fighting with them. In Avengers: Infinity War, she is no less formidable, standing with the Avengers to defeat Thanos. There are few other examples of woman leaders and feminine power that feel as defining as Okoye.
Words by Caitlin Barr
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.