In an industry dominated by men it is not often we find ourselves with women in crime films. But when we do they are resilient, determined and 100% badass, whether working for the law or vigilantes working against it. Here’s 6 Screenqueens’ writers faves…
When it comes to the ladies of the law in the movies there is no greater example than Pam Grier’s Coffy, a sexy, educated and strong nurse, who seeks revenge against the evils of her city.
Living in a city full of junkies and drug pushers, as well as corrupt city officials and policemen, Coffy begins to put the law in her own hands when her sister becomes a victim of drug addiction. On her nights off from being a nurse she lures these pushers into her house and kills them, using her sexuality and her athleticism to lure them in and to get the job done.
Her secret nightlife takes a toll of her day to day job as a nurse and is soon asked to leave. After doing so she experiences her cop-friend be savagely beaten by a bunch of pushers. Because of these two instances she decides to dedicate all of her energy towards the destruction of these men, no matter what it takes.
Disguising herself as an exotic prostitute she becomes acquainted with kingpins King George and Arturo Vitroni, the biggest pushers and pimps of the city. After defeating them she comes to a realization that her boyfriend — a small time politician — is also corrupted by the mafia and she decides to take him down just as she did with his colleagues.
This classic blaxploitation film is my favourite example of not only great vigilante movies, but also my favourite example of strong, female characters in film. Grier for years prior to “Coffy” has always managed to play a strong female lead but “Coffy” is definitely one of the better examples. In this film she is fiercely protective of her loved ones, willing to sacrifice her own lives for their revenge. The use of her sexuality although sometimes more made to arouse a male audience than anything else is sometimes empowering.
Like the tagline says; “they call her Coffy and she’ll CREAM you.” –Monica
SPECIAL AGENT DANA KATHERINE SCULLY (THE X-FILES, 1993-2002)
Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully is a gift to us all. First things first, she’s a medical doctor and essentially a genius. Her ever-present calculated sense of skepticism has saved both herself and her partner, Mulder, approximately 10,000 times. Whenever Mulder gets confused/ hung up on aliens Scully’s insanely through autopsies manage to unearth the tiniest and most necessary details to crack the case. In addition to hacking open dead bodies, she can also combat everyday instances of misogyny within both the bureau and the medical field. She can even run down a serial killer while wearing heels and handling a firearm…without tripping or harming anyone in the vicinity! Without Scully, the X Files would’ve been toast.Her in depth reports on the innermost workings of each case singlehandedly reinforce the validity of the department. Scully is indispensable to the X Files, and no one will attest to that fact quicker than her gigantic-sunflower-seed-munching-alien-obsessed-nerd of a partner, Fox Mulder. Seriously, Scully went on vacation for two days and all he did was eat sunflower seeds and play basketball by himself. Scully’s best friend may be science but Scully is definitely Mulder’s BFF. Dana Scully may be tiny, but beneath her resting “are you kidding me???” face, she contains multitudes. She is petite yet tough. She loves Mulder through subtleties because public displays of affection aren’t her thing. Most of all, her faith in science is unwavering but it is also expansive, allowing her to open her mind up to the possibilities of life itself…on earth or otherwise. She serves as a reminder to all television writers that it is possible to create a multi-faceted, flawed female character who is capable of handling a firearm and relentless undertones of sexual tension. –Rosie
KATHRYN MURPHY (THE ACCUSED, 1988)
When district attorney Kathryn Murphy is assigned to a gang-rape case, she knows that the odds are stacked against her. The victim, Sarah, was drunk and stoned the night of and she may have been wearing clothes that were “asking for it”. These pointless accusations against women are still used in courts even today, and unjustly is what makes the victims lose the case. Kathryn knows that they dig up her past to smear her as much as possible, brutally attack her on the cross examinations to prove that she was indeed “asking for it.” Kathryn loves to win a case, but this may lose this. Nevertheless, she stands her ground against the defense attorneys who try to get her to lower and change the accusations. She tells them to go to hell for suggesting that it’s anything other than Rape One. While Kathryn ends up having to make a deal and it does not go to trial, she feels guilty and knows she needs to let Sarah’s story be heard. She fights for what she knows is right. This woman was raped, people need to know, and the men need to be punished. She finds a way to put the men on trial that cheered and goaded the rapists, making the rape continues for even longer. She wins, puts them away, and the rapists get their jail time extended. Kathryn is a smart and determined woman doesn’t take shit from her male colleagues or anyone who gets in her way. –Caroline
ANNIE LAURIE STARR (GUN CRAZY, 1950)
Gun Crazy is a (sometimes) darkly comedic story, tracking the lives of two soon-to-be outlaws, Bart Tare and Annie Laurie Starr, who meet at a carnival and bond over their love for firearms.
The film, while told from the perspective of Bart, comes into its own when Annie is around. She’s a quintessential film noir character; shrouded in a complex, yet alluring mystery who is nearly always one step ahead. She starts running things her way, ignoring clear signs that she should push aside her impulses and listen to her better judgement.
Trust no one, suspect everyone – this is the silent motto in film noir which Annie utterly embodies. In all her off-the-wall, unhinged and literally gun craziness, she completely owns herself. The unpredictability of Annie, in a way, is predictable, but this is what makes her so memorable and though she suffers at the hands of the ultimate payoff (film noir style), it’s as anxious as 90 minutes can get.
She’s a woman who lives by her own law and that makes her one seriously cool, bad boss. –Cherokee
CLARICE STIRLING (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, 1991)
Jonathan Demme’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is a cinematic masterpiece for many reasons, Clarice Starling being one. A tiny-but-tough-as-nails training FBI agent, Clarice is often treated differently due to her being a woman.
To me, Clarice Starling is the toughest lady of the law. Not because she has a razor sharp mind and a bravery that knows no bounds (not even when she follows a serial killer into his basement) – but because she puts up with a monstrous amount of shit from the men she comes across. Remaining level headed and professional whilst she is painfully flirted with as she is trying to find a serial killer is admirable in itself. Not to mention how she single-handedly takes down the killer the mostly male FBI can’t even find.
Whilst training with her friend, Clarice is gawked at by a group of guys running in the opposite direction; whilst investigating the moth found in the back of a victim’s throat she is asked does she ‘ever go out for cheeseburgers and beer’; whilst standing in a room of male police officers she is stared down at and not talked to. Demme executes the isolation and exclusion of being a woman in a boys’ club painfully realistically, but doesn’t fail to present a character like Clarice as a woman who is unapologetically having none of it.
Jack Crawford: Starling, when I told that sheriff we shouldn’t talk in front of a woman, that really burned you, didn’t it? It was just smoke, Starling. I had to get rid of him.
Clarice Starling: It matters, Mr Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters. -Words and Illustration by Beth
ELLE WOODS (LEGALLY BLONDE, 2001)
Elle Woods, in the beginning of Legally Blonde is nothing more than the harsh stereotype of a dumb blonde. She’s president of her Sorority, an expert in all things fashion and only ever wears pink. However, when she is dumped by her boyfriend Warner for being ‘too blonde’ and him needing ‘a Jackie, not a Marilyn’, she conjures up a plan to attend Harvard Law School (where the Ex is heading) to try and win him back. Except that after being accepted into Harvard Law, Elle realises that she’s actually awesome, WAY more intelligent than anyone thought of her, and that she is totally and 100% too good for Warner. She also manages to get the promotions she wants, meets a new man who totally respects her and believes in her AND she uses her abundance of fashion knowledge to win a murder case her and her team were working on. And all of this whilst maintaining her kind, caring and compassionate personality. Elle Woods is essentially all things we should ever wish to be – and she does it with grace, style and above all defies the expectations of all those around her. She taught me that pink is acceptable all day every day (as are fluffy pens), the ‘Bend and Snap’, never judge someone based on their looks, even more importantly do not hold yourself to other people’s expectations of you and also never shower within 24 hours of getting a perm. –Mel
Categories: Anything and Everything, Feminist Criticism
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