Television has long upheld an unspoken rule: A female character may be beautiful or angry, but never both. A handful of new shows prove that rules were made to be broken
Shapely limbs swollen and wavering under water, lipstick wiped off a pale mouth with a yellow sponge, blonde bangs caught in the zipper of a body bag: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s 2016 short film What Happened to Her collects images of dead women in a 15-minute montage culled mostly from crime-based television dramas. Throughout, men stand murmuring over beautiful young white corpses. “You ever see something like this?” a voice drawls.
Conventional female beauty on crime shows has usually been treated more or less like this— even when a woman doesn’t end up dead, she’s a plot point that serves a man with a motivation. But these days, a lot of beautiful women on television are getting angry instead of getting killed. Anger is no longer an exclusively male emotion or a flaw for a female character to overcome before finding her happy ending with a handsome man. Several recent series are proving that a woman’s anger can be her own plot point, a source of strength, a galvanising force. Shows starring angry heroines range from arty to commercial, realistic to fantastical, and they’re set in the past, present and future. And they’re garnering ratings, reviews and awards — HBO’s Big Little Lies and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale took every major drama trophy offered at last year’s Emmys except best lead and supporting actor. Add in Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, starring another angry woman, and the three shows dominated the Golden Globes too. The list goes on: Alias Grace, Jessica Jones, Insecure, Top of the Lake, The Crown.
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