Why Emilia Clarke and Thandie Newton hate the label “strong female character”

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Susan Devaney
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Actresses Emilia Clarke and Thandie Newton are calling time on the term “strong female character” and we couldn’t agree more. 

Does the term ‘strong male character’ sound familiar? No, didn’t think so. But if you pop into your Netflix account you’ll see a category for ‘strong female leads’ and you’ll see the label weaved into film and TV reviews. And actresses have finally called time on the “sexist” term.

During the Cannes Film Festival, actress Emilia Clarke – who’s best known for her role as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones – condemned the label after a journalist asked her about playing a “strong female character” in Solo: A Star Wars Story (aka the spin-off film about a young Han Solo). 

“If it’s not strong, what is it? Are you telling me there’s another option, that there’s a weak option?” Clarke said. “You think a lead in a movie is going to be a weak woman? It just doesn’t even bear having the conversation, so enough already with the strong women, please.”

Clarke then used male leads as an example by pointing out that they’re rarely referred to as “strong men,” unless they’re physically strong.

“Unless I’m packing guns I don’t know about, then let’s change that,” she continued.

Instead, Clarke suggested we all approach the conversation differently by asking questions such as “What does it feel like to play someone with power?” or “How does it feel to play a female lead in a big blockbuster movie?”

“Take the ‘strong’ out of it, find another adjective, damn it,” Clarke continued. “I’m just playing women.”

And Thandie Newton, who stars alongside Clarke in the new Star Wars film as Val Beckett (the first woman of colour to have a prominent part in the franchise) is also sick of the label.

“People say, ‘What’s it like playing these such empowered roles?’ To me, they’re normal. This is a normal woman,” Newton explained to HelloGiggles.

“You want to see an empowered woman? Take it up a notch from that, you know what I’m saying? Val’s regular. She’s just regular. She’s actually, she doesn’t even have the makeup. Everything’s pragmatic. Everything about her. Literally every piece of that costume had a purpose, which I would use. You don’t see it, and it’s not, like, labelled, but I would use the stuff. She doesn’t care about how it looks.”

Newton, who plays Val, will be the first woman of colour to have a prominent part in the Star Wars franchise

Earlier this year, Shonda Rhimes, the producer and creator of some of the most beloved female-driven shows, such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, also called time on the sexist label.

“OK,” Rhimes tweeted. “Entertainment industry, time to stop using the phrases ‘Smart Strong Women’ and ‘Strong Female Leads.’ There are no Dumb Weak Women. A smart strong woman is just a WOMAN. Also? ‘Women’ are not a TV trend - we’re half the planet.” 

We hear ya.

Images: Getty