2018 has already brought its share of amazing stories with Black women at the centre of them. Lena Waithe’s new Showtime drama, The Chi, already has me hooked. Yara Shahidi is putting her own young millennial spin on what it means to be a Black college student on FreeForm’s grown-ish. Shonda Rhimes even confirmed that a Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder crossover episode is happening; finally bringing Viola Davis as Annalise Keating and Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope together on the same screen.
On the big screen, too, this year is going to be a game-changer. Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is going to a be a fantastical journey with a Black girl at the centre of it and Oprah Winfrey herself as Mrs. Which. February’s Black Panther will not focus on a Black woman, but fans are already looking forward to performances from Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett. But first up is Proud Mary, an action movie about a Black female assassin played by Taraji P. Henson. And based on its premise alone, I know that this is a movie for the culture, in more ways than one.
It matters that Henson’s character is essentially a femme fatale. These kinds of protagonists typically rely on an arsenal of badass skills and knowledge. But they also leverage their beauty and sex appeal as tools to get complex jobs done. Not since the Blaxploitation era of Pam Grier have we seen a woman of colour tapped as a full package of both brains and cunning beauty. And for all of these traits, Mary still manages to be human. She is extremely empathetic and fully capable of caring about more than her bottom line. Women can and do pull off all of the above. All signs point to Mary being the nuanced lead that we deserve.
Obviously, we need more women with leading roles in film. In 2016, they made up less than 30% of the main protagonists in films. And of those, a large majority were white women. Proud Mary has just become part of the uphill battle to prioritise women in the stories we tell. The action genre specifically, needs it. In 2017, Wonder Woman was the highest grossing live action film directed by a woman. Henson’s first foray into the genre in 2014’s No Good Deed topped the box office upon its release and proved that Black actresses can do more than make audiences laugh or empathise with constant struggle. These are the kind of diverse roles women deserve.
In a moment where women are speaking up louder than ever to demand that their humanity and autonomy be respected, Proud Mary offers some critical symbolism. Now, more than ever, we need to see women being fucking fearless. We need to see women fighting for themselves and what they believe in, and winning.