For years, aspiring actresses seeking to make a career in Hollywood had to pick a lane. Alluring but virginal? You were an ingenue. Dark-haired and pouty? Hey there, femme fatale. Smart and spunky? Best friend material. Over 40? Mom. And if you were a person of color, or identified as LGBTQ+, the options available were even more limited.
It’s tempting to look at the current Hollywood landscape and sigh because not much has changed. The 92nd Academy Awards will mark yet another year with nearly all-white nominees in acting categories, and the 87th year without any women directors nominated. As of 2020, no Asian-American has ever been nominated for Best Actress, and no Latinx woman has ever won. If Cynthia Erivo takes home the gold for her performance as Harriet Tubman, she would be the second Black woman ever (the first being Halle Berry in 2003) to win.
And yet, there are reasons to celebrate. In TV, the rise of streaming services has created a new star system of diverse young actors. Shows like Pose (FX) and Euphoria (HBO) are providing a platform for trans and non-binary actors to tell their own stories, while others like Insecure (HBO), Killing Eve (BBC America), Shrill (Hulu), and Fleabag (Amazon) are giving voice to a full spectrum of women’s experiences. Even in film, traditionally a slower medium to adapt, things are changing. Despite the lack of recognition from the establishment, 2019 was one of the most dynamic and exciting years for women in film: Jennifer Lopez wrapped us in her fur; Awkwafina made us cry; Florence Pugh rehabilitated a 151-year-old literary character; Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever made it cool to be a smart girl; and Laura Dern made a divorce lawyer seem almost endearing. In 2020, five of the most anticipated action blockbusters of the year — Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, Cate Shoreland’s Black Widow, Niki Caro’s Mulan, Chloe Zhao’s The Eternals, and Patti Jenkins’ Wonder Woman: 1984 — are directed by and starring women. No longer relegated to playing the damsel in distress, we’re seeing women kick ass both as heroes and villains.
These 29 performers may not have had the flashiest roles in 2019, but you can expect them to be on the frontlines as they blow up archaic expectations in 2020. Inge-who?