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How to Write a Good Female Lead Character

Reality Beyond Fiction


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Francis Jacquerye

3 years ago | 3 min read

The late 2010s have seen their fair share of commercial failure of femal-led reboots of Hollywood franchises. Proponents are accusing detractors of sexism, and the latter are accusing writers of #femalewashing franchises that were once successful.

For some time, a rumour (which now appear to have been based on false information) was circulating that British actress Emma Watson was being considered to portray James Bond.

I tried to jot down that this is typically a poor idea because 1. It would be trying to promote a female character on men’s terms and 2. It would literally mean getting rid of a fan base in the hopes of reaching a new but highly uncertain one.

Reality Beyond Fiction

The first James Bond novel was published in 1953 and used the aftermath of WWII and the nascent Cold War as a backdrop.

There is a lot of speculation about the real life figures that might have inspired the character of James Bond, but one thing is sure: some of his attributes emulate real officers and counterintelligence agents …albeit in a much more romanticised and colourful version.

When it comes to real life female resistance, intelligence or counterintelligence agents, a lot of them punched above their weight during WWII and the Cold War.

Screenwriters have started to explore this side of the mid 20th century History with series such as the family-friendly Agent Carter series (which sadly, got cancelled after season 2) or the grittier Traitors, both being set during the buildup that led to the Cold War.

As a man, I’ve really enjoyed watching those two different series. The lead characters are skilled and highly competent women, but they follow a classical arc that shows their vulnerabilities and how they succeed in spite of them. This is something that I can connect with, even as a man.

If a screenwriter is looking for material to emulate the real life women who helped to pave the way of a free world, there are literally dozens of unsung real female heroes:

15 badass women of World War II you didn’t learn about in history class. The Women of the Special Operations Executive

Cutting The Branch You Are Sitting On

Now that I have established that there is plenty of material to push female spy characters on women’s terms, I would like to address the issue of the audience that is being catered to.

In the successive releases of Alien (1979), Aliens (1986) and Alien 3 (1993), Sigourney Weaver portrayed the character of

In the 1984 and 1991 iterations of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Linda Hamilton added great depth to the character of Sarah Connor.

What am I getting at?

Each of those movies were massive blockbusters with the central, or one of the main characters being a woman. Alien ranks in the top 100 most iconic movies of film making by the way ( Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Films)

That means that fourty to thirty years ago, in an era that is considered barbaric by #metoo, woke, and inclusive standards, audiences that were easily ⅔ male had no issue watching and enjoying a well written, well directed and well edited movie that featured a female lead.

If Alien and Terminator easily met with success 40 years ago, doesn’t it suggest that any well made female led movie would have it easier today, especially after the #metoo movement? Or has there been a reversal of society that we missed?

Repurposing a female actress in the part of James Bond would be an admission of failure on two counts:

  1. Somehow screenwriters were not able to come up with original material about a strong female spy character, even though there is plenty of historical material to draw from.
  2. It was too risky to launch a new cinematic universe, so the fallback plan is to play it safe and repurpose an existing franchise such as James Bond.

That doesn’t exactly dispel the notion that women need help from a man to shine… which is why I wish that a more creative option would be chosen: to push a female character in the likes of Peggy Carter or Feef Symonds (Traitors).

I would certainly enjoy watching it.

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Francis Jacquerye

With a background in marketing, design and gold smithing, I have built up nearly 20 years of e​xperience with the development and procurement of luxury goods for a global consumer taste. I write about consumer behaviour and sustainable luxury products. If you enjoy reading about these topics, please sign up and follow my content here on Tealfeed.


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