By Erin Cabrey
Although summer has come and gone, women’s presence in popular culture seems to be heating up. I’m diving into another semester of discussing cool ladies doing even cooler things, but this time I’m writing from abroad in London. Since I’ve swapped the D train for the Tube, I thought it was only right to start off with one of the most intriguing actresses from across the pond, Felicity Jones.
Jones was born in Birmingham, England and began acting at a young age, starring in “The Worst Witch” television series and its later spin-off “Weirdsister College”. She graduated from Oxford with a degree in English in 2006. She then had roles in films such as the costume drama Brideshead Revisited and the Ricky Gervais comedy Cemetery Junction.
Her breakout role (my personal favorite of hers) was in the 2011 indie romantic drama Like Crazy, alongside the late Anton Yelchin. Jones played Anna, a British student dealing with the fallout of overstaying her student visa after beginning a romance with an American while studying in Los Angeles. The role, which featured completely improvised dialogue, earned her a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
In 2014, Jones made her star turn as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The role earned her an Academy Award, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations among many others accolades. Though she played the wife of one of the world’s most renowned scientists, Jones was not sidelined to the stock love interest role. Her character was just as responsible for carrying the film as her male costar.
Now comes her most riveting role yet in one of the year’s most anticipated films, Rogue One. Summer television built up the excitement with teasers, trailers and inside looks at the film. With Jones continuing the important notion that women can be leaders in the rebellion and, in a wider sense, big-budget action films, the landscape for such projects seems to finally be changing.
A New Star in the Galaxy
Star Wars has turned our usually multi-faceted, often niche-driven pop culture into complete monoculture. Nearly every product on the shelves last Christmas featured characters from the beloved film series’ latest installment, The Force Awakens. This year will presumably see much of the same, with Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story taking over for Daisy Ridley’s Rey as the default pattern for every notebook and roll of wrapping paper. Jones stars in the stand-alone film in a galaxy far, far away as a Rebel Alliance recruit working to steal plans for the Death Star that will eventually help Luke Skywalker to destroy it. This film will be the second consecutive entry in the franchise to feature a female lead, and with last year’s installment becoming the third-highest grossing film of all time, the Jones-led Rogue One is set to further demonstrate the fact that women can be action heroes too.
The Female Force
When Jones was named the star of Rogue One, the announcement was not without its backlash. Many took to Twitter to criticize the use of another female lead so soon after Daisy Ridley’s in The Force Awakens. TIME posted an article with a selection of these responses, some of which criticized the originality of Star Wars for casting another woman in the starring role.
I find it surprising that a woman starring in a monumentally successful film has suddenly become a stunt for originality and not a truthful depiction. Plenty of men have wielded lightsabers up and down the galaxy, so it just makes sense that women should too. And Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso shows just that.
“Physically, she’s smaller than everyone else around her, but… when someone has something they believe in, that’s what powers them, that’s what motivates them, that’s what can give someone enormous strength,” Jones said of her character to Entertainment Weekly.
This role comes at a very important time for women in action films, following the announcement this season that Brie Larson will play the first ever superhero-led Marvel film. With women at the helm of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters — playing characters appealing not because of their skimpy outfits but because of their grit, depth and strength — it’s clear that attitudes in today’s society, and consequently films, are changing. We finally have heroines to believe in, as we happily avert our gazes from Batman and Superman to stories we want and need to see.
“As we’re seeing in politics, it is a world where women are becoming leaders of nations, and films should be reflecting that,” Jones further told Entertainment Weekly. And she’s right. The notions of women as sidekicks and eye candy in the real world have long begun to fade, so why should women still be reduced to such on the big screen?
Jones leading Rogue One highlights the important notion that casting women in lead roles isn’t a stunt but a reflection of the truth that females are just as capable of battling the Empire. Watching Daisy Ridley’s Rey effortlessly take control of the Millennium Falcon proved that last year, and I can’t wait to see what equally brilliant cinematic moments await Jones’ Jyn Erso this December.