RIP Carrie Fisher
What is a woman's role in movies?
For far too long, it seems like every woman who wanted to work in Hollywood was immediately type-cast. For far too long, we saw roles in woman's movies as either the love interest, the damsel-in-distress, or something of the sort. We didn't see lots of independent women in the early days of film. We didn't see lots of women who could carry their own in any sort of struggle, there was always some male role to fill a void in the female character. Even the female villains throughout the history of film seem to be a middle person for another threat, which was usually filled by a man. Even today, as progressive as our world has become, we still don't see enough leading independent female characters in movies. Worse yet, actresses are not being paid equal wages to portray leading roles compared to actors.
When I was young, I just kind of accepted in big, genre movies that the woman was always going to be saved, and a man was going to save the day. Then I saw "Star Wars" for the first time, and the entire norm of a woman's role in film seemed to change, especially since I started watching Indiana Jones around the same time. Princess Leia and Marion Ravenwood destroyed expectations. Sure, in "A New Hope," Leia gets captured, but we see her mouthing off to Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin. She's not weeping, she's not begging to be saved, she's mouthing off to the scariest presents in the entire movie, without shuddering. When she witnesses the destruction of her home planet, Leia is sad, but she keeps the hope alive, she doesn't give up. When Luke Skywalker goes to rescue her, she is already cracking jokes about his height. And she can handle herself with a blaster (all saga long, to be exact). What's also different is that Han Solo had to push his love on Leia, not the other way around. It was the princess who had the rough exterior and the man was smitten. All throughout the saga, we see Leia commanding troops, going behind enemy lines by herself, hatching plans, and quite frankly kicking ass. We never really saw this in genre films and it felt like something big was happening. Carrie Fisher brought this magnificent character to mesmerizing life and woman found a different kind of role model in movies.
You may think that because its me, the movie geek that I am, that my favorite Fisher moment is "Star Wars." While I absolutely adore "Star Wars" and Carrie Fisher in "Star Wars" and everything she accomplished with the character, my heart lies somewhere else. My favorite Carrie Fisher appearance is in from Woody Allen's "Hannah and her Sisters." She played April, one of the best friends of one of the sisters. She's played that friend, who isn't entirely a friend. Someone who doesn't have your best interests at heart, even if they say and act like they do. Its not what we'd expect from Fisher growing up worshiping Princess Leia, but Fisher was just as strong, just as confident and just as committed in this role. I know I may have bias to anything Woody Allen, especially older Woody Allen. I know Fisher didn't have a super huge presence in this film. But the point is that she made her presents felt, big time.
No matter how big or how small the role was, Fisher was always making her presents known, imprinting on every character she created. That is evident with her work in "When Harry Met Sally." That's evident in her brief stint with "Blues Brothers." Or playing Tom Hanks' wife in "The 'Burbs." Even the therapist in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." She did script work on films such has "Lethal Weapon 3," "Outbreak" and even "The Wedding Singer." She was once quoted by saying that she liked performances because she liked connecting to an audience and that showed through and through in her work. Not only that, but its clear that she was gifted in other aspects of show business and that worked out for her as well.
But not only was Fisher a powerful performer, she became an advocate for people. Its no secret that Carrie Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder, which sadly led to drug abuse. But she has always been honest and open about it, and she was always ready to advocate for mental illness and drug addiction. She wore her illness and her past-addiction on her sleeve, not being afraid of it yet not allowing it to define her life. You can't help but notice the grace in that. Being able to help people because you've been around something and know what to expect. She received a Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award for Cultural Humanism from Harvard University. She was brave to display outspokenness and activism for mental illness and addiction and she was able to use these experiences to generate creativity and empathy. A massive achievement indeed.
Whether it was creating a character or providing for someone, there is no doubt that Carrie Fisher left a hand on the hearts of many for decades. For many years of hard, graceful work in front of and behind the camera, Hollywood has a whole in its heart tonight. She will be missed badly. But no matter what, she will always be royalty to us all.