Saga Norén is the protagonist of the Swedish/Danish TV show, The Bridge, in which she is brilliantly portrayed by Sofia Helin. A gifted police detective who is utterly devoted to her work, Saga approaches everything with cool logic and will stop at nothing to get the job done. The character is generally believed to have Asperger’s Syndrome, though it has never been officially stated outright within the show itself, with the writers saying they don’t want the character’s development or actions to feel hindered by labels, but also because the character would never willingly submit herself to hospital or medical tests to be formally diagnosed, which is addressed in the show for reasons I won’t spoil.
Because of her condition, Saga has little to no understanding of any social norms, with a complete lack of any filter when it comes to interacting with other people, landing her in many funny but equally awkward situations thanks to her blunt, no-nonsense manner. Beautifully realised however, Saga never becomes a stereotype, constantly fascinated by human nature and seeking to ‘improve’ herself, with viewers also getting to see more of Saga’s emotional side and delving into her past and the difficult relationships she has with her family as the show progresses, as she makes huge personal sacrifices in the pursuit of justice.
The latest post in my Women in Fiction series is in honour of Beverly Katz, the FBI Crime Scene Investigator from Thomas Harris’ Hannibal books and the TV adaptation of the same name, in which she was portrayed by Hettienne Park.
Smart, snarky, quick-witted and damn good at her job, Katz (particularly her screen iteration, given the casting of an Asian-American actress) managed to break stereotypes with regards to gender and ethnicity whilst also being a genuinely likable and relatable character. We so rarely see women of colour who are the intellectual and ass-kicking equals of their male counterparts without them ever needing to play the ‘sexy’ or ‘exotic’ card. Katz also bucks the trend by being in a powerful, influential and successful role without having had to become cold, detached and masculine.
Intuitive, empathetic and level-headed, she also regularly acted as a grounding force for the disturbed Will Graham, becoming one of his most trusted friends and colleagues, whilst also being one step ahead of the bad guys (and her team) on several occasions.
Park said it perfectly herself when describing the experience of bringing Katz to life:
“I got to play this amazing woman who didn’t have to sleep with anyone (not that I would have minded) or act dumb and girlie, or fawn all over some guy, or be a conniving bitch to get people to notice or respect me, and she didn’t speak broken English or karate chop anyone (not that I would have minded). Nobody called her “dragon lady” or “exotic.” She could shoot a gun and drive that FBI SUV like a champ. And all with the extra added bonus of being Jewish.”
What’s not to love?
They hear the threat of her click-clacking approach long before they look at her, believing that she balances on blades for their pleasure when what she really wants is to be six inches closer to the sheet of glass above her head with visions of destruction; a kaleidoscope of possibility.
The latest character to be featured in my ‘Women in Fiction’ series is Luna Lovegood from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, who is portrayed by Evanna Lynch in the movie adaptations. Having already featured her Potter contemporary, Hermione Granger, in part for her unwillingness to compromise who she truly is, I couldn’t fail to also mention Luna, who has a level of self-love, acceptance and comfort in her own skin that most of us can only aspire to.
Delightfully quirky, Luna is unashamedly herself and though it would have been easy for such an oddball to have been painted as a loner, she instead showed us that kindness and loyalty will always win out in the end by proving herself to be one of Harry’s most reliable companions who is not at all afraid to stand up for what is right. In doing so, she also proved that sensitivity and compassion need not be seen as signs of weakness.
Essentially, Luna taught us that being true to ourselves may not necessarily be the fastest way to make the most friends, but it’s the best way to make the right ones.
Chloe O’Brian is an agent working with the Counter Terrorist Unit in the TV show, 24. Portrayed by Mary Lynn Rajskub, she is both immensely intelligent and wonderfully forthright, never once mincing her words or holding back when she has something to say.
Throughout the show, Chloe consistently proves herself to be protagonist Jack Bauer’s most invaluable and trusted ally, going above and beyond the call of duty time and time again to aid him in his mission – even if it means jeopardising her position at CTU or putting her own life in danger. What I love even more however is her willingness to also stand up to Jack and call him out if she feels he is in the wrong; proving her commitment to her morals and showing us that even her closest friend isn’t beyond the reach of her personal conviction to do the right thing.
Wonderfully sassy and sarcastic, she never suffers fools lightly and comes out with some fabulous one liners and truly epic put-downs, delivered with dead-pan brilliance. Using her technical prowess to outsmart the bad guys and save the day on plentiful occasions, she is also not afraid to enter the field when needed.
Despite her tough, no-nonsense exterior, Chloe is well developed throughout the series, showing moments of true compassion and empathy (*sniff* Edgar *sniff*) and going through a crisis of identity following personal tragedy later in the series, but throughout it all, she never loses her confidence in her own skills as an agent and a fighter for the common good.
Lara Croft is arguably the most recognisable character – male or female – to emerge from the world of gaming, having cemented her place as a true pop culture icon over the last two decades.
Though she was immediately hailed as a fantastic antithesis to the overwhelming number of male leads in video games and a fine action star in her own right, there was always some debate as to her status as a feminist figure, given the overt sexualisation of the character’s image in spite of her obvious physical and intellectual prowess. A few years ago however, the series was rebooted, essentially scrapping the previous continuity and going back to basics, re-imagining Lara’s story for a new generation.
This ‘new’ Lara is a far more rounded character, beginning the series as a wide-eyed young woman eager to find adventure on her first expedition, only to survive a shipwrecking. Washed up and stranded on a remote island, she is forced to quickly adapt to her extreme surroundings and learn new, invaluable skills that she will need to evolve into the hardened warrior and adventurer she is destined to become. With a much bigger emphasis on Lara’s emotional drive and motivations, a clearer developmental arc, and a much grittier, more realistic and no longer sexualised image, her position at the forefront of pro-feminist gaming is now secure.
Brave, smart, strong, determined and compassionate, the new and improved Miss Croft is a force to be reckoned with; only one we can now all relate to on a far more human level.
Of course the incomparable Hermione Granger had to be featured in my series designed to highlight and celebrate positive depictions of women in fiction.
As I’m sure you all know, Hermione first appeared in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and was portrayed by Emma Watson in the subsequent film adaptations. Most recently, the role was taken on by Noma Dumezweni in The Cursed Child stage production.
From the moment readers were introduced to Hermione, she became the unofficial poster girl for bookworms and feminists alike. Fiercely intelligent, she point-blank refuses to dumb herself down to appease others, even her closest friends, and though she has her moments of delightfully lacklustre social skills, she systematically broke down the stereotypes that told us people like Hermione couldn’t be popular. Always giving priority to her brains rather than her appearance, she taught a generation of schoolgirls (and boys) that it’s okay not to strive to be ‘the pretty one’.
Essentially, Hermione did what was at one point likely considered impossible and actually made it cool to be a bit of a nerd. Far from one dimensional however, throughout the series she also displays countless examples of her bravery, going above and beyond to help those she loves in their times of need and fight for what she believes in, as well as compassion, through her campaigning for elfish welfare, and more than her fair share of badassery – who can forget the satisfying slap (or the even more epic punch in the film version) that she landed right on Draco’s smug face? Perhaps best of all however is the fact that Rowling was not afraid to give Hermione her flaws – notably her stubbornness and intense fear of failure – which only serve to make her even more relatable and human.
Thank you for everything you stand for, Miss Granger. 50 points to Gryffindor.