ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

With iconic roles such as Hermione in Harry Potter and Belle in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, knows how to pick clever and fierce characters to play, setting a fantastic example for young girls everywhere. Though that's a great achievement already, she hopes that those roles don't only inspire the ladies, but the boys and the men too — there's no reason that only girls can learn from Hermione's avid desire to learn, or Belle's self-confidence.

In her cover interview with Entertainment Weekly ahead of the release of , Watson discussed female role models in cinema, and how she hopes male moviegoers can get over a frequent prejudice against leading female characters. After all, women have managed to enjoy movies with an overwhelming number of male heroes for a while now, so why wouldn't it work both ways?

Why Do Men Find It So Difficult To Identify With Female Characters?

Hollywood lately has seen intense backlash against female characters getting more presence in the spotlight, from Rogue One to the remake of Ghostbusters. Comments sections all over the world wide web were littered with tasteful remarks indicating that stereotypical beliefs such as "women aren't funny" or "women can't pilot spaceships and shoot guns" were still alive and well.

For Watson, it's a question of habit: While women have been used to seeing predominantly male heroes in the movies they're watching, men just don't know how to see beyond the gender of a character in order to identify with them.

"It's something that they are not used to and they don't like that. Anything that deviates from the norm is difficult to accept. I think if you've been used to watching characters that look like, sound like, think like you and then you see someone up on the screen and you go, 'Well, that's a girl, she doesn't look like me. I want it to look like me so that I can project myself onto the character.'"

Captain America and Black Widow [Credit: Marvel Studios]
Captain America and Black Widow [Credit: Marvel Studios]

But dismissing a female character as a role model just because they're female essentially means being blind to that character's qualities. Girls should be able to look up to Captain America for his unwavering honesty just as much as guys should be able to identify with Black Widow for her fearlessness.

"Women are great at doing that. We see whoever is on screen and we recognize the human qualities in the man that we relate to and there's not such a gap, but for some reason there's some kind of barrier there where [men] are like, 'I don't want to relate to a girl. I don't want to, I don't want that,' which I think is inherently part of the problem."

See also:

'We Need To Live In A Culture That Idolizes Women As Much As Men'

Watson is an ambassador of HeForShe, a United Nations initiative that seeks to encourage men to support feminism, because feminism isn't about diminishing men. Similarly, introducing more female characters to the big screen doesn't mean women don't like male characters — it's just a simple equation that since there are approximately as many women as men on the planet, there's no reason that this proportion shouldn't be the same in entertainment.

"If I asked a young boy what superhero they looked up to, I feel a lot fewer would say a female one or would ever use an example of a female one, than in reverse, which is a shame because I feel like we need to live in a culture that values and respects and looks up to and idolizes women as much as men. I hope that — I think — that's starting to slowly change, but it is something that does actively need to be addressed."

'Beauty and the Beast' [Credit: Disney]
'Beauty and the Beast' [Credit: Disney]

While little boys should learn that there's no shame in wanting that Black Widow costume for Halloween, important changes also have to be made within Hollywood. Women might know how to adapt to male ideals, but they deserve their own vision of the world to be represented in film — yet there are still very few female directors:

"We are not even on the scale. We are still a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny percentage [of directors]. I don't know why, because you look at people like Kathryn Bigelow and you look at Ava DuVernay and these are explosive movies that they direct. [...] There's a genre idea of, 'Well, this is a movie about buildings exploding and fights and superheroes, so a woman can't direct that. This has to have a man directing it.'"

Opening the door to new practices might feel unusual or uncomfortable for some, but that's the only way we can all move forward:

"There's a way that things have been done for a very long time and you almost need to open up new neural pathways in people's minds. You need to expand people's vision. You need to get people out of comfortable habits and patterns in order to see new possibilities."

Hermione Should Be A Great Role Model For Anyone

Emma Watson in 'Harry Potter' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
Emma Watson in 'Harry Potter' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Another perfect example of a universally appealing character is Hermione, whom Watson played throughout the whole Harry Potter series. She's clearly the most clever one of the bunch and an essential part of the story.

"Hermione was that perfect example of turning on its head this initial prejudice. Hermione finds a way to wield her intelligence and become really the leader in this group of two other boys. That's kind of the role that she assumes. Harry is much more intuitive. Ron is just along for the ride. Hermione is the one with the plan. She's in control, and I think somehow that gave other women permission to feel that they were allowed to take up space. She's really the glue that keeps that trio together. Her role, it's fundamental. And the boys knew it and they really treat her as if they know that."

Yet no one complained that she was taking the spotlight from Harry or Ron, so why can't we have more characters like that? It's about time.

Do you identify with movie characters that are of a different gender than yours? Who are your biggest role models?

(Source: Entertainment Weekly)


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