Happy International Women’s Day! Here are the fictional and real-life women of color who inspire us, motivate us and deserve to be celebrated on this day!
Anissa Pierce, ‘Black Lightning’
Though Black Lightning’s titular hero is male, it is the women of the show that are the true standouts, particularly Jefferson’s wife, Lynn, and his two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer. The story is a true family affair; as Jefferson comes out of retirement to protect the community of Freeland, his eldest daughter discovers she has abilities of her own. But it is not simply Anissa’s newfound abilities that make her a standout character on The CW’s newest superhero series.
Even before she started stopping robberies or destroying Confederate statues, Anissa was an example to her community as a medical student, a teacher and a community activist. But with a gang, The 100, ruling Freeland, there is only so much that can be done between the lines. Discovering that she has powers allowed Anissa to step outside her daytime heroics into costumed vigilantism. Plus, the fact that she is an out lesbian does not define her story; it is simply part of it.
Her story is still in its early stages — Jefferson has only just agreed to start training her — but her strength of will and conviction to do what is right sets Anissa apart as a standout on a series of standout women.
By Caitlin Kelly — @purplehrdwonder
Ava DuVernay, real life
Ava Duvernay’s film Selma made history as the first movie nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture directed by a black woman, and her upcoming film A Wrinkle in Time has made her the first black female director to direct a live-action movie with a budget higher than $100 million. She also directed the epic short film for Jay-Z’s Family Feud, which portrayed women of many races reconstructing a divided America, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 13th, which examines the mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States.
DuVernay actively uses her position to bring a new standard of diversity and storytelling to the film industry. She makes a point of bringing gender and racial equality to both the cast and the crew of her movies, and to tell stories that haven’t been told before. And her strong friendship with women like Reese Witherspoon and Oprah shows just how impactful it is when strong, ambitious women team up to tell stories that can change the world.
By Nasim Mansuri — @nasimwrites
Lucy Liu, real life and Joan Watson, ‘Elementary’
Lucy Liu has always been a force on screen. From her early days on television as Ling Woo on Ally McBeal to the larger screen with defining roles as Alex Munday in Charlie’s Angels and O-Ren Ishii in the Kill Bill films.
Most recently, Liu has served the greater New York area as Joan Watson. Not only is she stepping into the role of the infamous Dr. Watson, but she is redrawing the boundaries of the character. She is a detective, both in partnership and independent of Sherlock Holmes. And, Liu, perhaps most importantly, portrays a woman learning from her mistakes and growing as a result of them.
But Liu is also making moves in the Made in New York scene. Stars stepping behind the camera is not something new. And in 2014 Liu became the first cast member of Elementary to take the director’s chair. She has since directed six episodes, one to air later this year, and an episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage.
Both on screen and off, Liu is a shining example of a woman who wants to try something, goes for it, and grows from it.
By Brittany Lovely — @britlovely237
Melinda May, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has no shortage of badass women, but there’s no one quite like Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May. An unbelievably skilled fighter and one of the MCU’s most talented pilots, May’s prowess in combat makes her the primary protector of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Seriously gentlemen, step aside). She’s gone toe-to-toe with aliens, powered people, robots, and once a rogue agent wearing May’s own face — and come out on top every time! If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.
But it’s not May’s physical abilities that truly make her a legend. Beneath her implacable iron exterior is a woman of deep feeling and compassion. May cares deeply about her team, and despite numerous traumas in her past, is passionate about protecting the innocent and keeping the world safe. She’s been forced to make terrible choices, and never spares herself from the physical or emotional pain of the fallout.
May’s badassery is not effortless or easy, not stereotypical or shallow. Her power comes from her deeply-rooted strength of character, and an ability to dedicate herself to a greater cause that has nothing to do with kicking ass.
By Michal Schick — @inkasrain
Penelope Alvarez, ‘One Day at a Time’
We could honestly put all the women of One Day at a Time on this list. Isabella Gomez’s Elena is a badass lesbian activist who cares intensely about social issues, while the iconic Rita Moreno is a badass woman, mother and abuelita who always loves and supports her family, even if she doesn’t always understand or agree with them.
Between the two is Justina Machado’s Penelope, a single mom, army vet, devoted daughter and all-around awesome woman who I want as my best friend. It might be easy to overlook her in between the intense activism of Elena and the intense — well — everything of Lydia, but to do so would be to seriously miss out.
Penelope has Elena’s staunch sense of justice, but embodies it in a much more empathic way; she’s quicker to come to understanding than her mother, but loves and supports just as fiercely. The mix of strength, vulnerability and honesty with which she approaches everything in her life — whether it be raising her kids, balancing work and school, or her struggles with mental health — is admirable and inspiring and just the kind of everyday badassness we ought to be celebrating on this (and every) day.
By Lelanie Seyffer — @lelaniecypher
Raven Reyes, ‘The 100’
The 100 has a staggering number of incredible female characters, and it was almost impossible to pick just one woman of color for this list. (Emori, Indra, Gaia and Anya are just a few of the characters that also deserve a shout-out here!)
But who could we choose but Raven Reyes, played by Batgirl-to-be Lindsey Morgan (if we just keep saying it, we can will it into being)? Few characters on The 100 have endured more hardship than Raven, and few have emerged as powerful and unbreakable.
In The 100 season 1, Raven used her incredible brain to hot-wire a 100-year-old rocket, traveling to Earth on her own to save her boyfriend — only to find out that he’d fallen in love with someone else. But she did not let that slow her down, aiding the delinquents with her life-saving knowledge of science and technology.
When she was paralyzed by a stray bullet, it almost broke her, but Raven is nothing if not perseverant. There is nothing Raven Reyes can’t do, no problem she can’t solve, and the characters of The 100 would be dead a dozen times over if not for her wit and skill. Let’s hope she finally finds a bit of happiness in The 100 season 5!
By Selina Wilken — @Selina Wilken
Shuri, ‘Black Panther’
In a movie that was filled to the brim with awesome, standout characters, Letitia Wright’s Shuri stood above the rest.
First off, she’s a 16 year old scientist/prodigy/leader of the Wakandan Design group and is responsible for creating the best technology in the most advanced country in the world. Secondly, it’s her technology and innovation that allows T’Challa to kick all the ass in the first place. Third, she herself gets to do a fair amount of ass kicking in the movie, both with hand to hand combat and her super sweet tech.
And finally, she does all this while constantly clowning on her brother, the crowned king of Wakanda — sometimes even getting it on camera.
Shuri might be younger than me by a good decade, but I’m pretty sure that I want to be her when I grow up.
Now, who do I need to pay to get her to be the next Iron Man?
By Lelanie Seyffer — @lelaniecypher
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