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‘Norma Rae’: The fiercest female agitators on screen

Viva la revolution – it’s time for the good girls to revolt! The United Kingdom celebrated one hundred years of women having the right to vote last year. We’re celebrating on their behalf by taking a look at the fiercest fictional female agitators in film & TV. Here are eight of the best.

Good Girls Revolt (2015)

Patti Robinson and Jane Hollander (Genevieve Angelson and Anna Camp)

The Amazon Originals series was sadly short-lived, but powerful nonetheless. Based on a fictionalized News of the Week magazine, the show centers around the second wave feminist movement of the time, with characters Patti and Jane portrayed as the smart, tough, and outspoken women fighting for the respect they deserve for their work and for equality in the workplace.

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Queen Sugar (2016 – )

Nova Bordelon (Rutina Wesley)

Not only is Nova a journalist and Black Lives Matter activist striving for change, but the character of Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed drama also has firm roots within her community, highlighting the importance of change at a local level. She’s ferocious, passionate, intelligent, and a pillar of power.

The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)

La femme du général (Genica Athanasiou)

Germaine Dulac’s classic surrealist film remains one of the most radical feminist films ever made. The movie’s central female character is about as subversive as they come, resisting the power of a king and the desires of a priest.

There’s even a sequence in which the protagonist holds a burning bra above her head in protest (bear in mind the film was made in 1928). Unsurprisingly, the film was subsequently banned, with the British Board of Film Censors somehow conceding it’s simultaneously “meaningless” and “objectionable”.

Soderbergh’s movies feature strong, independent, and complex female characters. Let's look at some of the auteur’s most ferocious leading ladies.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts)

Steven Soderbergh’s powerful biopic is based on the true life exploits of environmental activist Erin Brockovich – an unemployed single mom who single-handedly takes on a Californian power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.

Erin refuses to back down, shut up, or step back when she is demanded to by people in power, and she continues to shake down a complex of corruption until she can finally see justice and accountability in sight.

Marianne & Juliane (1981)

Marianne and Juliane (Barbara Sukowa and Jutta Lampe)

Margarethe von Trotta’s German New Wave classic explores a bond between two sisters and their radically different approaches to the fight for women’s rights. While Juliane uses words and information as a journalist to spread her message, Marianne is a militant street fighter who refuses to back down. The film offers a critical female perspective on a violent time in West German history.

Born in Flames (1983)


Providing a futuristic glimpse at a feminist uprising, Lizzie Borden’s transgressive science fiction film has countless female agitators at its heart, but we have a particular soft spot for Honey – the soft spoken Radio Phoenix leader who joins forces with other women to implement a full on revolution for equal rights. The film pays a loving tribute to the contributions of women of color in political change that’s not often seen on screen.

Norma Rae (1979)

Norma Rae (Sally Field)

Based on Crystal Lee Sutton’s experiences of organizing a union with her coworkers at a textile mill in North Carolina, Field depicts a rebel-rousing, working-class woman standing up for workers’ rights despite the obvious dangers and challenges involved.

As well as portraying a formidable woman fighting for rights, Norma Rae also deals with further issues of sexual freedom and institutionalized racism that sees Norma remaining resilient against various structures of oppression.

Suffragette (2015)

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan)

The central character Maud faces repeated challenges as she continues to battle for women’s rights, including being thrown out by her husband and fired from her job. The experiences Maud endures – including being brutally force fed while on hunger strike – reflect some of the real life experiences the Suffragettes went through in their fight for the right to vote.

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