From Disney princesses to ‘The Equalizer,’ strong female characters are taking the lead


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(CNN)Fierce female roles have always existed in Hollywood, but as the industry sees more female directors and producers, there has been a recent influx of more powerful female characters on both big and small screens.

Even Disney princesses have evolved beyond those waiting on their Prince Charming to make their lives better.

    Take for example:

      Kelly Marie Tran in “Raya and the Last Dragon”: This Disney film stirred a bit of controversy with its casting, but the warrior princess is indeed that — a warrior.

        Inspired by Southeast Asian cultures, the animated film offers the latest Disney heroine whose spirit evokes similarly strong-willed characters like Mulan and Merida.

        Tran voices Raya, who sets out on a quest to save her people.

          In real life, Tran is no less fierce, though her battles have been mostly against racism and trolls.

          As the first Asian American actor cast in a lead role in a “Star Wars” movie, she was subjected to an onslaught of online harassment and bullying that eventually forced her to abandon social media altogether.

          “(Raya) sees the world in this doe-eyed idyllic way, and then the world sort of breaks, and it changes the way in which she interacts with the world,” Tran told The Hollywood Reporter. “That was my way (into the character). I’ve definitely in the past viewed the world through rose-colored glasses, and now I feel like I’m in the back, smoking a cigarette, (saying), ‘I’ve seen things.'”

          Queen Latifah in “The Equalizer”: The actress/singer/rapper stars as single mom Robyn McCall in the CBS reboot, which this time features a Black woman as the under-the-radar guardian angel who has all types of skills to aid those in need.

          No one is better suited to discuss the change in Hollywood than the show’s executive producer, Debra Martin Chase.

          She is the first African American woman to produce a feature film that grossed more than $100 million (“Courage Under Fire” starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan) and the first African American female producer to sign an overall deal with a major studio.

          Chase also produced “The Princess Diaries,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “The Cheetah Girls” films, as well the Emmy-award-winning “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” which had a diverse cast including singers Brandy and the late Whitney Houston. (And like “Raya” is available on Disney+.)

          “This is the best it has been since I have been in Hollywood,” Chase told CNN in a recent interview.

          “That’s not to say that there’s not more work to do because there definitely is,” she said. “But I think there’s finally a recognition in Hollywood that stories about people of color, about women of color, about women have an audience and can be profitable.”

          The original “Equalizer” aired in the ’80s and starred Edward Woodward. This time around, Chase said, Queen Latifiah is killing the role because “she’s totally believable kicking some ass, plus she’s beautiful.”

          “We have this amazing creative team, but I also think that the world is ready to see a Black woman who is taking no prisoners and out there helping people who need help,” Chase said. “The world is not in a great place right now so don’t we all wish there was someone who could right the scales for us?”

          Elizabeth Olsen in “WandaVision”: How to say this without any spoilers?

          Let’s just say there is a moment in the finale of the hit Disney+ miniseries that perfectly displays the theme here of powerful female characters.

          Olsen stars as Wanda Maximoff / the Scarlet Witch opposite Paul Bettany as Vision.

          To be sure, the Marvel Universe is filled with heroic women who are literally super (powered).

          But there is just something about Olsen in this role and the range of emotions she pulls off seamlessly that sets her apart.

          Not to mention the strength of the love story at the center of the series.

          “Wanda and Vision’s journey to this point is a story of pure, innocent love and deep connection with another person,” Olsen told Elle. “It was also very traumatizing. Tragedy has always been their story. In our show, we kind of wipe that clean and start fresh.”

          Now, if only we could get some of these female heroines to work on things like pay equity in the real world and such.

          For your weekend

          Three things to watch:

          ‘WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn’

          With interviews featuring journalists, experts and high-ranking former employees, this documentary tells the story of “the rise and fall of one of the biggest corporate flameouts and venture capitalist bubbles in recent years.”

          It offers a behind-the-scenes look of what happened with both the company and its controversial co-founder and former CEO, Adam Neumann.

          The doc starts streaming Friday on Hulu.


          Speaking of documentaries, if you haven’t yet seen the one on Tina Turner, what are you waiting for?

          At 81 years young, the woman who survived a great deal to become an icon shares parts of her story you may not have known.

          Not to mention the music!

          “Tina” is currently on HBO, which is owned by CNN’s parent company.

          ‘Magical Andes: Season 2’

          Spanning seven countries in South America, the Andes always have another adventure to tell. Discover these stories in the second season of this docuseries, which introduces viewers to both the inspiring landscape and the people.

          It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

          Two things to listen to:

          She has been on the music scene for a while, but Louisa Rose Allen, better known as Foxes, really hasn’t released a ton of music.

          The English singer gained popularity back in 2012 as the singer on producer Zedd’s hit, “Clarity.”

          Her debut album, “Glorious,” was released in 2014 followed by her second studio album, “All I Need,” two years later.

          After a four-year hiatus, Foxes released some singles in 2020 and is now blessing us with an EP, “Friends in the Corner,” out Thursday.

          If pain truly does produce good music, expect a blockbuster from Demi Lovato.

          “Dancing with the Devil … The Art of Starting Over” is her seventh studio album and, like her new, similarly named YouTube docuseries, grew out of her near fatal overdose in 2018.

          “If you listen to it track by track, if you follow the track listing, it’s kind of actually like the non-official soundtrack to the documentary,” Variety reported Lovato saying earlier this month during a livestream on Clubhouse. “Because it really does follow my life over the past couple of years.”

          The new album is set to drop Friday.

          One thing to talk about:

          It has been a tough time in the restaurant industry, but with the Covid vaccine rollout underway and summertime coming soon, will things change?

          Actress/producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas appears to be betting so.

          She’s a collaborator for Sona, a new restaurant in the Gramercy area of New York City.

          “SONA is the very embodiment of timeless India and the flavours I grew up with,” she wrote in an announcement in early March on her verified Instagram account. “The kitchen is helmed by the incredible Chef @harinayak, a masterful talent, who has created the most delicious and innovative menu, taking you on a food journey through my amazing country.”

          If anyone can help turn the place into a hot spot, it has got to be the charismatic Chopra Jonas, who is a well-known foodie and a shrewd businesswoman.

          Something to sip on

          I know I’m not the only one who misses Chrissy Teigen on Twitter.

          It has been more than a week since the power user deleted her account, explaining that after a decade it “no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively, and I think that’s the right time to call something.”

          Trolling her husband John Legend, taking on injustice and more, Teigen was all the things I enjoy about the social media platform.

            But it appears that all the things I really dislike about it drove her away. This is a woman who has literally shared her tragedies (the loss of their son Jack to pregnancy complications, for one) and her triumphs with us, so whatever works for her I support.

            And we will be here should she ever decide to come back.