The baddest, bravest superhero this summer wasn't a man in a cape or a suit of iron. It was 6-year-old Hushpuppy, a girl in rain boots from the Louisiana bayou whose courage and resilience are the heart of indie sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild. ''I gotta take care of mine,'' she says at one point, which neatly sums up the driving motivation of devoted big sister Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (recently released on Blu-ray and on demand). In the Pixar hit Brave, Princess Merida is more concerned with her own self-interest which refreshingly does not include finding true love but one bets Hushpuppy and Katniss would both appreciate her warrior spirit. If last year marked the genuine breakthrough for women in comedy, then a new breed of female hero owns 2012.
In Lena Dunham's loving New Yorker eulogy of the glorious Nora Ephron, the Emmy-nominated Girls creator and star praised her mentor's patient method for dealing with ''women in film'' questions: ''a mix of a raised brow 'Do we really need to go over this again?' and an understanding that sexism isn't gone, and that we have to engage in the debate a bit, even when it frustrates us.'' In that vein, this is not a trend piece or an announcement that women are suddenly tough or capable or cool. But still, there seems to be a legitimate shift in how pop culture serves and represents women and that is worth celebrating.
After fueling phenomena from Twilight to The Hunger Games, female buying power can no longer be overlooked. ''Women make a lot of the decisions in families and couples...and wield an enormous amount of influence in the film marketplace,'' says Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson. ''Hollywood is getting wise to that later than perhaps they should have. But better late than never.'' Exhibit A: The next big buddy-cop comedy is shooting right now, but it doesn't star Eddie Murphy or Will Ferrell; The Heat features Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.