It’s Netflix’s world and we’re all living in it. Available in more than 190 countries for an amazingly low monthly fee ($9 here in the USA), Netflix is an ever-growing entertainment outlet. From animation to horror, rom com to action, documentary to fantasy, Netflix offers a wide array of television shows and movies to stream. Subscribers are no strangers to the endless number of genres and categories offered through the service, and one of its more outstanding and emerging categories is Netflix Originals with strong female leads.

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Netflix is one of the leading pioneers in female representation in entertainment. Actresses are offered the roles of challenging, inspiring, and diverse characters, becoming a part of groundbreaking and popular shows. By now, there have been several big name examples from the service that prove Netflix should not only be commended for the strides they are making, but recognized as a leader for other networks and shows to follow.

FANTASY

Superheroes, wizards, and princesses, oh my! In today’s entertainment industry, fantasy movies and television shows are in high demand. 2017 alone is proof enough of the increasing trend: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, WONDER WOMAN, DARK TOWER, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, Pixar’s COCO, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, and the list goes on. Book to movie adaptations, DC franchises, and the classic ONCE UPON A TIME stories are shaping today’s infatuation with imagination.

Netflix hasn’t missed this trend. In fact, they have been catering to their audience’s demand by producing Netflix Originals that reflect today’s tastes. In a world of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and Infinity Stones, Netflix hasn’t missed the opportunity to partner with Marvel and expand its female presence.

Jessica Jones from JESSICA JONES

While Marvel is superb at producing superhero movies, they are less than stellar at making films that showcase a female lead. Enter Netflix and JESSICA JONES. Premiered post-DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES was the Netflix series that introduced audiences to the second member of Marvel’s DEFENDERS.

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Jessica Jones is a young, grungy, stubborn woman. Where Steve Rogers chastises the Avengers for their language, Jessica Jones is a proponent of these colorful words. And like Steve Rogers and every other superhero, Jones is the victim of a tragic backstory: orphaned at a young age, taken in by less of a mother and more of a momager, and becomes the victim of an abusive relationship.

It was her abusive relationship with Kilgrave, a mind-control manipulator, that changed Jessica forever. Since her supernatural strength was taken advantage of by her ex, Jessica refuses to use her physical powers to help the people of Hell’s Kitchen. Instead, Jones opens a detective agency, Alias Investigations. Although she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and a drinking problem, Jones is committed to helping the helpless with her smarts and tenacity rather than her strength.

With one season on Netflix, JESSICA JONES was a smash hit. The gritty, sometimes hard to watch series didn’t shy away from showing the dark side of super humanity. Kilgrave came into contrast with Jessica by pitting his strength of mind against her physical strength. He abused her in the most intimate ways possible – physically, verbally, sexually – and left her to replace her broken parts when he was done with her. The show was triumphant in portraying Jessica’s story that began with her as a victim and ended with her as a victor.

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Eleven from STRANGER THINGS

Another of Netflix’s fantasy shows that emphasizes girl power is STRANGER THINGS. Now you may be thinking, “STRANGER THINGS? Isn’t that a show with a mostly male cast?” To which I am virtually replying, “Yes, yes it is.”

However, while STRANGER THINGS may have a few more Y chromosomes than is necessary, the supernatural female lead makes up for it. Eleven is an escaped science experiment of Hawkins Laboratory. Through the experiments she endured at the hands of Dr. Martin Brenner, Eleven develops the power of psychokinesis. When she comes into contact with the rat pack of Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, Eleven’s world is forever changed. (They did introduce her to Eggos, after all.)

When Eleven is first introduced, she is a mute, terrified little girl. However, as the show progresses, Eleven transforms into El. As El, she is able to embrace all aspects of her identity. With the help of Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, El she is more than just a glorified lab rat. El is a friend, which means being honest, expressing trust, and defending boys against bullies. She is a girl who explores her femininity and vulnerability, finding herself beautiful from the inside to the outside.

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Finally, as a savior, El proves her worth to the group by doing the thing she hates the most: visiting the Upside Down. Since she is the only person who has been to the Upside Down and navigated it, El is the only option the crew has for finding their lost friend, Will. At the end of the day, El sacrifices herself so Will can be resurrected from the wrong side of our world because her love for her friends is undying and unyielding.

El and Jessica Jones represent exactly what fantasy should be: the intersection of imagination and inspiration.

COMEDY

While producing mass superhero franchises and recreating ’80s sci-fi flicks is a relatively new trend, comedy has always been a staple of our consuming culture. Fantasy is great at helping us momentarily forget the expectations of our reality; comedy is a way to reinterpret that reality and lighten its impact.

Netflix has created Originals that use comedy to investigate the changing world around us and reimagine the boundaries we put ourselves in.

Kimmy Schmidt from THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT

Case in point: THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT.

The show follows Kimmy Schmidt through a period of transition. Having just escaped a cult she was forced to participate in for fifteen years, Schmidt decides to begin her new life in New York. Armed with a fierce positivity and an unbreakable spirit (see what I did there?), Kimmy meets a plethora of colorful characters who help guide her through a world she never knew existed.

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Kimmy’s journey reflects the plight of many of today’s women who are in abusive situations. Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, while a ridiculous character, is an oppressor to a group of seemingly helpless women. He takes them from their lives, their family, the outside world. Reducing their identities to nothing but that of wife, Wayne uses manipulation to keep his women in order. When the group is found and Wayne imprisoned, it is up to the ladies to reclaim their lives. And Kimmy rises to face that challenge head on.

THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is a triumph. The Netflix Original is the modern quest of a woman who refuses to allow society to define her as a victim. If Kimmy Schmidt is anything, she is a survivor. Schmidt’s journey may just seem like one hilarious misadventure after another, but it is so much more than that. It is the tale of one woman who believes happy endings are possible. A woman who is willing to author and narrate her own life’s story, even if it is only ten seconds at a time.

Samantha White from DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

Another Netflix Original that breaks self- and culturally imposed boundaries is DEAR WHITE PEOPLE. A satire comedy-drama, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE follows the collective and independent journeys of students of color at a predominantly white university. As a whole, the show addresses the social injustices within the U.S. with witty, impactful dialogue and strong characters that present strong ideas.

One of these characters is Samantha White. Sam is the host of “Dear White People,” a university broadcast radio program. With her radio show, Sam is able to expose the truths and challenges people of color face at her university. In particular, Sam has taken it upon herself to be the voice of the unheard and the activist for those who don’t see the need for change.

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This Netflix Original uses Sam’s character to speak to the inherent racism, injustice, and lack of agency many people face in today’s society. She exposes the thoughts that no one wants to voice, the crimes that go unpunished, the systemic imprisonment of the black body that still exists today. Through comedic discourse, Sam and her fellow characters investigate and unearth the movement for equality still occurring in our universities, our streets, and our country. Along with a magnetic millennial edge, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE not only works to empower people of color, but also to shed led on the ideological and societal revolution that must happen if we are to make progress towards true equality.

DRAMA

Piper Chapman and Friends in ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Speaking of ideological and societal revolutions, one Netflix Original in particular has sparked viewers’ and critics’ interest alike. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, based on the book by Piper Kerman, documents the experience of Piper Chapman. Chapman is sentenced to 15 months in a minimum-security women’s prison after her former girlfriend, Alex Vause, confesses to her involvement in a drug deal ten years beforehand.

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While the Original is centered around Piper, the show expands upon this initial character and takes on a whole prison of characters to represent, each with a distinct personanilty and character history. Yes, Netflix is using their streaming ability to expose the harsh underbelly of what many Americans don’t want to face today: prisoners are people.

Dehumanized and disregarded, the prisoners wasting away in their cells are experiencing tortures unimaginable to the modern American. Rather than leaving the citizens who walk free among the streets to watch local and national news to get caught up on the prison scene, Netflix takes it upon themselves to educate.

One of the biggest obstacles the show’s female characters deal with are the prison’s security staff. Whether it be through verbal, physical, or sexual harassment, the guards in the prison are consistently portrayed as the antagonists. Instead of focusing on working with the inmates, their sole focus is to work against them and prove who holds the power. (As if the uniforms and guns weren’t enough.) The constant power plays ensure that the inmates are always reminded of their identity as prisoners, but devalue the role they play as human beings. Since it is obvious the guards were not trained to handle and nurture the inmates psychologically, they have a hard time of thinking of themselves as anything but a number in a system of cells. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK reflects the mirrored treatment of prisoners — especially female prisoners — in today’s penitentiaries, and the violence the guards enact on them. Their only reality becomes the prison that taught them they were an inmate instead of a human being.

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As if the treatment within this fictional facility isn’t enough, life on the outside isn’t made any easier upon release. Today’s prisoners face massive discrimination in trying to obtain employment, make their parole officers happy, or in just getting reacquainted with life outside of prison. If a prisoner is still being treated like a prisoner on the outside, then where is the incentive to go straight? What options do these fictional women — and real ones — have if they can’t access the proper resources to live as a member of society?

Aren’t we reinforcing the identities the courts, the guards, and the prison they just walked free from assigned them?

Yes, some of the ideas and plot lines can be contrived at times, but the streaming service is bringing greater awareness to the pertinent issues of today’s justice system. While the show is fictional, it hits on the hard facts of what it looks like to be a prisoner. It portrays the lack of information to create the reformation our society’s prison population needs in order to better themselves and thus better the world we find ourselves in.

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If Netflix begins this information sharing, then maybe they can start the revelation and revolution society needs to create change.

Netflix is Awesome

Netflix provides a wide range of diverse entertainment. From fantasy to comedy to drama and more, Netflix offers its subscribers original shows that highlight and comment upon real life struggles. And, though they are so often absent from popular media, women’s struggles are human struggles.

I don’t know of any other streaming services that give their viewers the chance to see a female superhero suffering from PTSD recover her life and her humanity. The chance to see a black woman call out the truth and the repercussions of those truths. The opportunity to learn about social injustices that affect women — and men — in prisons.

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The Declaration of Independence itself says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Since these words have been written, these truths appear to be less self-evident and more self-serving. So if Netflix is willing to show all men are created equal with DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, then let them. If ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK allows audiences to realize how those in prison are denied their life, liberty, and happiness, keep renewing the show’s seasons. If Kimmy Schmidt and Jessica Jones and El give you life, invest that $9 a month.

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