Almost every person in the world has at least one favourite movie, TV show, or book character they find themselves wanting to emulate. Some of these screen jewels have managed to capture our hearts with the undeniable charisma of their personalities, and the very ideals their characters embody behind the curtain.
Not all role models have to be real people. Sometimes sitting down in a lonely theatre or your room and walking out of it feeling like a different person because of what you’ve witnessed is enough to steer the course of your philosophy for the better. There is no experience quite like being moved by a fictional character and feeling yourself wanting to mold your life in pattern to theirs, in hopes of at least coming close to the fateful happily ever after they blissfully achieve in the end.
The abundance of media forms nowadays have the potential to inspire and influence our decisions, and on some occasions, our very lives themselves. The presence of role models is an important aspect that ensures a younger, impressionable audience feels empowered enough to see their likeness on the screen and feel compelled to achieve greater things because of such representation.
These screen characters allow viewers to pursue fields they are passionate about, no matter the disruptive blockades in their way; as their favourite actor or actress has told them to leap for the stars and all they can do is jump. Influential media characters then become living proof of one’s ability to master certain skills, overcome certain hurdles, live through some gruesome incidents; but always come out all the better for it.
It gives us viewers a chance to imagine leading a life in the shoes of our fictional role models and feeling it as a close reality, rather than an impossible dream.
For women, especially, seeing strong female characters in commanding positions can make them feel worthy to take their place alongside men in society, even going as far as making movements to fill in inequality gaps and shattering previously established societal norms the way cinematic universes do. Any girl needs to have good role models, so they grow up to become great women.
When little girls see someone like Wonder Woman single-handedly saving the entire world or Hermione Granger being proud of her high intelligence, they see a future for themselves where they can one day resolve conflicts with grace or not be ashamed for being smarter than their male counterparts. Women known for passion, drive, bravery and independence are becoming more and more celebrated and so are characters with those traits.
Over the decades, many filmmakers and screenwriters have been exemplary in providing powerful male and female characters that have gained their cult followings independent of their media franchises. These characters have developed a strong sense of individuality and bring forth dynamic personality traits that contribute to their success, and it’s no wonder more and more people look to them instead of real people for guidance.
Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street
If you’ve never attended a single day of your business class in college, all you need to know about making it big is watching Jordan Belfort, more popularly known as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. The infamous true story-inspired character played by the monumental Leonardo DiCaprio has one thing in his very core: money.
Belfort’s swagger, tenacity, and business savvy tricks of the trade have been unanimously used as points of reference for real-world business dealings. The stockbroker prides himself in building strong individual relationships with his employees, both inside the office and off the clock. This fostered a close, tight-knit rapport with them built on the foundations of mutual respect and loyalty to their maker.
He also opted out of the traditional Ivy League twentysomethings fresh out of graduation in hiring potential employees, but instead exclusively took a chance on what society deems ‘lost causes’ or ‘misfits’, because Belfort argued those were the people willing to do whatever it took to get their hands on hard-earned money. Despite past misconduct or lack of experience, he looked at personality and work ethic when making decisions. This trait demonstrates to look beyond a resume or a few key signals when making hiring choices.
The philosophy of success demonstrated by Jordan Belfort is a refresher course on how being unorthodox can be more gratifying than playing it by the book, that sometimes corporate work can be fun like playing real money games if you have the creative vision and commitment to make it entertaining. While they no doubt paid the consequences for their hedonistic choices, it was no denying they enjoyed their lives to the fullest. Running a company is extremely challenging, so it is crucial to enjoy the journey.
Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada
With over 14 years since its first screening, this fictional Runway Editor-in-Chief has managed to amass her following that stood the test of time – and for good reason. Miranda Priestly was to be the anti-heroine opposite of naive, inexperienced Andrea Sachs who embodied the basic archetypes of any female protagonist.
But make no mistake: Miranda Priestly isn’t a villain.
She is simply a high-powered woman doing her job. Miranda Priestly is remembered as a villain precisely because she was a demanding one who refused to change her demeanour to make other people comfortable. Befitting her high-ranking position and the years of experience behind such a title, she demanded only the best from the people around her.
She was not gentle in the way she forced people to rise to the challenges she knew very well they could take on, even if her reputation as the ‘Boss Bitch’ ran rampant in the industry circles because of it. She can make or break designers and that her endorsement of trends trickles down to mass-market production, and exercises that generously, not caring if she brushes nose with anyone in the process.
Through her power and influence, Miranda can continuously command authority over her followers and the situation. She leverages her tenure in the highly competitive industry as a way to make everyone else step up their game, improving their overall work outputs in the process, however harsh it came to be.
Her overall leadership style is rough around the edges, but at the end of the day, she gets things done and reaps all the effort for the hours she put in. That hard-earned and honest work has managed to do well for her career more than it did the other way around.
Vito Corleone, The Godfather
It doesn’t matter whether you’re the head of a Fortune 500 company or a small start-up in California, the Corleone Family has easily been just as influential in shaping the young minds of future business leaders as they were when the first film of The Godfather series came out in 1972.
The mob family has brought to life leadership styles worth emulating and how to assemble a team that will be there for you through hell or high water. If the Corleone Family could do anything it was delivering on results.
At the front of their empire sat Vito Corleone, a man loved and respected just as he is feared for his leadership abilities. Vito carried himself with a sense of dignity for his work and places emphasis on formidable friendships, which have all worked in his favour as the Corleone boss of the bosses.
Don Vito represents the powerful marriage of wisdom and experience combined. While people with a lifetime’s worth of experience are many, there are only those few and far between whose true value is brought by individuals whose experience helps navigate companies out of complex situations, all the while have everything be a formidable learning experience for the future generation. Vito then represents senior leadership and measures success by the ability to ensure institutionalization of crucial processes and removal of unnecessary impediments with ease, as is his general leadership style.
Tyler Durden, Fight Club
The Fight Club iconic character, Tyler Durden, is everything a protagonist is not. The aggressive anti-hero is cool, confident, level-headed, and demonstrates his dark sense of humour through his custom blend of Generation X Nihilism. As Fight Club, in general, is portrayed through the lens of violence and self-destruction, it’s no wonder one of their most pivotal members embody such cynic views of the world.
Even so, Tyler is a fighter for just cause through and through.
Spearheading Project Mayhem, Tyler found himself responsible for leading a generous group of delinquents fighting for a united cause they all believed in. His leadership style, much like his fighting one, was aggressive but direct. He wasn’t afraid to confront his team members with brutal honesty, forcing them to focus on the end goal and let everything else fade into the background as they blaze through.
“No fear! No distractions! The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide!” he preaches like a mantra. Read more. He also forgoes the general notion of keeping up appearances in society and just embrace who you are as you are: “I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”
Just as Tyler freed the protagonist to be himself, as leaders, you can start giving team members the chance to bring their creativity and personality into their work. While some people think his vision was too out there and particularly bloody, in the end, he saw the world for what it was and pulled up all the stops to change it for the better.
Renata Klein, Big Little Lies
The second she comes into the screen on HBO mega-hit Big Little Lies, Renata Klein (played by Laura Dern) is your textbook white, suburban soccer mom antagonist. She is a high-powered venture capitalist, don in Burberry coats and Chanel loafers, smiling at every other mom as if she was a woman on a mission. Cocooned in luxurious pearls and designer dresses, she embodies Silicon Valley wealth to the T.
But as the story progressed, you see behind the riches and bank accounts: she was still a mother and a woman first. A highly successful businesswoman was second only to her primary role of being a mother.
She does not bend the rules for anyone and was quick to bounce back from the bankruptcy stage her husband has dug for himself that he dragged her down with her, and refused to live a life she felt she did not deserve. While some of the other mothers at Otter Bay Elementary School don’t have demanding careers outside the home, Renata is not afforded the same leniency as she is a high-powered executive who often felt othered for her drive and ambition.
It’s obvious Renata adores her money and not just for material reasons, because at the very core of it her wealth symbolizes all she has achieved in a previously poverty-ridden life. She loves the hard-earned money she has and isn’t afraid to flaunt it, not out of petty self-righteousness; but simply because she is too proud of her achievements to hide it otherwise.
Hermione Granger, The Harry Potter Series
Perhaps the original literary feminist, Hermione Granger during the peak of the multi-million movie franchise was a symbol of a changing modern world: she showed girls it was okay to prefer books to boys, and that they didn’t have to hide it from the world. Where students might feel apprehension at raising their hands in class when they knew the answer to a question, she told them to not even hesitate.
Our favourite fictional witch speaks her mind and is confident in her academic prowess, as well as not shy away from demonstrations of just how much. She tells the story of a young girl who embraced her individuality just as we saw her rise up the ranks because of it, sending a message that with true self-reflection and identity you can reach far greater things than in self-doubt and isolation.
The bright girl sidekick to the main character Harry Potter went on to become the ‘greatest witch of her age’, all because of her penchant for literature and geniuses that she did not conceal from anyone.
Above the books and the brains, Hermione Granger is also a friend.
She never hesitated to be there for the people around her and channel her gifts for the greater good, believing and fighting for a cause she felt strongly for out of her deep friendship with the main protagonist. Through her endless compassion for her found family and unrivalled smarts, she moved through the wizarding world and made changes at her own pace and radicalized it for the better.
It is a surreal feeling being able to identify your passion and eagerness with that of people on the silver screen, not even caring if such people or worlds exist in real life or not. Beyond the characters these fictional role models possess, they have graced viewers with such devotion for a cause and the drive to succeed in something that sometimes real people fall just short of trying to replicate.
Role models don’t always have to be the ones who exist in our daily lives, and sometimes believing in the magic behind the screen is more than enough to keep you going at the end of the day.