“Who is this Harry Potter girl and what is she doing speaking at the UN?” Emma Watson spoke these words when launching the ‘HeforShe’ gender equality campaign during a conference in New York, aware that the question was in the mind of many viewers. Yet Watson’s filmography displays an emerging ability to explore and question what it is to be a woman today. From portraying Hermione which launched her as a cult role model to working as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, Watson has proven she is a force to popularise the male inclusive feminist agenda.
Hermione Granger, created by J.K. Rowling for her iconic book series, was Watson’s first role at age 9. This studious young witch gave a generation of girls a figure to mature alongside, suffering the hardships of childhood and heartaches of adolescence. When addressing the UN, Watson described people calling her “bossy” with implications that it was an undesirable trait in girls, but it is a characteristic celebrated within Hermione. Rowling’s female protagonist is driven, smart and equal to her peers at Hogwarts, the perfect defiance to the fact that women are still undervalued in the workplace.
Having established a large following through Harry Potter, Watson rebelled against her pigeonhole of perfect heroines and subsequently took on more complex roles. 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower saw Emma as a member of a gang of high school misfits, battling against oppression in a microcosm dominated by the heterosexual hyper-masculine. Sam, Watson’s character, explored the problems of ‘slut-shaming’ through her alleged ‘reputation’ for dating older men, whilst the effects of repression and sexual abuse on mental health were also championed by the film. Both are themes which coincide with Watson’s plea to include men within feminist discussion, as both sexes are victimised through gender-stereotyping.
Emma spoke solemnly about how at the age of 14 she began to be “sexualised by certain elements of the media”, disclosing this as one of the factors behind her passion for gender equality. Nicki Moore, her character within The Bling Ring illustrates how the bombardment of celebrity culture could lead to over-sexualised, amoral behaviour. The film presents a gang of scantily-clad teens robbing the homes of the rich and famous, stirred by their jealously of the Hollywood lifestyle. Pairing Sofia Coppola’s detached directing and the actors’ portrayal of naïve superficiality, The Bling Ring is a strong warning about how the impressionable can react to highly materialised, misogynistic media images.
In her most recent film Noah, Watson portrayed Ila, Noah’s orphaned daughter-in-law. Despite the prevalence of anti-feminist themes within biblical stories, Ila’s crisis over her infertility offers a look at the issue of women being defined by their ability to be mothers, another pillar of sexism still to fall.
Looking ahead to Emma Watson’s new film Regression, we may be able to anticipate another examination of gender with a plot-line centering on sexual abuse. The thriller, starring Ethan Hawke, is due in cinemas next year and shall hopefully allow this talented actress to further extend her invite (to both sexes) to continue the feminist discussion.