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Let’s Talk About The Real Villain In Challengers (And Why It’s Definitely Not Tashi)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

For so many years, we all begged and pleaded for one thing: complex female characters. We wanted our leading ladies to be more than just love interests. We dreamed of more than just manic pixie dream girls. We wanted layers.

After watching Challengers, I feel like we have finally gotten our complex female character in Tashi Duncan. Brought to life by a masterful performance from Zendaya, Tashi is really unlike any heroine we’ve seen before. Say what you want about her, but Tashi is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it.

With that being said, I was surprised to see just how many others disagreed with me. Based on much of the online discourse I’ve seen, it seems like a lot of people see Tashi as simply one thing: the film’s real antagonist. In their eyes, Tashi was a conniving puppet master who manipulated two former best friends into athletic and romantic rivals. And her biggest crime? She couldn’t commit to one man in the end.

The way I see it, the people who view Tashi as the villain missed the entire point of the movie. Challengers is not just a movie about tennis, it is in part a prolonged game of tennis. The film thrives off of conflict, and it finds its order in chaos. Tashi understands that the true beauty of her life’s game is never really about winning, it’s ultimately all about how she plays it.

To put it simply: there would have been no movie if Tashi fit within the mold of the traditional female protagonist. Good storytelling is not about painting a perfect picture — it’s about producing something with angles for interpretation and contemplation. Challengers was never created to be a traditional romance movie, so attempting to apply tropes from this genre will inevitably feel useless.

Even though I still wouldn’t know what to do if you handed me a tennis racket, I do know one thing: the real villain of Challengers is the viewer who tries to box Tashi into one archetype. Take Tashi for all that she is: messy, nuanced, and real. Once we allow female characters to harness their flaws as fuel, we can understand that complex female characters can broaden our horizon of womanhood both on and off screen.

Mallory is a second year English major from Los Angeles, California. She loves thrifting, traveling, and listening to Taylor Swift.