5 Leading Ladies On and Off the Screen

The Oscar's may be over; but the celebration isn't. Let's take a look back at the powerful, influential cinematic moments we saw this year—especially those given by actresses in leading roles. Each actress here invites us into the storyline here; they illuminate the complexity, sensibility and beauty of women. Because of that, though, we’re also challenged to experience and think about topics through a critical lens. These ladies’ impact doesn’t stop with the end credits; their unique perspective can be felt throughout the world.


1. Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)

“One of the things I love about acting is that I can enter into these other people's lives. But going back to being me at the end of the day is very important, too. That process of remembering who I am.” -Hawkins

In The Shape of Water, Hawkins seamlessly enters into the life of Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning lady who works at a highly secured government laboratory. Esposito begins to notice that the government has been acting in questionable, unjust ways, and she refuses to sit idly. Her true character shines through in the midst of fighting injustice; she redefines what it means to have a voice and how to use it. Esposito's development as a character speaks to Hawkins’ love for acting. By walking in Elisa’s shoes, Hawkins — and the rest of us — are asked to evaluate the circumstances under which we’re willing to make our voices heard.  


2. Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing)

“I've made a professional reputation playing working-class, middle-class, American women. There's a real sense of stoicism and pragmatism and strength and lyricism of a woman like that.” -McDormand

McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mourning mother, in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing. As her daughter’s murderer remains unfound, Mildred uses three billboards in her hometown to call out the local police department’s inability to issue justice. This raw performance coincides with the authenticity McDormand has been accustomed to in her acting career. Her portrayal of a real working-class woman in America humbles us — it reminds us that glitz and glam aren’t always the reality.


3. Margot Robbie  (I, Tonya)

“Everyone's like, 'overnight sensation.' It's not overnight. It's years of hard work.” - Robbie

Robbie plays Tonya Harding, the first American to land a triple axel, in I, Tonya. Robbie gives an emotional performance in this highly controversial story. This depiction of the 1994 Olympic tragedy authenticates the complexity of discovering the truth about a situation. Moreover, it trademarks the idea that life isn’t always black and white. Robbie’s own journey to success revalidates that idea. Dreams are not fulfilled overnight; to say so undermines the hard work of any dreamer.  


4. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

“Learning is the most important thing, no matter how you do it, or where you do it, or who you do it with.” -Ronan

Ronan illustrates the struggle and hardship of an outspoken teenager, Christine (Lady Bird) McPherson, who is dealing with her opinionated mother as her senior year of high school comes to a close. Ronan’s performance speaks and brings comfort to the confused and unsure viewers. This grounded perspective carries into Ronan’s personal life, as she is preaching about the importance of constantly learning and realizing that education doesn’t fit into one medium.


5. Meryl Streep (The Post)

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.” -Streep

We can't say we're surprised to see Streep on the nomination list; but still, we shouldn’t overlook her incredible portrayal of Kathy Graham, the first female writer to be published in a major newspaper in America. As doubt filled The Washington Post’s workroom, Graham overpowered it with courage and a sense of justice. Her actions ultimately resulted in the revelation of important government secrets during Nixon's presidency. Streep's bravery shines through her performance, and it certainly doesn’t end there. Streep is constantly reminding us about our gift of empathy. We should use our empathy to fight for equality.


Although the actresses’ roles vary, they all spark our interest and emotions. Their performances initiate conversations among families, friends and even strangers. Their leadership extends from the screen into our lives.