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Hollywood gets a lot of criticism for their handling of female characters, and justifiably so. In a break with tradition, though, The Hollywood Reporter recently conducted an internet poll to identify the top female characters in film. The idea is to look for the best, not to criticize the worst. More than 1,800 Hollywood insiders participated in the poll, and according to THR, male and female participants alike chose the same heroine for first place — J. K. Rowling's tremendous witch, Hermione Granger!
The Smartest Person in the Room
Appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador in 2014, Emma Watson told THR:
"Hermione made it OK for girls to be the smartest in the room. To be a leader, the one with the plan."
It's an open secret that Hermione is the smartest student at Hogwarts, and she frequently dazzles even the teachers with her genius intellect. Hermione was Muggle-born; when she was introduced to the Wizarding World she desired nothing more than knowledge. She consumed every book she could get her hands on — she seems to be the only student who ever read Hogwarts: A History — and she has an incredible ability to apply that knowledge in the most creative of ways.
Take Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. While the rest of the staff and students are running around trying to work out what the Monster of Slytherin is, Hermione joins the dots to work out that it's a Basilisk. She even has the sense to take precautions - steps that save her life when she crosses path with the Basilisk. An encounter that could have been the death of her is instead (literally) petrifying.
Time and again, Hermione is the one who gives the orders, and when she's overruled by Harry and Ron, they frequently come to regret that decision. Take Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where Hermione correctly diagnoses Voldemort's manipulation of Harry. Her wise words are ignored, and Harry makes some of the worst mistakes of his young life.
She Has Great Reserves Of Compassion
As intelligent as she is, Hermione's knowledge and wisdom is tempered with compassion. Take her activism on behalf of House-Elves; she correctly recognizes the underlying prejudices that will bring the Wizarding World to the brink of destruction, and does whatever she can to put matters to rights. She won't back down from her cause, even in the face of her friends' mockery.
In the book at least, it's absolutely fitting that Hermione kisses Ron for the first time when he finally expresses concern for the House-Elves. In that second, he shows that he too can be moved by the plights of others, and that compassion can overwhelm even the innate prejudices of the Wizarding World he grew up in. For Hermione, that's the moment when the final barrier between the two of them is broken down, and she allows herself to act on her love for him.
She's Unfalteringly Loyal
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore knew to give the Putter-Outer to Ron; as good as Ron may be, Dumbledore knew that his loyalty to Harry would falter. Not so Hermione; she sticks with Harry through thick and thin, even through tragedy, and her confidence in the Boy Who Lived never falters.
Hermione is the epitome of loyalty. Once she has committed herself to someone or something — even if it's something as absurd as a bad-tempered cat — she won't give in, and she'll never back down.
Hermione is Also Three-Dimensional
But here's the real beauty of Hermione. Like all the best fictional characters, she's wonderfully three-dimensional. Even some of her greatest strengths can be turned against her:
- Her love of knowledge can, at times, make her something of an insufferable know-it-all. She can't help being the one who answers a question, and she takes real pride in displaying the depths of her intelligence. Sometimes this rubs people the wrong way — even making it harder for her to achieve her goals, as people are busy reacting to her rather than focusing on the task at hand!
- Her loyalty and compassion can, ultimately, become obstinacy. When she commits to something, she refuses to back down, and this can often put her in a position of conflicting loyalties. How many times are Hermione's friendships (and even her relationships) damaged because she's committed herself to a cause? How many of her arguments with Ron descend into stubborn bickering, with some of their bouts lasting half a term or more?
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Hermione, though, is that we know her in a way that's different to most other female characters. We've seen her grow up; we've seen her core beliefs tested, her personality grow, her courage deepen and develop. We know her because we've watched her through her childhood years, we've seen her closest friendships mature, and we've come to understand the remarkable depths of her character. One of the reasons Hermione Granger is so tremendous a character is because she's part of the Harry Potter franchise, and the nature of that franchise itself has introduced us to Hermione in a way that sets her apart from every other female character.
Hermione Granger's Story is Tied to Emma Watson
One final thing stands out about Hermione Granger, though; she's tied to Emma Watson, an actress who's respected the world over. Like Hermione, Emma Watson has dedicated herself to opposing injustice. She's a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women, and has earned the ire of all those who oppose feminism and gender equality. She has the courage of her convictions, and she has the love of knowledge to support those.
As with Hermione, we grew up with Emma Watson; we saw the formative years of her career, and we came to know her as a trusted friend. Some actors are typecast after they've occupied a role for some time; while there's a hint of that with Emma Watson, the truth is that she transcends typecasting. Because we grew up with her, we watch her every achievement with a sense of delight. Because we've come to know her, because we saw her grow and mature, we're unspeakably proud of every step she takes in her career. Her success seems to amplify the tremendous power of Hermione Granger.
And what a success it is; after all, next year she gets to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast...
No doubt the first place in THR's survey will prove controversial, but for me it's deserved. Hermione Granger is truly one of the most powerful, three-dimensional characters in Hollywood. Little wonder Emma Watson observed:
"She's not just a role for me, she's a symbol. I am deeply proud to have played her."
(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)