Finding an Authentic Role Model

I shamefully revealed in the blog that growing out my gray hair is a feeble attempt at authenticity. There’s an inexplicable mashup of identity, informed by post-50 angst combined with new-found freedom of movement, infused with teachings from my Indian family members and a journey of self-discovery.

So I’m pleased to watch the British series called Wallander (penned by Henning Mankell) that features Kenneth Branagh as a depressive Swedish detective. I’m a sucker for British detective shows (although technically this is logged under Scanda-mystery) and Wallander (Branagh) is a real mess. His face is puffy, eyes pink and swollen, and his face is unshaven. He’s overweight and overwrought. He’s thoroughly depressed. Yet he slogs onward, solving cases with slow-motion resignation.

I wonder: are there women of the same ilk that serve as role models for the post-50 set?

In the detective series Prime Suspect, Helen Mirren commands a detective squad with great authority, but she’s never unkempt. In the new North American program Harry’s Law, Kathy Bates plays an attorney pushing 60 who is thrust into a new gambit, saving souls in the ghetto.

Like Mirren’s character, Bates is a commanding figure: a smart, no-nonsense problem-solver. But no lock is out of place and no runs in the pantyhose.

Strong, professional female television characters are a step behind men in the sense that they can’t appear slovenly and competent. While Branagh’s Wallander can hardly get out of bed in the morning, the lawyer Bates plays can’t miss a beat or she’ll be mowed down by attorneys and judges, not to mention the neighborhood gangs.

One exception is Holly Hunter’s bravura performance of Grace Hanadarko (the character is part American Indian, by the way), a cop in the cable-drama Saving Grace. She’s battered by heavy drinking and smoking, and invites strangers home to her bed, in the same vein as male cop icons.

But Grace isn’t in her 50s: she still cute and sexy; she wears her jeans tight, her hair long, and drives a Porsche. Her character reframes the madonna-whore to angel-whore (angels are important to the story line). She wakes up in backseat of her car after a night of heavy drinking and finds her brassiere stuck to the windshield wiper. Slovenly, but cute, and yet another chance to see Hunter’s perfect body, topless.

But I’m still waiting for a female role model for my generation: competent, powerful, loving, smart, gray-haired, wrinkled, paunchy, and, yes, slovenly.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, cinema, framing, Indian. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Finding an Authentic Role Model

  1. Mary Dorman says:

    Do you realize that you have described yourself in that last paragraph? Well, minus the paunchy and slovenly. You are a role model to many of us.


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