By Elena Zuccarello Cimino
The true heroines of our TV series are devoid of magic and superpowers, but they are considerably more powerful than those who possess them.
They are girls, young women, whom society and life rarely present with crossroads or options, but often impositions and constraints. Their rebellion and willpower create personal choices, new and autonomous possibilities. It is a disheveled, impulsive, “uterine” rebellion that helps them towards self-determination, even if not always in line with rectitude and justice.
They fight tooth and nail in a raw reality that is never touched by the unreal, by dreams. Their antagonists are larger and scarier than demogorgons and vampires because they are real. They are society and human cruelty, the inner and outer demons of self-acceptance and discrimination. It is easy to identify with these battles where the weapons are often character, the courage to make bold choices, the strength to make mistakes with head held high and a mocking smile, because they resemble the life we see every day. It ranges from betrayal to drugs, from minor offences to major ones, and these young women escape their predetermined fate with determination and madness. They do not escape blindly; they encounter remorse, fear, pain, in short, the entire range of experiences that many, perhaps without reaching the extremes represented, have gone through and continue to go through. It seems that there is nothing special about them, but in reality, these warriors of reality are scarier than the others. Because they act deeply rooted in the everyday, they feed on disillusionment and practicality, which make them very strong because they have nothing to lose. They have started to move out from the boundaries that have been drawn around them from the beginning, forever. Because their existence is a race through a battlefield in itself.
It is as if these girls, sometimes wiser than all the adults around them and more stoic than their peers, realize that the only escape from the real world, which relentlessly strikes against them, overwhelming them with problems that, even when changing contexts, remain strongly identifiable with those of adolescents outside the screens, is the real world itself. It is not necessary to step outside the boundaries of daily life and harsh reality to fight it, but it is necessary to be able to navigate the urban jungle with the cunning of adults and the agility of youth, to know the path and the streets, to learn to accept their own feelings, even the most extreme ones like love or faith, and turn them into strength. In short, to be the protagonists of their own lives, these girls don’t need to be heroines; they just need to accelerate the most challenging process of reality, becoming adults. Whether they are good or bad, they move with extreme awareness and are ready to fight by any means for what they want. Nothing could be further from the old, outdated, and forgotten stereotype of the defenceless princess saved by the prince charming of the moment (we refer to female characters such as: Mare fuori, Skam Italia, Baby, Gomorra, Suburra, The Good Mothers …).
The image of the young woman rendered completely inactive by some poison had already been largely surpassed by very different stories. Abandoning the expectation of a handsome man ready to unveil a freshly combed steed and a sharp blade, producers of cinema and TV dreams have already populated both media with heroines of various kinds since the 1970s, characterized by the most shocking qualities, the most absurd powers, and a determination that had ceased to be solely masculine. Since then, we have mythical heroines moving through undetermined eras (Xena), hilarious little robots (Small Wonder), rebellious princesses (Disney Productions from Beauty and onwards…), designated huntswomen capable of piercing demons (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and girls with superhuman strength who have nosebleeds (Strange Things). All of them are as heroic as the female characters in our own series. It is just a different way of seeing powers, power itself. Perhaps due to a different education, a more concrete taste, our Italian girls want to see themselves on the screen. They don’t need to escape to a distant, past, or unreal world. Perhaps they prefer to be depicted in something that, while distracting and comforting them, also seals their importance. They have grown up and continue to grow up with productions that do not soar above the wall of everyday life to escape it or solve its problems with magic, stratagems, and glittering devilry. This is probably why they do not need detours, neither to be entertained nor to escape from this reality. They know it and are ready to analyze it in a concrete way, and sometimes painfully, even with the help of the medium of film and television.
It is as if two opposite continental shoreslay before us. One in which products, for both young and old, are built on an analysis of reality filtered through slightly distorted, coloured lenses that give it a different air. Everything is enveloped in a magical, otherworldly atmosphere, far from real life. This is true for the most successful productions. There is also a large number of series and films that, even though they take place in regular contemporary settings, still show them being hit by a powerful bright spotlight. Even in those series that are not filled with supernatural elements, we rarely witness raw representations of reality, poverty, the margins of society, and often these remain products for a niche audience (Shameless, The Bear…). It is as if the cruel truth is completely avoided in favour of sources of entertainment, horror, emotional depth, and analysis through a narrative that always veers toward a parallel dimension. Even when it comes close to the truth, it only reaches the plausible.
On the other hand, our domestic productions and those closer to us fearlessly delve into the most painful corners of truth, showing every horror and placing every simple beauty that contrasts with it on a pedestal. Our series move in the peripheries, embrace degradation, plunge headfirst into crimes and the pain of all generations. It is precisely this almost documentary-like way, although always within the boundaries of fiction, of telling these lives that makes them so appreciated. It’s as if we have no fear of showing the pain precisely to dissolve its hardness through the strength of the actions of the protagonists, who somehow manage to break free from the ugliness. Sometimes, they find the impetus to do so in the poetic beauty of the natural environment that surrounds them. It is the beauty of the places, the history of the country, and the strength of character that shape the future of young protagonists who don’t need anything else to save themselves.
This division in production certainly cannot be considered devoid of the neorealist tradition, where divine, magical, supernatural intervention was not used to solve things, but only to soften the harshness of truth with a moment of hope, almost for its own sake. A positive sentiment in a sea of troubles that often propelled the protagonists forward but didn’t lead to anything truly positive. This tradition is derived from the Italian tendency not to leave reality, not to distance or fear it, even in its most painful and violent forms, but to represent it as it is and to fight it with entirely natural means.
Perhaps that is why our heroines, going back to them, perfectly represent the symbol of someone who gets by on their own, with their own abilities, skills, ambitions, and dreams, which together create a powerful, character-driven, tangible force capable of bending reality without any mystification. They are mirrors of what happens outside the screen, whispering to the viewer that they too can make it or consoling them in the acceptance of their own pain, even when, bitterly and once again in a neorealist fashion, there simply is no solution.