Hollywood is a boys club. Says who? Today’s actresses are chipping away at the Tinseltown patriarchy by proving that women—of all ages—can star in major films and TV shows. Whether they're breaking box office records or kicking butt as action heroes, women can do more than play second fiddle to the guys. They’re also demanding—more than ever—the chance to play real characters.
While it’s still common for women to play achetypes that seem to gratify male fantasies (think Blake Lively in love triangles in Gossip Girl and Savages), it’s becoming more frequent for women to draw a line in the sand.
Off-screen, actresses like Rose McGowan and Michelle Rodriguez are speaking out against sexism and double standards. “I can’t be the slut. I cannot be just the girlfriend. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered because she’s been raped. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered and then dies,” Michelle has said about the roles she selects.
The Furious 7 star explains, “I have such a strong sense of self, there are certain lines I just won’t cross.” In fact, Michelle’s Furious character was rewritten when she threatened to quit after learning she was meant to be in a love triangle with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.
Here are six fearless and fabulous actresses who play by their own rules and are changing the game.
1. Taraji P. Henson
Who says actresses over 40 don’t have careers in Hollywood? Taraji P. Henson is one tough Cookie and shows how persistence pays off. The 44-year-old actress studied acting at Howard University and has paid her dues for years and years. She broke out in 2001’s Baby Boy (“Jodyyyyyy!”) and later, with starring roles in Hustle & Flow and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. A true hustler, Taraji has finally become a household name after almost two decades in the game—two decades—with her hilariously devilish role of Cookie in Empire. Lucious and the world better look out for Taraji.
2. Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez is so big she doesn’t even need a full name. She’s just J. Lo (or Jenny from the Block) to us. Jennifer has been acting for almost 30 years—which seems impossible, since she looks not a day over 25! After her breakthrough starring role in Selena, Jennifer reclaimed her Fly Girl swag and released a slew of chart-topping pop albums. She broke records having the number one movie and album at the same time. Let’s not forget, she pretty much singlehandedly reshaped society’s views on curvy women (You can thank her now, Kardashian fans). Jen’s shared the screen with icons like Jane Fonda and George Clooney and pulling in some $15 million per flick, she’s one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses. Add her clothing line, American Idol, animated movies, fragrances and other projects and you see how this Bronx girl stays on top.
3. Kerry Washington
It’s handled. When people heard about a show about a Washington, D.C. “fixer” who has an affair with the President, many assumed the role would go to a white actress. Kerry Washington is one of the few African American actresses starring in a primetime hit TV show as Olivia Pope on Scandal. Her character is a true kick-ass girl. When she’s not seducing the President—and juggling him with her side boo who’s also a stud--she’s making boring pantsuits look red-hot.
4. Sofia Vergara
Her voice speaks for itself. Sofia Vergara has taken her Colombian accent and bigger-than-life personality and turned it into a multimillion-dollar brand. After attempting to break into American entertainment for almost 20 years, it was her role as the lovable Gloria on Modern Family that made the sexy Sofia a household name. Did we mention, she’s the highest-paid woman on television AND one of the most powerful women in the world according to Forbes? Beauty and brains, Sofia has flipped her drop-dead gorgeous looks and trademark humor into big bucks. She has her own fashion line with Kmart and is a spokesperson for Head & Shoulders and CoverGirl. Que linda!
5. Amy Schumer
Can girls be funny? Yes we can! Following in the steps of Tina Fey, Whoopi Goldberg and Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer is blazing a trail for female comedians everywhere. After pounding the stand-up pavement, Amy has honed her own voice. She’s in-your-face, fearless, smart and pretty much says whatever the hell she wants. No topic is off limits. If men can make jokes about sex and relationships, why can’t we? Don’t try to box Amy in or change who she is. With her TV show and new movie, Trainwreck, Amy is redefining what it means to be a funny woman in Hollywood today.
6. Zoe Saldana
Actress, dancer and kick-ass queen. Born in New York City, Zoe used her en pointe skills to land a role in Center Stage (and basically stole the show). After going on a road trip with Britney Spears in Crossroads and crushing on Nick Cannon in Drumline, Zoe ultimately landed the role of a lifetime: She starred in James Cameron’sAvatar a.k.a. the highest-grossing film of all time. Only Zoe Saldana could make a weird, blue avatar look gorgeous. When she’s not onstage, Zoe often speaks out on issues affecting her Latina community. In 2013, she married Italian artist Marcos Perego who took her last name after marriage. Smashing box offices and gender roles. Go on, Zoe!