Too often, women suffer from "impostor syndrome", describing their hard-won success as an accident or luck. That's what makes CC's naked ambition refreshing and inspiring. As a child, she announces herself proudly as the most popular act in the Sammy Pinker Kiddy Show. As an adult, we see her going on audition after audition, brazening through disinterest and indifference. She dresses as a rabbit to deliver singing telegrams. She dyes her hair for a two line part. She gives her all to every opportunity, even when it's not something she particularly wants to do, because she sees every chance as a stepping stone to her chosen career. When she finally has a successful show, she glories in her success, proud of what she's accomplished.
She doesn't hesitate to go on the offensive when she thinks she's being slighted. When her boss at a nightclub refuses to give her an advance, she unleashes a rapidfire attack until he unlocks the cash box to hand over fifty dollars. As a child, when she feels intimidated by the ritzy patrons at a fancy hotel, she does a tap-dance routine on the stairs. During her movie shoot, she doesn't hesitate to break character when her co-star tries an unscripted kiss. And then she lets the director have it, giving him a blast of frustration over his lack of involvement, finishing with a jaw-breaking punch when he accuses her of being a talentless hack and tells her to waddle her ass back on set and shut up.
Her fiery assertiveness makes me think of an old saying: to survive, the small ones must be fierce. CC doesn't have the protection of money or social status. All she has is her own spunk and talent. She does it all on her own, without compromise. It shouldn't be so shocking to watch a woman do what CC does, but it is rare in a world where women are encouraged to not make a fuss or cause a scene.
And yet, for all of CC's fire, she is devoted to her friends and loved ones. The very first scene shows her dropping all the preparations for her concert so that she can rush to the side of her dying friend. When her best friend sleeps with the man that CC has a crush on, CC is angry but once she's said her piece, it's over. "We're friends, aren't we?" When her husband tells her that he needs to stay where he is and not join her on her soaring career, it is one of only two points in the film where she doesn't argue. She asks if he's sure and then accepts it.
The second time is when her best friend tells her that she's ready to die. Despite CC's fear of illness and earlier urgings to fight, she looks Hillary in the eye and asks if she's sure. When Hillary nods, CC turns her considerable energy to fighting on Hillary's behalf to have her released from hospital so that she can die at home. I've always been particularly touched by how Hillary simply closes her eyes, trusting CC to fight for her.
I've been trying to think of other strong, defiant female characters, outside of the assassin/superhero/physical fighter character set and have been coming up blank (with the possible exception of Roseanne Barr's character on Roseanne). CC isn't a black belt or a secret agent. She's a singer and performer. So in some ways, her determination and feistiness is even more accessible to the average person.
Beaches is one of the first movies I remember watching in theatres and it stuck with me. But it's only as I've gotten older and more aware of how strong female characters can be undermined that I've realized how special it truly is. The story of friendship, strength and devotion resonates powerfully, without compromise or apology. And it all begins with the very simple promise between two little girls in Atlantic City.
"Sure. We're friends, aren't we?"
Continuing with my look at strong female characters, next month I'll be looking at Lizbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. Heroine Fix is the second Thursday of each month, looking at the heroines whom I admire and who have inspired my own characters.