In an effort to assist my wife today, I googled “best rolemodel characters for males in movies.” I was slightly surprised to find no simple lists. You can find lists for almost anything normally. Seriously, here is a list for the top 15 squash/zucchini varietals you should grow. But somehow they can’t do the 15 male rolemodel characters in pop culture. The top searches are a lot of handwringing about what a dearth of male rolemodels there are. I thought I was on to something with Common Sense Media, but it includes a recommendation you watch Dancing with the Stars which shows a deplorable lack of judgement, though they do recommend Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but given the Dancing with the Stars thing, that may have just been a good guess.
I love action, science fiction and fantasy in particular, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how hard it is to put together a list of male characters you could absolutely recommend to your son, nephew, cousin, and brother, so here we go; my biased and totally personal Top Five Rolemodels for Males in Movies:
Finn (The Force Awakens): Finn as an ex-stormtrooper who rebels against the First Order as he is struck by the injustice and oppression of their actions and strategy. His background as one of the enemy causes him some moments of doubt but he proves to be honest with his friends, and goes onto face his fears to defend his friends in the face of overwhelming odds. Importantly, he has a functional, warm, emotionally close friendship with Rey, the strong female lead, exhibiting no romantic confusion or sexual tension. That alone is rare in movies or television programmes. Oh, I almost forgot, he’s black, and it’s fantastic how that is irrelevant to the story.
Billy Elliot: from the movie of the same name, Billy Elliot is a boy from a working class background with an unexpected passion for dance. Followed his passion sees him ridiculed and rejected by his friends and family, particularly his father. However, his father has a change of heart upon seeing the skills and ability of his son, and the community fundraises fo Billy to audition for the National Academy of Dance. Billy’s courage to pursue his dream and be his own person is a fantastic message, and his friendship with a friend who comes out during the movie is a great model of support and compassion.
Harry Potter: I hope you know who Harry Potter is. The author sold a lot of books, and a small group of Christians are still going nuts that it all leads to the devil. The “boy who lived” has to live with the reputation and expectation for the outcome of an event that happened to him. That event, surviving an attack by Voldemort, shapes his life and his destiny. Amongst other themes, his response to that difficult legacy is important: he trusts in mentors and elders, he faces up to hard choices and follows through to their conclusion, he accepts help, and he maintains hope. He is an outstanding young person, not because he is better or more skilled than everyone around him, but because he has the courage of his convictions.
Steve Rogers (Captain America): comics are funny things. If you read all of the Captain America comics, I assure you he will have done some weird weird things that you would not want to model to young men. But that is all made up for by the fact that he punched Hitler in the face. In the FACE! Awesome. Actually, Captain America has a lot more depth and conviction than the name suggests, particularly on display in the Civil War comics (about to be a movie too). He has a strong sense of justice and the ideal, but it is not referenced off the state; he has his own moral compass. He has a zeal for doing what is right, is a strategic thinker, and self-sacrificing. A great example of going with the team, not driving the team. He also has a remarkably honest view of power and control.
Rey (The Force Awakens): yes that’s right, a woman. I’ve put a woman in the Top Five Rolemodels for Males in Movies. She is one of the best female heroines in science fiction and fantasy, hands down. Better than Leia, better than Black Widow, better than a female Thor, better than Sarah Connor, better than Katniss. Turns out she is connected with the Force, and is going to be a Jedi. She is probably a Skywalker. All of that is great, but the most important thing that places her in my top five list is she is not dependent on a male character for her development, she is not connected romantically with any characters in her films, she does not wrestle with an over-supply of emotion. She is a woman who is independent, insightful, thoughtful, a quick learner, compassionate, brave and realistic because that’s what women are actually like, just like men. Our young men absolutely need to learn this lesson: your sisters, mother, daughters, lovers, friends are your equal in all things, and any system or social norm that tells you otherwise is screwed.
I encourage you to write your own list. Our young men need rolemodels, need to know who we think model our beliefs and values in popular culture. Sure there’s a lot of dross out there, but there is plenty of gold, of stories told well and characters with depth and wisdom. The power of story is that it translates all those values into a symbol that we can attach ourselves to; let’s help our youth attach themselves to healthy, functional, life giving symbols.