Image: Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Photo Credit: David James. Image Source.
Hollywood is currently awash with feminism. It’s on t-shirts, it’s in long-read interviews, it’s consistently reported on by websites like, well, this one. Standing up and speaking out – from the pay gap, to the lack of room for female improv – is the new PR currency. Sure, it’s a great thing. No one needs to complain that advocating for women is suddenly too trendy, but we do need to see it for what it is. While it’s definitely encouraging to see micro-aggressions vocalised, there’s not much risk in the generalised stories about Hollywood’s, and the universe’s, gentleman’s club problem.
Carrie Fisher, though, was always the exception. She was sharp, unforgiving and emotionally honest. Things that, within both a faux-societal Hollywood context, and real world context, were rarely attributes a woman could ‘have’.
Leaving Star Wars utterly aside for a moment, Fisher was upfront and generous with her struggle with mental illness, delivered as much on her own terms as is feasibly possible in LaLa Land. I remember watching her in Stephen Fry’s 2006 documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive and that strange sensation, in a time before the onslaught of personal essays, of feeling less alone in the world.
What do I mean by ’emotional icon’? A few different things I’m still piecing together. Fisher was vulnerable to an audience in a way that afforded her nothing but the satisfaction of sharing, of knowing that by talking openly about her struggle with medication, or just with the world at large, she could at least begin to sort through life’s impossible murk and in reading and listening to her, so could we. There was nothing didactic, or past tense, about her advice – it happened in real time. She gave you the chance to feel along with her and sometimes, there’s nothing more comforting. In her recent words for The Guardian, “as difficult as it seems like it can be, you’re ahead of the game … As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching.” The honour of having access to the process of the fight, not just the fight or its success, is one that will stay with me for a very long time.
Carrie Fisher’s legacy isn’t Princess Leia, or that gold bikini. Now’s the time to read one of her wonderful seven books (Wishful Drinking a particular favourite, as is Postcards from the Edge) or YouTube any one of her great, dry, sad and downright funny performances. She reported from inside the Hollywood machine, without ever becoming a cog. Fisher was always the nod to how ridiculous it had all become. Who can forget the time she brought her dog Gary along to a Good Morning America interview and requested that he answer the particularly stupid questions, as well as flipping the script on the presenter when asked about her weight, wondering what song could possibly be interesting enough to make going to the gym everyday worthwhile. From the TV cameos, to her irreverent Twitter account, to being forthright about her affair with Harrison Ford, she never played the new Hollywood game of “female empowerment” she was just being a woman – still such a baffling and revolutionary act – in a world that largely rejects their reality. Need evidence of how uncommon this is in the fame game? OK. Just take a moment to think about how many times she was labelled wacky. Or kooky. Often both. I guess that’s what happens when you refuse, on all fronts, to play into anyone’s expectation of what a ‘woman’ should not only appear to be, but also feel like. By constantly going off-script, Fisher managed to make things feel hopeful.
I’m all for the Internet that isn’t posting those mega images of her from the 1970s. As a Star Wars nerd, I love the films and with the recent additions, there are more nerds than ever, yet Fisher’s Leia reprieve as General Organa still, after all this time and supposed progress, doesn’t outweigh the visual importance of that gold bikini shot (which, by the way, Fisher hated). For me, the image of General Leia Organa, leading the rebellion with a steady hand and emotional intelligence is the one that I’ll hold close going into a dismal 2017. To nick a couple of Tweets from Anne Theriault “When I see Fisher as General Organa, I see a woman who has put up with so much shit from so many men and yet keeps showing up for them,” and “she’s in it for the long haul. She is the real fucking hero in Star Wars. Without Leia, the rebellion would have be quashed long ago.” Too true.
I think, since the awful news of her death, the collated quotes on various lists might be a good thing, (the first and last time I’ll ever say that) because it draws the fan closer to who she was. Fisher spoke to sexism, sure, but not as some sweeping evil – with the kind of detail and consideration you can only get from someone who is unafraid to see the world for what it really is, not the asinine version that feels so easily solvable with proclamations of “feeling good about yourself. Or the Paltrow-ian idea that you’ve already helped cure something, like divorce via conscious uncoupling. Fisher was right alongside us in the muddiest trenches of life, and I plan on keeping her there.