Actor Ellen Page delivered a moving speech recently at the Human Rights Time to Thrive Conference for LGBTQ youth where she came out as gay.
“I’m tired of hiding and I’m tired of lying by omission,” she said. “I suffered for years because I was scared to be out.”
A thoughtful and well-spoken young actor, Page has been pushing back against harmful beauty standards and questioning the status quo for some time now. Her tweets in support of access to birth control caused a backlash against her, but she hasn’t backed down. Last year in an interview with The Guardian, she mused about the controversy associated with feminism: “I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists…But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”
Regardless of her involvement with big budget Hollywood flicks such as Inception and X-Men: The Last Stand, Page has typically been an actor known for breaking away from the typical Hollywood mold. Here are three films representative of this penchant for pushing boundaries.
At just 18 years old, her role about a child’s vengeance against a pedophile in the 2005 film Hard Candy won her an award for best actress. It is a difficult film to watch: there are scenes of torture, both physical and psychological. Page’s character, Hayley, breaks down our typical understanding of victim and abuser as the child vigilante who exacts merciless revenge. She shows viewers a teenage girl who is cunning and in control – far from the standard image we see so often of helpless little girls broken by their abusers.
The following year, Page chose a similarly difficult film, Mouth to Mouth, a coming-of-age story about a group of traveling runaways who drift around Europe scavenging for food. SPARK (Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge) is led by Harry (Eric Thal) who seems to offer a promise of freedom for the group of former prostitutes and recovering addicts and preaches about “giving homeless young people a course of intellectual self-defense”.
Page plays the antiheroine, Sherry Green: a troubled youth who joins the group and develops a deep and conflicted relationship with Harry; but as he adopts cult-like tactics for controlling the group, she questions her involvement with him. Page’s character, with shaved head, punish and baggy clothing, and taking charge of her sexuality, is a refreshing change from the stereotypical “love interest” role so often placed onto female actors. In Mouth to Mouth, Sherry comes into her own and we can see life from the perspective of a troubled teenage girl.
Admiring her previous performances, director Jason Reitman cast Page as the lead in his 2007 film Juno. The film is a narrative from the perspective of a pregnant teenage girl and her boyfriend (Michael Cera) who face the difficult decision to have an abortion or to have her baby. Ultimately, she decides to give her baby up for adoption. In spite of her character’s choice not to terminate her pregnancy, Page was criticized by both left and right. She handled the criticisms gracefully, saying, “I know what people are like in America about women’s ability to make choices for themselves in regards to their bodies.”
That same year, The Tracey Fragments was released with Page in the title role as a fifteen year old girl searching for her lost brother. Tracey is a cynical and jaded youth who increasingly confuses fantasy with reality, as she tells elaborate lies about her boyfriend, rock star Billy Zero. Page has a penchant for playing complicated characters and this is no exception. Her performance is unsettling, and the viewer is literally presented with fragments of Tracey’s mixed-up emotions. While more generic teen coming-of-age films tend to be sugar-coated and sweet, The Tracey Fragments attempts to make the viewer identify with the struggle of puberty, as uncomfortable and exhausting as it may be.
In 2013 we see a more grown-up Page as an intense and passionate activist in The East. Izzie is involved in an eco-terrorist cell and treats her mission with zealot-like fervor. The East has received well-deserved criticism for stereotyping activists; however, Page’s role as a woman leading a radical group is far from typical. In a media atmosphere saturated with images of women as passive sexualized objects, The East, like every film Page chooses, avoids relying on overplayed tropes.
Ellen Page is an actress who loves to discuss bigger issues and push the envelope on social expectations. She has addressed controversial issues in her films by choosing complicated characters and narratives. Outside of her work, Page occasionally speaks tangentially about colorful topics (‘”I just devoured this great book about the mistaken theories of pre-historic sexuality”, she confessed in an interview). So, perhaps it wasn’t much of a surprise when Page came out. But what she has done takes tremendous courage; courage that she has displayed repeatedly throughout her career.
I have personally been a fan of Page’s acting since Hard Candy. But as a human, I have come to respect her more and more for her active engagement with challenging social taboos. It is rare to see such an articulate and intelligent young woman in Hollywood who fights for human rights and equality, using her public platform to speak up against gender stereotypes, and for treating others with dignity.
Thank you, Ellen Page, for being a unique voice in a media that so desperately needs a fresh and inquiring female perspective.