Although it bears a man’s name in the title, Mad Max: Fury Road inarguably belongs to a woman. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is a brand of hard-charging desert queen rarely before depicted onscreen. If Jason Porath has anything to say about it, though, ass-kicking characters like Furiosa will one day be the new normal for women in sci-fi and fantasy.
Porath came to Co.Create’s attention last summer when he first began his Rejected Princesses project. The illustrated website decried our long-standing plague of ineffectual princesses who serve as mere plot points or trophies in most popular entertainment. Instead, Porath shone a light on some of the lesser-heralded incredible women throughout history who have been ignored by Disney—women like Sergeant Mariya Oktyabrskaya, the first female tanker to win the Hero of the Soviet Union award. The informative stories and skillfully rendered images didn’t merely pop up on Co.Create’s radar, though; the site went viral, earning Porath a book deal.
Although he’s been hard at work preparing for his forthcoming book, the artist has been keeping up the site as well. He recently reached his 50th Rejected Princess—Banu Goshasp: The Heroine Ancient Iran Wanted—and he’s still going steady. (Porath currently has 1,187 princesses on his master list.) At this point, though, the selection process has become much harder.
“I’ve definitely become more of a snob about it,” he says. “When picking a candidate, I want someone who has agency, personality, and conflict—and is unlike anyone I’ve already written about. It’s remarkably difficult to find all three in the same person. Because of that, I’ve taken to reading massive encyclopedia-esque listings of women cover-to-cover. When I find someone interesting in those books, I practically start my research on them all over, because I want to verify it in other sources. I’ve gotten a lot more thorough with the research, but it takes a lot more time.”
The effort is apparently worth it, however. Aside from the tangible outcomes, like the upcoming book and ongoing exposure, Porath has observed another benefit as the project’s impact increased alongside its popularity.
“Everyone wants to be seen. That means having their culture/subculture in a positive light, even if for just a second,” he says, “There’s a vast underserved population of people who never see the things they most closely identify with in a positive light. They get very excited when they’re represented.”
Rejected Princesses is not only a hit with people who’d like to see their inner-Furiosa or Daenerys Targaryen embodied in films—it also speaks to the general lack of diversity in the universe of animation. While a lot of movies deny their heroines self-actualization, all too many deny that any other varietal of female beyond white—or at least white-ish—exists. This project may not convince the studio heads to take a chance on a more rich spectrum of female characters, but perhaps it may give them something to ponder whilst tallying up box office receipts for Mad Max.
Have a look in the slides above for a smattering of more recent editions of Rejected Princesses.