4 Iconic Latina Characters in Film That Empower Women

Why young women should not be afraid of being tough and having a strong personality.
November 6, 2017
11 mins read

When it comes to admirable female characters in cinema, few women look up to some pretty brunette whose boobs bounce up and down as she runs away from some villain chasing her, much like Megan Fox in “Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen”. Instead, we choose to respect real women who remind us of the struggles we face each day while still holding our heads up high. Real women are strong, tough and take responsibility for their actions. Their confidence comes from their values and principles they live by rather than their bra size.

The ideal role models that young women should be looking up to are the badass Latina characters in film. These women are inspiring in their own right because their self-confidence comes from believing and trusting in themselves. The characters are direct in their communication—they tell you how it is and show you how you should treat them. They know themselves and have a strong willpower to survive and thrive in their worlds.

These four Latina characters are my pick for the top badass Latinas in recent Hollywood films.

#4: Gail, “Sin City” (2006)

Gail, played by Rosario Dawson, takes charge of even the most difficult situations in Old Town, where the ladies are beautiful and merciless. As Dwight, her ex-lover, says, she is a warrior woman. Protecting her girls is a top priority, especially when cops from out of town looking to get some love from the girls in Old Town play their cards wrong. After war breaks out between the cops and the prostitutes, Gail doesn’t sell out her girls when the cops interrogate her; she stands by them even when Becky betrays her girls to look out for her family. Family comes first—no doubt about it, but Gail knows that you can’t just abandon the people that have fought by your side for presumably the same amount of time as your family.

Rosario Dawson as Gail in ‘Sin City’ (Image via DeviantArt)

The woman is honest and unapologetic when critiquing Dwight on his lousy taste in women. She commands attention and is not afraid to show her attraction to him. When Dwight slaps Gail, her girls pull out their weapons aiming them at Dwight, waiting for her to give the kill order. Yet, she offers him mercy and desire by not only hesitating to call the shots but also kissing him after the exchange. While this warrior woman goes over the top at times, there’s no doubt that she’s got a strong character oozing with self-confidence that us women can aspire to. That, and she also sports a kickass outfit to match her temper.

#3: Diana Guzman, “Girlfight” (2000)

Michelle Rodriguez’s debut film into Hollywood, “Girlfight,” is all about empowering women to participate in typically masculine-dominated sports like boxing. Through the character Diana Guzman, women see a troubled teen channeling a fighter spirit into the boxing ring while picking fights with classmates and even her own family. In the first scene, we see Guzman get into a fight to protect the honor of her friend, Marisol, whose friend slept with a guy that she had a crush on.

Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman in ‘Girlfight’ (Image via planetchocko)

Guzman sees right through people’s bullshit and demands respect from others and respects those who matter to her. Even though she begins her training with great force, she lacks technique, which at first deters her slightly in training. However, she pushes back harder and tougher—she even manages to be the most physically fit in her gym class full of girls who can barely run a mile. In boxing, she finds something that she is willing to suffer for: “you’re all you’ve got [in the boxing ring], you’re all alone in there.” Even when she must fight the guy she falls for, Adrian, in the final division. She gives it her all despite losing him as a companion. Though, it should be said that she doesn’t shy away from his affection to focus on boxing. This Latina loved her man while staying focused on her dreams at the same time.

#2 Private Vasquez, “Aliens” (1986)

Played by Jenette Goldstein, Private Vasquez is a fierce marine in the classic 80s horror action flick “Aliens.” The character merits high value on this list despite being controversially portrayed by a Jewish, white actress. Wielding heavy machine guns and doing as many pull-ups as Tony Horton from P90X, Vasquez is both mentally and physically strong. Among the crowd of military meatheads and two other women, Vasquez holds her own when male squad members try to stir up her confidence. Memorably, when Private Hudson asks her “have you ever been mistaken for a man,” Vasquez replies, “no, have you?” That’s just badass—gotta love 80s one-liners.

Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasques in ‘Alien’ (Image via Imgrum)

Not only does she reassert her femininity, but she also throws the insult back at Hudson. The problem with some portrayals of tough women in Hollywood today lies in their believability to pull off half of the cool stunts they do in an action flick. From the gun slinging to the pull-ups, Vasquez’s toughness is believable, and as a member of the audience you feel like she can take down aliens with heavy artillery with no problem; unlike today’s heroines who are a size zero and somehow manage to dual wield shotguns. Even with all of her bravado, she’s not a talker; she does what she says she’ll do. After Ripley debriefs the crew on the nature of the aliens, while rolling her eyes she says “look man, I need to know one thing: where they are.” She actually takes down many aliens rather than saying some macho line before taking out a baddie. She wastes no time to protect others. She dies a noble death when she and Lieutenant Gorman take their own lives to stop the incoming aliens from advancing.

#1 Leticia “Letty” Ortiz-Toretto, Fast and Furious Franchise (2001-)

“It starts with the eyes. She’s gotta have those kind of eyes that can look right through the bullshit, to the good in someone. 20 percent angel, 80 percent devil. Down to earth. Ain’t afraid to get a little engine grease under her fingernails,” that’s what Dominic “Dom” Toretto says about his perfect woman, which is his partner in crime Leticia “Letty” Ortiz-Toretto. In the first installment of the franchise, “The Fast and the Furious” (2001), Letty says to a couple of women clinging to Dom’s arms “I smell skanks, why don’t you girls pack it up before I leave tread marks on your face.” Classic. If someone exchanges a crooked word or two with her, she defends herself and shows them how they need to treat her. When a racer says, he wants to get some ass from her in a competition, she candidly but firmly says: “you want ass, hit Hollywood Boulevard; you want an adrenaline rush, it’ll be too large.” Bam, hit anyone with that on any given day and they’d be lucky enough to stand up after that.

Michelle Rodriguez as Letty in ‘Furious 7’ (Image via joblo)

In “Fast & Furious” (2009), she sacrifices herself in a mission with Brian O’Conner to protect Dom while losing her memory in the process. She knows herself. When O’Conner claims responsibility for her memory loss, she simply says “nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to.” She moves at her own pace—no one tells her what to do until she figures it out for herself. She’s bold and not afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear. In “The Fate of the Furious” (2017), Letty does not give up on restoring the family and does not give up on Dom when he is blackmailed into going against his family.

Young women should not be afraid of being tough and, for those of us that have a more tom-boyish attitude—there’s nothing wrong with that. These women show they can kick ass and be feminine. Don’t be ashamed of having a strong personality.

Elizabeth Ivanecky, McMaster University

Writer Profile

Elizabeth Lucy Ivanecky

McMaster University
English & Cultural Studies, History, and French Studies

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