An article in Cultured Magazine titled The Redhead Returns, a Femme Fatale No Longer argues Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, on Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, creates a “new image of a redhead” for 21st century women. While we understand the public perception of red hair in the media has (thankfully) progressed over time, there have been several television shows and movies representing redheads in similar or stronger light than The Queen’s Gambit in the past decade.
Being a redhead isn’t a one-dimensional personality trait. We’re here to take back what it means to be a redhead while also reflecting on the article’s intention, how public perception of red hair in the media has changed for the good, but realizing this did not happen due to one television show.
The piece starts with, “Red hair has fluctuated in desirability and reputation throughout the evolution of American pop culture.”
The article continues,”Redheads have held a strong presence in American pop culture for decades, playing the role of the one-dimensional seductress. This image was challenged by The Queen’s Gambit protagonist Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). A copper-headed chess champion, Harmon has turned red hair into a symbol of personal power, and real-life celebrities are taking notes.”
The article discusses how in the early days of 1940s Hollywood, redhead women were portrayed as alluring and sexy with actresses like Rita Hayworth. Then in the 1960s and 1970s redheads started to appear in comics as sexy superhero sidekicks. In the 1990s the sex appeal was kicked up a notch with the birth of Jessica Rabbit. Her tiny waist, big breasts, and long red hair became the epitome of redhead beauty.
Then, at some point in the last 25 years, redheaded women started getting another label put on them. Red hair began to go hand in hand with violence and lust and a fiery personality through shows like True Blood. We still see all these elements come into play today, with movies, television, and media over-sexualizing or demonizing red hair, but things seem to be changing.
In 2020, one of the biggest media sensations was The Queen’s Gambit. According to the article, the original book from 1983 didn’t have a redhead leading lady. Harmon was brunette but was depicted as a redhead on screen. Regarding the creative liberty, the series’s hair and makeup artist Daniel Parker stated: “To me, she was always a feisty redhead.”
Cultured Magazine goes on to comment, “This meant that for the first time in a long time, redheads were being portrayed as not only beautiful but independent, cunning, and smart.Harmon (Taylor-Joy) rejects the image of redheads as one-dimensional seductresses or as treacherous beauties. While her appearance and charm undoubtedly accelerate her path to fame, her inherent skill and resolve are ultimately what result in her ascendance in this previously male-dominated sport.”
While we recognize Taylor-Joy’s character was a strong redhead, and represented us well, this one television show did not suddenly change all redhead characters from being portrayed as sexy/alluring to smart/mysterious. There are several television shows/movies with strong redhead characters (much like Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit) in the last 10-15 years. Some of our favorites being The Hours with Nicole Kidman (2002), Zero Dark Thirty with Jessica Chastain (2012), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt television series with Ellie Kemper (2015-2020), and the recent Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson (2021) — the list can go on and on.
Let’s finally take back what it means to be a redhead. Redheads are a rarity and amongst the rarity are different people — full of different expectations, appearances, hobbies, life-stories, and so much more. Our commonality amongst each other is our red hair and the lifestyle that comes with it. But, simply put, we’re complex humans who are different (each and everyone of us) and that is true for every redhead on the planet.
Redheads can be anything, do anything and we do not belong in a box the media has made for us. Being a redhead is more than a hair color. Cultured Magazine’s article finishes with, “..harness the power of the redhead this season.” Now, this little phrase is the one we can really get behind. Let’s show the world how complex we can really be.
Rock it like a Redhead!