Platonic friendships between adult men and women are often treated as difficult, unusual, or even impossible by mainstream films and media. It’s also rare for children’s films to show girls and boys playing together as friends.
Mixed gender group films tend to involve siblings, (often annoying ones), or girls are included as the romantic interest – someone to impress, rather than being a fully-fledged member of the gang. Some girls feature as the "minority feisty" – a token girl there to help the male protagonist reach his goal.
Besides the fact that in family films, there’s only one female character for nearly every three male characters, children’s media often exaggerates the perceived differences between boys and girls. Male characters are portrayed as adventurous, strong and, funny. And while there's been a shift to more adventurous portrayals of girls recently, there remains a big focus on looking good, being helpful, and longing for romance.
What kind of future relationships are we setting up for children when we expect girls to wish for romance, yet encourage boys to scorn it?
Boys and girls often play together in real life, but it’s rare for media or advertisements to reflect this. To help show kids that boy-girl friendships can be fantastic, here are five great films with girl-boy friendship at their heart.
In "Bridge to Terabithia," 12-year-old Jesse makes friends with the new girl at school, Leslie. Together they explore local woodlands where they invent an imaginary world they call Terabithia. The story is based on a novel inspired by a real life friendship and tragedy. The actors are great and the friendship is beautifully played. It's a magical and heartwarming tale, but also has strong themes of bullying and loss, which makes it more suitable for older children.
"Big Hero 6" is the story of robotics enthusiast Hiro, his inflatable robot Baymax, and four friends, (two male, two female), from the Institute of Technology - GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. Together they form a team of superheroes who fight a powerful supervillain.
It’s great to see a film with a group of friends who clearly love and respect one another with no hint of romance, (also great that the female characters are into science), and it’s a lot of fun.
Sadly, the post-film merchandise inspired the hashtag #BigHero4 on social media when the female characters were left off T-shirts and other licensed items.
The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione forms the backbone of the Harry Potter stories. The first films in the series show the three becoming great friends. In later films a romance develops between Ron and Hermione, but Hermione and Harry keep a close platonic bond throughout the series. The trio face many difficult problems together and the importance of friendship is a theme that threads its way through all of the films.
"Swallows and Amazons" follows the exploits of a group of six children – four girls and two boys, from two families – the Walkers and the Blacketts. John, Susan, Tatty, and Roger meet Nancy and Peggy on an island in the Lake District. After some rivalry the children team up to fight a common enemy.
Based on a 1930 novel, the children have the freedom to explore the outdoors in a way that’s rarely seen today. It’s great to see girls being pirates and leaders in an adventure film that actually features more girls than boys.
Mary Lennox is an orphan who discovers a locked and neglected garden on the grounds of her uncle’s mansion. She enlists the help of nature loving Dickon, the brother of a maid at the mansion, to bring the garden back to life. Mary’s cousin Colin joins them after Mary tells him tales of the garden that persuade him to venture outside for the first time in his sheltered, unhappy life. The three children become great friends in a story that explores the healing powers of nature and friendship.
Friendship between the sexes is surely something to be encouraged and treated as normal in popular culture, yet it’s thought that the gendered nature of childhood products like clothes, toys and media have contributed to a culture where girls and boys now stop playing together earlier than they used to. Films that show genuine friendship between girls and boys can encourage children to recognize that they are more alike than different.
What are some of your favorite movies that portray strong girl-boy friendships?