There’s no simple way to define a generation. Oh, we’ve tried. As a society, we’ve leaned into the sometimes harsh, sometimes endearing stereotypes that attempt to box everyone born between a specific time period.
But when it comes to Gen Z, it’s not that easy. They are dreamers, highly individual, motivated and creative. They don’t need decades to define their impact. Already, they are icons in their own right – and while they make us excited for the future, they also show us how to draw inspiration from the past heroes who paved the way.
Australia’s national museum of screen culture’s (ACMI) new exhibition “Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion” is exploring just that. It takes a deep dive into the history of cinema and how past icons continue to inspire the representation of contemporary and future Hollywood stars on screen.
Back then, goddesses of the silver screen were names like Josephine Baker and Marilyn Monroe – known for owning their self image and showing strength through their provocative style and refusal to bow to the patriarchy.
Now, decades later, there’s a new cohort rising to cultural significance, and they’re standing for topics beyond their image. Take Chloe Hayden, for example – the 25-year-old Australian actor who’s role as Quinni on Netflix’s Heartbreak High has sparked a big focus on representation on screen.
In playing the effervescent, dynamic teenager with autism – as a neurodivergent actor diagnosed with ADHD and autism herself – Hayden marks an important step in broadening the type of complex female characters we see being celebrated.
Alongside Hayden, multi-talented stars like Zendaya, Winnie Harlow and Margot Robbie have each played a significant role in expanding the female stories portrayed in Hollywood.
Unsurprisingly, these modern-day goddesses are continually inspired by the performances, rebellions and cultural moments of the past.
You’ll see it all explored in “Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion”. The exhibition features a collection of over 150 unique highlights, including the stunning Mario Dice gown Zendaya wore to the 16th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball in 2017. This was more than just a dress, it was a moment to acknowledge the legendary influence of Josephine Baker. Baker’s style, star persona, and political activism paved the way for future generations of Black actresses and entertainers.
Similarly, Winnie Harlow’s famous Instagram photoshoot featured a modern-day recreation of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic pink dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” – an incredible outfit that is examined in the exhibition. Harlow is an active spokesperson for vitiligo and represents a new wave of models and activists pushing for inclusivity and diversity in the industry.
The exhibition is packed with cultural references. Wander its corridors and you’ll also find a video essay showcasing contemporary TV shows that explore how young characters are fighting back against male violence, patriarchal stereotypes, and systems of inequality. From “Wednesday” to “Stranger Things”, “We Are Lady Parts” to Firebite, these shows feature gritty and determined young women who refuse to be silenced or controlled.
Some might argue this generation is losing interest in cinema completely – instead opting to get their entertainment from apps like TikTok, where they can control the narrative and put on a show for one another. But the magic of the screen is not all lost.
As we look back on the history of Hollywood and the goddesses who paved the way for future generations, it’s clear that their impact and influence continues to resonate today. From the red carpet to the big screen, these women inspire us all to be strong, confident, and unapologetically ourselves.
“Goddess” is open until October 1st at ACMI in Melbourne, before touring internationally. Enter below for your chance to win 3x Double Pass tickets to see the exhibition. Or book your tickets at the link here.