Margot Robbie, the all-action heroine making waves for women | Rebecca Nicholson

Just like her Birds of Prey character Harley Quinn, the actress is passionate about emancipation

Appearing on the cover of British Vogue, Margot Robbie explained why she was passionate about getting women involved in action movies. That particular genre is where the big money is in Hollywood, she said. “And then also, the perception that women aren’t interested in action is ridiculous,” she added.

It is a notion that is being proved again and again in the real world, where superhero films led by female characters, often written and directed by women, are making lots of money at the box office. In the grand scheme of things, it remains a ripple, rather than a wave, but every time a Wonder Woman or Black Widow appears to great fanfare, it feels like a step forward, not least because these franchises are evolving and adapting as time goes on.

Take Suicide Squad, the 2016 film in which Robbie first played Harley Quinn. It was a grim, bloated mess and often misogynistic; I hated it so much that I only watched its sequel, Birds of Prey, because Robbie produced and it was directed by Cathy Yan. Birds of Prey turned out to be a brilliant, joyful surprise, funny and thrilling. Its subtitle, And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, felt apt – the character had been emancipated from the previous film.

After many pandemic-related delays, Black Widow is finally out in cinemas and, much like Quinn, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has endured a complicated history on screen. Last month, Johansson talked about how much her character was sexualised in Iron Man 2: “Really talked about like she’s a piece of something, like a possession or a thing or whatever – like a piece of ass,” as she told Collider, and it’s true Black Widow has often felt like an afterthought in even the best movies that feature her. That is not the case in the film that bears the character’s name, and Black Widow’s director, Cate Shortland, has spoken eloquently about its themes. “I don’t think you have to scratch the surface with many women before you get stories about control, or being made to feel uncomfortable because your power is somehow being taken or you feel you don’t have a voice,” she told the Guardian.

I have found a specific sort of catharsis in watching women defeat evil global conspiracies, or fighting their way through alien landscapes, or taking on an army of robots, while blowing things up loudly. From Sarah Connor to Captain Marvel to Ellen Ripley, these women are angry and strong and powerful, and it doesn’t take a superhero to work out why that is so appealing.

Elvis Costello’s aim is true – rock’n’roll riffs are there to be shared

Elvis Costello at the Hammersmith Apollo in March 2020.
‘Fine by me’: Elvis Costello at the Hammersmith Apollo in March 2020. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Olivia Rodrigo has found an unlikely supporter in Elvis Costello, who backed the 18-year-old last week against accusations of plagiarism. Part of Brutal, which opens Rodrigo’s debut album Sour, sounds an awful lot like the riff from Costello’s Pump It Up.

Costello said that it was “fine by me”. “It’s how rock’n’roll works,” he said, arguing, via hashtags, that Pump It Up was inspired by Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, which in turn was inspired by Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business.

It happens all the time, consciously or not. St Vincent told the BBC that she’d had 12 hours of believing she had “written the best melody there ever was” before realising that the chorus of her own My Baby Wants A Baby bears more than a passing resemblance to 9 To 5 by Sheena Easton. 9 To 5’s songwriter, Florrie Palmer, gets a credit on the track.

In recent years, the scramble to spot similarities in music has been gruesome, from the ruling that Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s Blurred Lines infringed on the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up because it shared a “vibe”, to Right Said Fred’s credit on Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do, owing to rhythmic similarities. Rodrigo herself credits Swift on 1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back, after “interpolating” the chords from New Year’s Day.

Costello is an established enough artist to accept the homage – borrowing up is not the same as borrowing down – but one can only hope that this kind of common sense is the start of a course correction, of sorts.

Sky Brown, young Olympian is ready to ‘go big’

Sky Brown will be just 13 when she competes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Sky Brown will be just 13 when she competes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

On the day it was announced that 12-year-old Sky Brown would become the youngest summer Olympian ever selected by Team GB, I watched the British teenager Emma Raducanu, 18, advance to the third round of Wimbledon.

The commentators were near-breathless with talk of the prize money awarded for getting to this stage of the competition, and for the opportunities that funding would offer to Raducanu, in terms of developing her career. As Coco Gauff continued her first-week march forward, I had to remind myself that Gauff is only 17; that when she first made a splash at Wimbledon, she was 15. These are, or could be, the stars of tomorrow.

Brown, who lives between Japan and the US but has a British father, will be an ancient 13 when she gets to Tokyo, where she will join Britain’s first Olympic skateboarding team, along with 14-year-old Bombette Martin. Brown, who famously posted a horrifying, jaw-dropping video of a 2020 fall in which she fractured her wrist and skull, has referred to herself as “the little one in there going big”. It is a lovely phrase, one that might be taken to heart by more than just these inspirational young women.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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