Movie Stars: Fonda, Jane: From Sex Toy in Barbarella to Politically Active Women

Jane Fonda

It is significant that Jane Fonda became a major box-office star, not when she played sex kitten roles (Barbarella, 1968) or romantic ingenues (A Period of Adjustment, 1962; Barefoot in the Park, 1967), but strong, politically committed women.

The roles which catapulted Fonda to international stardom included: the politically oriented playwright Lillian Hellman (Julia, 1977), a submissive middle-class wife who becomes politicized through her involvement with a Vietnam War paraplegic (Coming Home, 1978), a socially-conscious television news reporter who takes great risks to reveal the dangers of an unsafe nuclear plant (The China Syndrome, 1979), and a passive secretary who transforms into a socially aware employee by rebelling against her sexist boss (Nine to Five, 1980).

All of these films are based on the same narrative formula: a passive (often submissive) woman, who lacks any political awareness, changes into a committed activist.