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The CBC’s Strange Empire is the Best Feminist Western You’re Not Watching



Tonight I watched the pilot episode of the CBC’s newest drama, Strange Empire, a gritty western set in 1869 on the border between Alberta and Montana. Now, it’s been a long time since any original programming on the CBC interested me, but there was no way I could pass up watching this. Why? Well for starters, it features a multiracial main cast made up of predominately women. It also describes itself as a Western drama from a feminist perspective. Yeah, you read that right. The CBC is airing a feminist, multiracial western. And you know what? It’s pretty damn good.

The show’s website explains:

Strange Empire is a Western whose heroes are women. With most of their men gone, and those who remain battling for control, the women struggle to survive, to find their independence, and to build a life in which to thrive and raise families. As the stories of Janestown’s citizens unfold we see the clash between a power-hungry father and son and the deep prejudices among races, but also the start of something akin to community in this Wild West. Western stories take civilization as a goal; they begin in blood, and end in the morality of Main Street. 

The pilot details the unintended meeting of three very different women, all of whom are struggling with their own pasts. Thrust together by tragedy, they are forced to band together in order to survive and make a life for themselves on the lawless Canadian frontier. It isn’t completely problem free, but it mostly rolls along well with everyone pulling their weight. It’s also shot beautifully, which honestly is a welcome departure from a lot of CBC’s past offerings. 

Cara Gee (half ojibwe), who I saw last year in the Nightwood Theatre’s production of The Penelopiad, plays Kat, a stoic and frontier-tough Metis woman on the run who becomes the leader of this ragtag group of women. Melissa Farman (who I *knew* I recognized from somewhere- she played Bristol Palin in Game Change) is FANTASTIC as autistic genius, aspiring doctor, and former Asylum patient Rebecca, and Tattiawna Jones is also great as the mysterious and unpredictable Isabelle (we see the least of Isabelle in the pilot, but I think she has potential as the most layered and interesting character down the road). 

What I appreciate most about this effort is that all the women are very different, but none are written as cookie cutter female tropes. They’re being written the way that male characters usually get written in this genre: as multi dimensional human beings with full pasts and hidden motivations. For example - Kat is tough and headstrong, comfortable with guns and violence, and determined to bring about justice in a lawless environment. But she also longs for a family and doesn’t hesitate to adopt two young girls to spare them from a life of whoring, asking them to call her ‘ma’. Rebecca is socially awkward and detached in most of her interactions with others, brought up without much human connection and treated as more of an experiment than an individual. Despite this, she is shown boldly staring back at a handsome cowboy who comes upon her while she is unbuttoning her dress to gain relief from the heat. This, I’ll just add, is a fantastic veering away from the common portrayal of autism spectrum characters as sexless and desire-less. Isabelle is a daughter of freed sleeves, a former prostitute, and an incredibly savvy business woman determined to build her own empire. 

This is big stuff, people. Normally you don’t find female characters like this on one network, let alone a single show. Let alone featuring women of colour as main characters. Let alone Canadian programming!! I am just so stoked to learn more about these incredible women, and the fact that the series creator (Laurie Finstad ) is a woman and the showrunners are mainly women is just icing on this cake. 

Find out more about the show at the CBC’s official page, right here. 



Everyone who suffers from social anxiety needs a friend who will

  1. help them order food when it’s too scary
  2. walk with them through crowded places
  3. help them laugh it off when they make a mistake
  4. not get tired of answering “no, you’re not annoying, silly goose! You’re adorable and I love you” no matter how many times it’s needed

and if you’re that friend, bless u for being fab <3

this is too accurate 

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