Actress and director Jodie Foster is a two-time Oscar winner with a career spanning various genres. But as she turns 60 on Nov. 19, I can’t help but think of how she’s cemented her status as a horror icon.
Foster has starred in a long list of films and TV shows appealing to fans like me. The Silence of the Lambs, The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane, Contact, Panic Room, and Hotel Artemis; she has done voice work in The Addams Family animated series and The X-Files as well.
The Silence of the Lambs was one of the films that every new budding horror movie fan would always have recommended to them. I was no exception, so of course it made the “must watch” list. Foster’s portrayal of the brave and unflinchingly determined FBI trainee immediately captivated me. Clarice seemed to stand out from the other horror film heroines, a woman fighting to forge a path in a man’s world. This reflects itself not only in Clarice’s attempts at reaching equality in the workplace, but in her battle of wits with Hannibal Lecter. The scenes the two share are almost magnetic, as Clarice pushes past and overcomes the mental challenges and roadblocks that Hannibal presents her with, all in pursuit of valuable information. Foster’s performance is regarded as amongst the greatest screen performances of all time, and serves as a timeless symbol of women’s resilience and strength.
Her range allowed her to weave in and out of the horror/thriller genre, and she worked on sci-fi and voice acting projects as well. She portrayed two vastly different characters in the films Panic Room and Hotel Artemis, the former a mother determined to keep her kids safe, and the latter a nurse who runs a hospital exclusively for criminals. She tackled the role of an ambitious astronomer who makes contact with extraterrestrials in the sci-fi film Contact, voiced Pugsley Addams in the 1973 animated version of The Addams Family, and provided the voice for Betty on The X-Files. These vast and varying roles are some of the projects that compose the impressive repertoire she has accumulated over her years of work.
However, Foster isolates her performance in the thriller film The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane as controversial, and one of great personal conflict. She was 13 at the time of filming, and refused to appear nude in the bedroom scene. Though her sister Connie Foster was used as her body double, Foster has disowned the movie as it “crossed the acceptable line of exploitation.” As a young woman, I agree the sexualization of a minor should not be overlooked simply because it was acceptable at the time, or because it served entertainment purposes. A child’s sexuality is not an object with which to attract attention and excite viewers. In interviews, Foster has also said how deeply uncomfortable the scene made her feel, and anyone who watches the film today knows she is not alone in that feeling.
Jodie Foster’s work continues to stand out in its versatility and uniqueness. Her performance as Clarice Starling remains one of the most wonderfully feminist and honest portrayals of a horror film heroine to exist. When I look at Clarice, I don’t see the damsel in distress that so often appears on screen, but a strong, independent and confident woman. Foster’s work and ambition inspire myself and countless other women in a multitude of ways, and the impact of her work is an incredibly valuable contribution to pop culture and the feminist mission.