The Mummy, which was released in 1999, was one of the first of the modern action films to feature an active female lead. In general, the main female character, Evelyn Carnahan, is treated as an equal person. She isn’t “othered” as the woman.
This doesn’t make The Mummy a completely feminist film, however. For one thing, Evelyn is basically the only female character in the film. Technically, there is also Anck Su Namun (spelling from IMDb), but she is mainly a special effect so not relevant.
Another scene that is less than feminist is the scene in the hotel when Rick literally carries Evelyn over his shoulder and locks her in a room in an attempt to protect her from Imhotep, who is obsessed with her as the reincarnation of his dead girlfriend (the aforementioned special effects character, Anck Su Namun). She then later ends up tied to a stone table where Imhotep plans to use her to resurrect Anck su Namun. This is during one of the film’s biggest action sequences, where Evelyn does a lot to help, but it is all through shouting information.
Additionally, for a main character in an action film, Evelyn participates in surprisingly little action. She rides a camel and does some running, but the majority of the action is done by the male characters.
There are many feminist elements to this film, however, which allows it to stand up to a modern viewing. Evelyn is a strong character in the sense of being stubborn and strong-willed. An example is when Rick and Jonathan don’t want to stop Imhotep, so Evelyn says she will go alone. The others only help because of her initial action.
While Evelyn doesn’t do much of the physical action, she is the one with all the information to help them stop Imhotep. Without her, they would be unlikely to defeat Imhotep. It is through her knowledge that Jonathan is able to stop Imhoteps priests from killing Rick, and even then, Evelyn is helping a male character to act rather than being able to act herself.
This film still leaves a lot to desire in its portrayal of women, but it also makes some major steps to prevent her from being helpless and passive. Even in being kidnapped by Imhotep, Evelyn makes the decision to allow herself to be taken in order to buy time while Rick prepared to keep fighting at Hamunaptra.
In the lens of the 2020’s The Mummy could use a little work, but it stands up as an entertaining film that allows the female character to have autonomy.
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