Late in March, the cover of Rolling Stone magazine told Kentuckians something we already know: Kentucky women kick ass.
The cover featured Louisville's Jennifer Lawrence, the heroine of The Hunger Games, the blockbuster hit that already is becoming one of the biggest movies of all time. As Katniss Everdeen, she is a competitor in a brutal, televised contest concocted by a totalitarian government in a dystopian future in which children are forced to kill other children for sport.
In the movie, she wields a deadly accurate bow, fights through serious injury, defies authority in audacious ways, and of course volunteers for the competition that has a one-in-24 chance of survival.
She also comes from an area, the Appalachian-like coal-mining District 12, that gets little respect from the rest of the nation, but she ends up charming the world — just as Lawrence, 21, has done in a few short years.
For that and other gritty roles, most notably her Oscar-nominated turn as an Ozarks girl trying to save her family in Winter's Bone, Rolling Stone — an arbiter of pop culture tastes for more than four decades — declared Lawrence "America's Kick-Ass Sweetheart." Lawrence has found herself cited by presidential candidates, among others, for her grit and determination.
Now, if grit and determination are what you are looking for, we would like to direct you to Ashley Judd as Becca Winstone, the lead character in the new ABC drama Missing.
Becca is a former CIA agent on a desperate search for her kidnapped son in Europe. We never saw Becca as a spy, but we get the idea that finding her boy has raised her game as she faces down merciless international agents, engages in shoot-outs with multiple goons and even gets her Spider-Woman on to infiltrate a building to find vital information. Unlike in some of Judd's action movies, Morgan Freeman is nowhere around to help her.
At 43, Judd, who grew up in Ashland and Lexington, is kicking ass and not stopping long enough to take names.
Imagine if you got Lawrence and Judd together on the screen. Watch out.
That puts the Kentucky stars at the center of a recent pop-culture trend: heroines who go one-on-one with dudes and win. Her legginess, Angelina Jolie, kicked the trend into high gear as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (2001). It opened a floodgate of kick-ass women: Jennifer Garner on TV's Alias, Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill movies, Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld series and, of course, Rooney Mara in last year's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
We have had plenty of characters in the past — Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in the Alien series, Linda Hamilton in the Terminator movies and Pam Grier's Foxy Brown. But the tough woman who can lead the action has really taken hold in the 21st century.
One distinguishing trait of the Kentucky women is that they don't seem to have to don form-fitting, skin-revealing outfits to launch into action. Katniss wears some pretty gowns but spends most of the film in a coat and pants, appropriate to camping in chilly weather. Becca's wardrobe is downright Land's End.
Their primary role is their primary role, and it's not as eye candy. They also relay amplified senses of justice. Katniss is as much at odds with the government that forced her into the competition as she is with her fellow "tributes," and that will grow as the trilogy, based on Suzanne Collins' wildly popular young-adult novels, continues.
These trends are reflected in that most Kentucky of TV series, FX's Justified, which wraps up its third season at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
The series has a man as its lead, Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who is something of a James Bond of the Bluegrass. But the women here have more grit than your average Bond girl. Ava (Joelle Carter) is Raylan's onetime flame and now the bride of his rival, Boyd Crowder. Last season, she took a bullet. This season, she has taken care of herself and others, applying a firm iron skillet to one of Boyd's disobedient henchman and blowing away a murderous pimp.
On the right side of the law is Raylan's colleague Rachel (Erica Tazel), who has a real talent for making racist, sexist pigs sorry they ever met her. She had a huge moment defending a family against professional assassins this season. Raylan also has a new flame, Lindsey (Jenn Lyon), who had no qualms about pulling a rifle on this season's lead bad guy.
This all comes from the state that gave the world Loretta Lynn, who clawed her way out of Butcher Hollow to become a country music legend, challenging the nation's culture with songs including Rated X and The Pill. You can see her story when the library screens the movie Coal Miner's Daughter on April 16. Her newest autobiographical endeavor is the book Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics, which came out Tuesday and charts her life through her song lyrics.
Kentucky has given America Carrie Nation, the fiery 19th-century temperance leader; Mary Elliott Flanery, the South's first female legislator, who took her seat in the state General Assembly in 1922; and feisty former White House correspondent Helen Thomas.
Lawrence and Judd are just amplifying on screen something that was a given to most of us.
As Neil Diamond once wrote, "Kentucky woman, she shines with her own kind of light."