The Not-So-Flattering Ways Female Presidents Have Been Portrayed On TV
TV and film writers are a few steps ahead of voters (until tomorrow, we hope) in terms of letting women lead the nation as president of the United States. Still, their portrayals—funny and/or riveting as they may be—have always been at least a bit problematic. The Atlantic once went so far as to assert that these roles have generally been crafted so as not to alienate viewers, many of whom could not actually picture a woman in the White House. For starters, few of these fictional heads of state have actually been elected—instead, a catastrophic or dramatic event tends to land them in office unexpectedly. Oftentimes, their stories center on their personal lives more so than their political lives, and some have even been overtly anti-feminist. Here, eight of the most famous fictional female presidents to grace the screen, and here’s hoping the IRL narrative of Hillary Clinton will change the face of scripted politics forever.
Selina Meyer In Veep
Disclaimer: We love Veep with every ounce of our being, as it's one of the funniest shows on television. That said, its female president, brilliantly portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is a world-class narcissist who is more interested in her own agenda than bettering the nation in any way. Though no one has ever said overtly that her character was inspired by Hillary Clinton, there are certain negative characterizations of Hillary that could certainly be compared to the caricature that is Selina. (In fairness, the plot of Veep has at times also been eerily predictive of the Clinton campaign—read this for proof that Hillary's e-mail scandal appears to have been lifted directly from the fictional HBO show. We're with her, but that doesn't mean we can't occasionally enjoy a laugh at her expense.)
Julia Mansfield In Hail To The Chief
In this 1985 comedy series, President Mansfield was played by Patty Duke. At the time, Hail to the Chief was criticized by some for focusing too much on the president's personal issues—including an adulterous husband—but it was also voted off the air after just seven episodes. Audiences, perhaps, were not quite ready for a female POTUS, regardless of whether or not she stereotypically prioritized marital conflict over national interests.
Mackenzie Allen In Commander In Chief
President Allen, portrayed by Geena Davis in this likewise short-lived 2005 series, assumed the chief post only after the elected president died (sigh). What the show did have going for it, however (in another oddly predictive plot point), was the fact that Geena's character chose not to decline the office after the man who would then succeed her made a nasty comment about women. (Not to be confused with the IRL "nasty woman" comments made recently by Trump, though we imagine Hillary has been likewise motivated by her misogynistic opponent throughout this election cycle.)
Leslie McCloud In Kisses For My President
In our continued fight for equality, we Millennial women can sometimes take for granted all the work that was done in the name of feminism before we got here. Let 1964's Kisses for My President, which you can watch on Amazon, serve as a reminder of where we once were. In the film, President McCloud resigns the office once she finds out she's pregnant so that she can devote her time to her family. Though this narrative feels antiquated now, it's not yet extinct—remember when Hillary defended her decision to be a working mom by saying, "I suppose I could have stayed home to bake cookies"? Though she was forced to apologize for this comment at the time, and then further forced to soften her image, she recently reclaimed it at a campaign event, where those words flashed on-screen as Beyoncé performed. Progress!
Sally Langston In Scandal
Many of the characters are despicable on this soapy show, but few more so than Vice President Sally Langston, who assumes the presidency briefly when President Fitz is hospitalized. She murdered her husband for committing adultery (what is it with politics and adulterous men, IRL and on-screen?), but more insidiously, she is intensely manipulative in a way that is basically requisite for any portrayal of a woman in power. Next to her conniving ways, Fitz looks hapless and innocent.
Caroline Reynolds In Prison Break
This female president had to assassinate the living president in order to assume the highest office in the land. Enough said.
Constance Payton In State of Affairs
This show, which aired in 2014, contained what is perhaps one of the least offensive (rivaled only by Allison Taylor on 24, to whom we also can't object)—if not altogether meaty—representations of a female president to date. President Payton is an African-American former Air Force pilot and senator who is actually (gasp!) elected to the office. Here's hoping this one is as predictive as some of the other political shows on this list have been, only this time in a positive way. (Michelle Obama, please, please please!)
Lisa Simpson In The Simpsons
Okay, we lied. This is the best portrayal of a female president on TV. Things are looking up!