Oct. 11 is International Day of the Girl Child, a day to celebrate girls who face challenges against the odds. There are many onscreen examples of young girls achieving their goals in worlds and circumstances that present huge challenges. Maybe by the end of this gallery, you'll have new idols who just happen to be 12-year-olds.
Hermione Granger is the epitome of a girl who achieves greatness despite adversity. Born to non-magical parents, she is known as a muggle-born, or non-pureblood witch in the magical community. Not only must she deal with bullying and names like "Mudblood", but evil witches and wizards intent on a pureblood society threaten her life. Despite all that, Hermione is top of her class and played a huge part in helping Harry Potter defeat the evil Lord Voldemort.
Meet Lyra, an incredible liar and hilarious potty mouth who happens to be one of the only people who can work the truth-telling alethiometer, or golden compass. She's also estranged from her parents and subject of the attentions of the Magisterium, a gigantic organisation of the Church intent on separating her from her daemon -- a shape-shifting animal form of her soul, what everyone has in her parallel world. Lyra encounters witches, polar bears, powerful angels and even the Authority Himself on her way to discovering life-changing truths about herself.
The classic line is used in the many adaptations of Lewis Carroll's tale about a young girl who travels down a rabbit hole to the crazy world of Wonderland. There she must avoid beheading by the Queen of Hearts and find her way back home, assisted by the mysterious Cheshire Cat. Despite not understanding the new world, she deals with it all with immense curiosity and impeccable manners for a 7- (and a half) year-old.
Talk about coming up against crazy creatures. Pan's Labyrinth is Guillermo Del Toro's Mexican/Spanish fairy tale about a young girl who travels with her mother to live with Captain Vidal, her new stepfather who also happens to be in charge of hunting down and killing rebels during the Spanish Civil War in 1944. Ofelia copes with his let's just say unpleasant attentions by taking on tasks set by the magical faun known as Pan, who believes her to be the reincarnation of Princess Moanna. If she's successful she'll return to her kingdom and become immortal.
She may not be a movie character, but Arya Stark has blockbuster moments of greatness. She struggles to find her place in the bleak world of Westeros as a tomboy who wields a sword, instead of wearing dresses like her much girlier sister. She loses her family, her direwolf and her friends, and yet her will never wavers to master the incredibly tough teachings of the Faceless Men and bring those who have wronged her family to justice.
This comic book character exploded on the silver screen in 2017's Logan. An aged Logan meets Laura, a mutant who was also experimented on. Both have retractable metal claws, enhanced speed and even share DNA. They must escape capture from Laura's lab, the place where she was known as X-23 and where X-24, a killing-machine clone of Logan, was also created. With the help of Logan, Laura slashes her way to freedom and to a place where she feels like she belongs.
Another girl with incredible powers is Eleven, from Netflix's Stranger Things. She too escapes the people who experimented on her, one of them being her own father. Using her psychokinetic and telepathic abilities, she faces the Demogorgon creature from the Upside Down, an alternate dimension. With limited English and a name based on her experiment number, she finds joy in making friends with Mike, eating Eggos and helping recover Mike's friend Will from the Upside Down.
One of the earliest memorable 12-year-old heroes is Mathilda, played by Natalie Portman in Luc Besson's Leon: The Professional (1994). Mathilda comes across Leon, a professional hitman, and decides she wants to learn his skills of the trade instead of going to school. Her abusive father gets in trouble with the DEA for stashing cocaine, and when a drug-addicted DEA agent kills her family and her 4-year-old brother, Mathilda takes it upon herself to bring him down, ultimately returning to school when the deed is done.
The Girl With All The Gifts (2017) is a zombie movie with a twist. It follows a teacher in a world trying to deal with the zombie apocalypse by keeping schools of second-generation zombies, children who can still think and speak while craving flesh. Melanie is one of the brightest and kindest of those kids, and helps her teacher Miss Justineau escape an attack. Ultimately, Melanie leads her new hybrid species in the new world.