Strong Female Characters: Amy Santiago

For those of you that don’t know, Amy Santiago is one of the leading ladies of the American sitcom, Brooklyn Nine Nine. Set in a New York police precinct, the show follows a group of detectives who are essentially crime-fighting best friends. The show has become a critical and commercial success, being nominated for several awards as well as pulling in the viewing figures, and Amy herself is at the centre of all this as one of the show’s main characters.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Much like many other characters I’ve looked at, Amy’s ability to shape her own destiny is somewhat hampered by the fact that she has to follow orders. She has to investigate the cases that are assigned to her, and while she does have some leeway in this, she still has to do as she’s told.

But the catch is, Amy loves doing what she’s told.

Although she does freak out about the responsibility that comes along with that multiple times. (image: tumblr.com)
Although she does freak out about the responsibility that comes along with that multiple times. (image: tumblr.com)

Amy is such an overachiever that she manages to turn following orders into a much more active role. Simply doing what she’s told isn’t enough for her – she wants to be the best at what she does and she won’t settle for anything less. This means that she often goes way overboard in order to impress her boss, and she does it all of her own volition.

But even leaving all of that to one side, Amy is still an active character. She pursues responsibility with a vengeance, determined to fulfil her dream of becoming the captain of a police precinct, and this is really what drives her through the show. It’s made quite clear that even though she’s following orders, she’s doing so because a) it fits in with what she already wants out of life and b) she actively enjoys doing it. She may not always get to decide where she goes and what she does, but she has decided that is a position that she wants to be in. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Amy’s goals, beliefs and hobbies are extremely clear. She can play the French horn, loves puzzles, and gets a real kick out of organising everything she does with minute precision. Her beliefs are made clear too: she would never disobey an order from a superior officer and she’s something of a feminist. As far as her goals go, as I’ve already mentioned she wants to become captain of a police precinct and be the best at what she does. It’s clear on all three counts, so I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Amy is a very consistent character. She’s competitive, intelligent, meticulously organised, a stickler for the rules and can be a little bit obnoxious, and she remains this way throughout the show. Her skills follow along a similar vein: she’s a very good detective and is great at solving puzzles, but she’s also a terrible cook with rather patchy social skills.

Case in point. (image: buzzed.com)
Case in point. (image: buzzed.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A competitive, intelligent detective tries to out-perform her colleagues in fulfil her dream of captaining a police precinct.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Amy’s love life is a feature of the show, but it is not the focus. Over the course of the show she dates a couple of guys, but eventually ends up in a relationship with Jake Peralta, fellow detective and musical genius:

However, this takes a back seat to their job, which is very firmly the focus of the show. What influences the bulk of Amy’s decisions is her desire to succeed, whether that’s by one-upping her colleagues or by persuading her current captain to become her mentor. She gets the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

What’s interesting about Amy as a character is that she is always actively trying to improve herself. She views her own character as a work in process and constantly tries to make it better, whether that’s by getting Captain Holt to mentor her or taking a seminar on power poses. Amy’s professional development matters to her a lot, and we see this progress throughout the show.

Of course, the best character development is the one she doesn’t set out to find. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine she also learns to unwind a little, calm down and stop herself from getting so flustered she can’t make a decision. She slowly stops putting pressure on herself, tries to be more decisive and works on her social skills, too. That’s solid development on all fronts, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Amy has plenty of weaknesses which do hold her up over the course of the story. She puts far too much pressure on herself, has a desperate need to please, panics wildly to the point where she can’t do anything and freaks out when things don’t go according to her meticulously detailed plans.

That's Granger levels of organisation right there. (image: tumblr.com)
That’s Granger levels of organisation right there. (image: tumblr.com)

This is something she has to work against all through the show and a huge part of her character development, as it often gets in the way of her own happiness.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Amy is a real influence on the plot. She drives the plot forward at every turn – usually through her desire to be the best at what she does and her friendly rivalry with Jake. She’s constantly chasing down leads, solving cases, helping out her friends and just generally working on herself to the best of her ability. Amy’s actions and decisions are a real force on the plot, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Amy is very progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes. She’s a career-focused, ambitious, competitive and determined young woman, working in a field that is not just unconventional but dangerous too. Combine this with her desire to be the best at what she does and her slightly shaky social skills and you have a collection of character traits that are not something you’d usually see in a young woman.

Added to this is the question of race, as Amy is Latina. I’m sure you’re all familiar with stereotypes around Latina women, thanks to the kind of portrayals we usually see in the media: the loud, seductive, overly-sexualised and ‘feisty’ Latina who seems to be a staple of lazy writers everywhere.

You know, something along these lines. (image: pinterest.com)
You know, something along these lines. (image: pinterest.com)

This gives a different spin on the discussion of all Latina characters, as the stereotypes that are most commonly associated with them are a) far more prevalent when you look at Latina characters as a whole, due to under-representation in the media and b) not usually associated with women from other backgrounds.

So how do these stereotypes affect Amy? The short answer is that they don’t. Dorky, competitive Amy is so far from the stereotype of the sultry, sexy Latina that you can’t even see it. That’s what makes her character so great: she doesn’t rely on any stereotypes about race or gender to make up her personality.

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Amy has plenty of relationships with other female characters. She’s friends with Rosa Diaz, another detective in the precinct, but she’s also pretty intimidated by her, is often shocked by some of her behaviour and doesn’t know much about her outside of work. She has a complicated relationship with Gina, the superficial and celebrity-obsessed precinct administrator, which starts off cool but ends up as a cautious kind of friendship. Towards the end of season three she has to go undercover in a women’s prison to get information from a mobster’s sister, and while she starts off picking fights just to stand her ground, she ends up getting kind of close to some of the inmates. These are just some of the relationships with other female characters Amy has, so I’ll give her the point.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

 

Congratulations! Amy is a well-rounded character with a range of goals, beliefs and hobbies, carefully-planned strengths and weaknesses, and who doesn’t rely on gendered or racial stereotypes to form the bedrock of her personality. She develops over the course of the story, has a range of relationships with other female characters, and she’s in control of her own destiny – she’s certainly passed my test!

Next week, I’ll be posting one of the most spoilerific posts yet. I’ll be talking about a mystery character from the continuation of one of my favourite series ever – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

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6 thoughts on “Strong Female Characters: Amy Santiago”

  1. Two perfect passes in a row…you’re on a roll.

    Harry Potter characters have been three for three so far, I’m hoping for a fourth. The Avatar series has been a steady source of well-written female characters, how about Adventure Time? I’m still looking forward to what you have to say about Marceline, Flame Princess and Lumpy Space Princess.

  2. Love these posts. I’ve got some requests for classic book characters. How about Scarlett O’Hara? (I feel like this would be a really entertaining one!) Becky Sharp? Jo March? Or how about one or two of Charles Dickens’ many bland, submissive, angels in the house? While I don’t think any of these last would score very high, an analysis would be pretty interesting because they do subvert the morbid devotion to the male love interest found in a lot of works (they’re usually morbidly devoted to their fathers instead).

        1. I’ve thought about Esther before actually – could be an interesting one! I think I would probably go for a character like her over some of the less interesting ones (like Rose from Oliver Twist, for example) because I’m not sure if I could find enough to say about the dull ones!

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