Dune 2 stars Zendaya and Florence Pugh talk female empowerment in the sci-fi sequel: "There's huge power there"

Dune 2
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Although women played an important role in 2021's sci-fi epic Dune, in this year's sequel Dune: Part Two they take center stage, with the second half of director Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's groundbreaking sci-fi novel placing a greater focus on the female characters. Whilst the first movie arguably has only one three-dimensional female figure in Rebecca Ferguson's Lady Jessica, this time things are different. Take Zendaya's returning character Chani, who has gone from barely any screen time to arguably being the beating heart of the whole story. In fact, director Villeneuve described her as his "secret weapon" when it came to making this chapter, seeing Chani as the key to unlocking this tale and honoring Herbert's original intentions.

However, whilst there are plenty of women on-screen, that's not really what matters. Crucially they are all well-developed and complicated, are the ones driving the story forward, and each character is different from the other. For Zendaya herself, that's what is important when it comes to female representation on-screen. 

She told GamesRadar+: "For me, female empowerment looks like characters that don't all look or feel the same. Characters that are complicated, that you can hate, that you can love, that you can disagree with, that you can feel complicated feelings for. And I think that's what strong characters are, something that you can dig your teeth into, be confused by their decisions, and talk about it later. You wonder: ‘Who's the bad guy? Who's the good guy? Whose side are we on? Is there any such thing?’ That to me, those are powerful characters. And I feel incredibly lucky to be in a film that shows many, many, many, many, many different versions of what that looks like. "

Zendaya in Dune: Part Two

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Her co-star Florence Pugh, who portrays the Emperor's daughter Princess Irulan in the movie, nods in agreement during our chat, then praising Villeneuve for championing these women's stories. Speaking to GamesRadar+, she added: "I think there's huge power there in showing so many different types of women, especially in this storyline, when it is very male heavy. We have a great deal of thanking to do with Denis who not only trusts us as actors, but also fights for these women's stories. We’re able to step into them because of the brilliant script that has been written and echoing what Zendaya said, it's so fun playing characters that can be unlikable. I've always run to the characters that are unlikeable to try and see if I can make them likeable in their actions. That is something that's my biggest kind of ‘kerching’, like, ‘how do we do this?’ Because that's human, it's very human."

Continuing, Pugh emphasizes that she is also excited about her character's potential future. Whilst Dune 3 is yet to be officially given the green light, Villeneuve has made it no secret that he hopes it happens - in fact, the screenplay is almost finished. That movie would adapt Herbert's novel Dune: Messiah in which Pugh's character Irulan returns - and it seems she is already looking forward to stepping into the princess' shoes once again. She concluded: "I love how it ends on a dot, dot, dot. I love how there's potential for a future. I love how in the tiny amount of time that we had looking at each other [Irulan and Zendaya's character Chani], it already says and tells so much. And it makes you question, what's going to happen next? It's a great gift." 

Dune: Part Two is in theaters worldwide now. For more, check out the rest of our coverage on the movie:

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.