In honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to take a look through some of my favorite movies about the lives of women. It should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the film industry, that it’s a total boys club (for the most part). Despite the plethora of compelling stories for women BY women, the industry is still heavily dominated by men telling women’s stories and the few women in the industry are not receiving adequate recognition for their work.
Growing up, I had dreams of one day becoming a filmmaker and director. I wrote constantly and made animated, voice-over films. But it seemed like the older I got, the more I was expected to abandon those dreams in favor of something more practical. The pool of female directors is already a small crowd—and an African-American female director is the industry equivalent of Bigfoot. I’m pretty ashamed to say that I lost faith in my own ability, and to this day I don’t write or film anything anymore.
But I’m trying to get back into the things that I am passionate about. I’m finally getting to a place where I feel confidence enough in myself to fully explore my writing, photography and film interests without fear.
So, since it’s International Women’s Day, I have suggested 7 movies about the talent, courage, complexity and strength of women. Each movie is directed by a women and features a women in the main role.
Frida, directed by Julie Taymor, captures the tragic and outrageous life of one of the most acclaimed painters in Mexican history, Frida Kahlo. Staring Salma Hayek as the titular character, Frida is a beautiful and creative film that chronicles the ecstatic highs and devastating lows in the life of an gifted bisexual woman of color. I watched this movie a few days ago and was immediately enamored with it. The cinematography is phenomenal and it is one of Salma Hayek’s strongest performances. Additionally, the film is currently streaming on Netflix!
2013’s Belle, directed by Amma Asante, is an incredibly striking British time period drama about the life of the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a British admiral. The fictional film was inspired by a 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle beside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. Belle features the stunning performance of Gugu Mbatha-Raw and the directorial work of black filmmaker, Amma Asante. The film is emotionally poignant and engaging. Belle is my favorite time period film, not only for its utilization of the talent of women of color, but for its ability to perfectly situate a narrative of self-identity and romance amidst a major historical shift regarding the abolition of slavery in Britain.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, tells the story of a lesbian couple that has been married for 20 years and are raising two children via artificial insemination. This Golden Globe winning film garnered four Academy Awards and is one of the more recognized of the films on this list. I have not had a chance to watch this movie yet, but I will hopefully have time to watch it toward the end of the week.
Yelling to the Sky (2011)
Yelling to the Sky, written and directed by Victoria Mahoney, follows the transformation of a quiet, studious high school girl named Sweetness O’Hara (played by Zoe Kravitz) into maturity. The film grapples with issue of identity, rooted in a biracial identification, mental illness issues and feelings of abandonment. Yelling to the Sky is has a much more conceptual and indie feel to it than any of the movies on this list. The characters are complex and raw, and Zoe Kravitz delivers some pretty impressive acting as well.
Suffragette, the 2015 British historical period drama film was directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan. Set at the height of the first-wave feminism, Suffragette follows the lives of women navigating the intricate systems of stigma as they attempt to change their status in society and win the right to vote. I haven’t had a chance to watch this film yet, but I have heard from many people that it is provocative, startling and deeply moving.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
What Happened, Miss Simone is a biographical documentary film about the trial and tribulations of Nina Simone. Directed by Liz Garbus, the film opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and features previously unreleased archival footage and interviews from Nina Simone’s friends and daughter. What Happened, Miss Simone explores Simone’s internal battle with her bipolar disorder and her external battle with her husband and music producers.
The Poker House (2008)
The Poker House is Lori Petty’s directorial debut that follows a day in life of the daughter of an alcohol and drug abusing prostitute. The Poker House, set in is emotionally triggering, raw and unapologetically blunt. It’s an early role for both Jennifer Lawrence and Chloe Grace Moretz. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a convincing and passionate performance as 14-year-old Agnes who tries to navigate the world of johns, gamblers, prostitutes and protect herself and her young sisters from it. This is definitely an intense film but it is absolutely worth a watch.
Obvious Child (2014)
Obvious Child, the directorial debut of Gillan Robespierre, follows the quirky and un-flinchingly realistic journey of a twenty-something aspiring comedian thrust headfirst into adulthood when she is faced with an unplanned pregnancy. The film is raw and honest and full of enough wit to round out an extremely complex subject matter. Obvious Child is well written and acted and is a strong example of millennial self-discovery, empowerment and reproductive agency.
All of these films are amazing and are feature stellar performances and portrayals of the lives of women, some fictional, some not.
Have you seen any of these movies? Or have some suggestions for some I may have missed?
Let me know in the comments down below. Thanks for reading and Happy International Women’s Day!