Representation of women within the arts, and especially in film, is regularly used as the way that society ‘measures’ the progress of feminism; we only have to look back at the 2020 awards season to see an example of this. In this analysis, I think that it is crucial that we utilise Women’s History Month to celebrate the cornucopia of films made for, by, or about women of all classes, abilities, sexualities, races, and genetic make-ups. Leading this celebration by forming an advent calendar for March, here are some of the best films available to us, made for women, by women.
1. Little Women (2019), dir. Greta Gerwig
One of the strongest, female ensemble casts that I have seen in a long time. Paired with brave scriptwriting and Gerwig’s thoughtful directing, this adaptation has elevated Louisa May Alcott’s literary classic to a height that it hasn’t seen before. Possibly my favourite film of 2019, its pro-women-doing-whatever-the-fuck-they-want approach is to die for.
2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), dir. Céline Sciamma
Céline Sciamma has been dedicated to the stories of the LGBTQI+ community and women for years. In this film, we see her work focus on adults for the first time, and despite it being thematically different, the narrative is still as intimate and human-focused as ever. This study of lesbian desire is beautifully shot and well thought-out.
3. Queen & Slim (2019), dir. Melina Matsoukas
I found it both rare and refreshing to see a studio-backed film, filled with a plethora of black talent, telling a story of a date gone wrong and the penalties of being black in America. The film’s two main characters are forced into violence, feel horrified by what they have to do in order to survive, and are a partnership that will remain at the forefront of your mind for films to come.
4. The Farewell (2019), dir. Lulu Wang
The Farewell might not initially sound like a very relatable film experience when you hear about how much of the narrative relies on director Lulu Wang’s own upbringing. Despite this, the film’s focus on family values, dynamics, and relationships is universal, defying all cultural barriers.
5. The Tale (2018), dir. Jennifer Fox
The mother of all #MeToo films… An exploration of sexual abuse and consent, The Tale showcases Laura Dern at her absolute best. Despite this being a film that I am grateful to have seen, its harrowing nature and disturbing cinematography of rape means that it is a film that I know I will
never be able to watch again.
6. Certain Women (2016), dir. Kelly Reichardt
Some people might find Certain Women rather boring; it doesn’t have peaks and troughs, conform to the stereotypes of film, or come to a definitive conclusion. It does, however, profile three contrasting women in all of their mundanity, and follows them crossing over into each other’s lives. If you find the time to immerse yourself properly, this narrative is a real treat.
7. Lady Bird (2017), dir. Greta Gerwig
Imperfect, effortlessly human, and heart-breaking, Lady Bird makes me cry every time. It’s an incredible illustration of how adolescence shapes us, as well as those around us (whilst showcasing a cornucopia of female film powerhouses).
8. Queen of Katwe (2016), dir. Mira Nair
A feel-good, family favourite that sees a young Ugandan girl find her passion for the game of chess. With powerful women in-front and behind the screen, you won’t regret watching Phiona’s (Madina Nalwanga) relationship with her mother unfold as she finds her way to the national championships.
9. Tallulah (2016), dir. Sian Heder
Ellen Page and Alison Janney reunite, in all their Juno glory, for a story about two strangers who come together over a stolen baby. As the plot develops, the two female characters slowly build a strong rapport as they begin to understand one another, and it is beautiful to watch.
10. Suffragette (2015), dir. Sarah Gavron
A re-telling of one of the most important parts of our history, conveying the claustrophobia of misogyny and repression with an ease that isn’t seen often in these kinds of historical dramas. Every young girl needs to see this film.
11. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
Ana Lily Amirpour’s exhilarating feature debut tells the tale of when the residents of a tired, Iranian city encounter a skateboarding vampire who preys on men that cat-call, abuse, and disrespect women. A defiant statement of girl power!
12. Girlhood (2014), dir. Céline Sciamma
When Marieme (Karidja Touré) joins an all-girl gang in Paris, she learns the difference between bravery and foolishness. In this coming-of-age, non-judgemental masterpiece, Sciamma shifts the male gaze slightly to the left, and uncovers a whole new side to Laura Mulvey’s theory.
13. Afternoon Delight (2013), dir. Jill Soloway
This unsuspecting comedy manages to reach depths of sadness, and peaks of hilarity, I didn’t realise was possible. Juno Temple and Kathryn Hahn bounce off each other with a gloriously mundane, everyday wit whilst discussing modern-day sexuality perfectly.
14. In a World… (2013), dir. Lake Bell
Lake Bell writes, directs, and stars in this sweet, cooky romantic comedy that is sure to put a smile on your face; what a boss. Portraying the daughter of a legendary voice-over performer, her character tries to overthrow the male-dominated hierarchy of the voice-over world whilst trying to escape the shadow of her father.
15. Water Lilies (2007), dir. Céline Sciamma
Yes, nearly every single one of Sciamma’s films made it onto this list… But they all deserve the recognition! Water Lilies explores the developing sexuality of three fifteen-year-old girls that come together because of a passion for competitive synchronised swimming.
16. A Little Suicide (2012), dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
This short film is set in a world where people hate you without exception, and kill you without thinking of the consequences. If you enjoy A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, you should definitely give this a go.
17. Meek’s Cutoff (2010), dir. Kelly Reichardt
Never did I ever think that I would say my favourite film that I watched last year is a feminist Western film… Nonetheless, Meek’s Cutoff just does it for me. Set in the 1800s, this film follows some suspicious settlers that think the guide leading their wagon train down the Oregon Trail may not know the way.
18. Across The Universe (2007), dir. Julie Taymor
Musical theatre? Check. The Beatles? Check. 1960s Liverpool? Check. I’m not too sure what’s not to love about this film, but this film’s rendition of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” has me in floods of tears every time. Watch it and take its imperfections as adorable quirks; it will soon become a guilty
pleasure of yours, too.
19. Little Miss Sunshine (2006), dir. Valerie Faris
In a film where each character is dealing with their own unique challenges, Little Miss Sunshine watches a family come together when it most matters: when their little Olive (Abigail Breslin) enters a beauty pageant in California. As harrowing as it is rib-tickling, this is one of my favourite films of all time.
20. Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005), dir. Miranda July
Whimsically charming, colourfully odd, and full of the sadness of everyday life. This small-scale film is like Marmite, but I try and force it upon everyone I know anyway. After Richard’s (John Hawkes) divorce has left him emotionally damaged, he struggles to remain open to the possibilities of his new relationship with Christine (Miranda July), an artist.
21. The Notorious Bettie Page (2005), dir. Mary Harron
When aspiring actress, Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol), finds herself working as a fetish model, we see an investigation of the influence that pornography has among youth. Gretchen Mol plays this protagonist with the most wonderful angst, sex appeal, and realism that I have seen on screen.
22. Set Me Free (1999), dir. Lea Pool
This poetic, bittersweet film follows Hanna (Karine Vanasse), who is trying to escape her life as the illegitimate daughter of a struggling writer and seamstress by losing herself in films. She quickly adopts an unlikely hero when she watches a film with a prostitute as its protagonist.
23. The Rosa Parks Story (2002), dir. Julie Dash
This biopic tells the story of activist Rosa Parks (Angela Bassett). It follows her from being a private school student to her public battle against racism. Like Suffragette, it tells such a vital part of our history as women, and is another film that every young girl should watch.
24. Bend It Like Beckham (2002), dir. Gurinder Chadha
I was only reminded that this film existed when I moved in with one of my current housemates, who has a minor obsession with it. Spunky and easy to watch at any time of the day, I can’t believe that I ever forgot about this gem.
25. The Watermelon Woman (1996), dir. Cheryl Dunye
A unique take on a meta comedy, The Watermelon Woman is a fictional piece of research conducted by Cheryl Dunye, who uses this film to learn more about an obscure 1940s black actress, who had been credited as the ‘Watermelon Woman’. It is a truly inspiring insight into the cinematic representation of black lesbians in film history.
26. Clueless (1995), dir. Amy Heckerling
Loosely based on the novel Emma by Jane Austen, Clueless sees teenager Cher (Alicia Silverstone) at her most materialistic, selfish and spoiled. Immediately transporting you into the 90s, this film is a feel-good favourite that has you wanting that Nokia brick back in your life as soon as possible.
27. The Piano (1993), dir. Jane Campion
My favourite thing about The Piano is that the mis-en-scene that Campion has created is just as important as the emotions that the characters express. The narrative follows a Scottish widow that has an affair with an illiterate settler on her way to marry in New Zealand, and whole film has a spooky, Addams Family feel to it.
28. Nitrate Kisses (1992), dir. Barbara Hammer
In a similar style to The Watermelon Woman, filmmaker and researcher Barbara Hammer explores queer sex and culture through the activities of four couples. This film makes it onto this list because it was one of the first of its kind made by a woman. Nitrate Kisses was completely revolutionary.
29. Sink or Swim (1990), dir. Su Friedrich
Through a documentary-style series of short stories, a young woman describes the childhood events that shaped her ideas about fatherhood, family relations, work and play. In Sink or Swim, Friedrich delves deeply into what it means to be a woman, and if humans are a product of their environment.
30. Sweetie (1989), dir. Jane Campion
In Sweetie, Genevieve Lemon plays one of my favourite film protagonists of all time. Confused, reckless and daring, Kay’s (Karen Colston) relationship with her parents and boyfriend is given the ultimate test by her emotionally unpredictable sister, Dawn (Genevieve Lemon).
31. Working Girls (1986), dir. Lizzie Borden
Upon first glance, this film is a remarkably even-tempered view of sex work. However, behind this, Working Girls offers a refreshingly de-glamorized glimpse into the everyday life of a modern brothel, teaching audiences why young women may choose this rewarding, yet socially denigrated profession.
by Morgan Hartley
Morgan Hartley is a twenty-year-old arts and culture journalist from Wigan. Currently studying Theatre & Performance at University of Leeds, her bylines include Her Campus, The Gryphon, The Tab, and The Indiependent, where she is Theatre Editor. When she’s not reading a book, watching a play, or getting angry about politics, you can find her nursing a cup of tea in the friendly company of an episode of Peep Show.