Updated: Jun 18, 2020
A snippet of Essential Feminist Movies You Need to See
Parisian filmmaker Coralie Fargeat rips the rape thriller from the clutches of its male-dominated hordes and transforms it into a stylized hell ride saturated in neon and the blood of her protagonist’s victims. Rather than play into the exploitation tropes and traps the genre all too often falls into, Fargeat takes her leading lady, Matilda Lutz, on a grindhouse killing spree through the desert of an unnamed country—all while channeling not the male, but the female gaze.
Set It Off (1996)
Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Kimberly Elise play a group of friends who find themselves at the mercy of intersectional violence, turning to robbing banks as their only way of dealing. F. Gary Gray’s 1996 heist thriller isn’t just essential Black feminist viewing, though, it’s seminal feminist viewing as a whole that captures the stories of working-class women and does so in an incredibly entertaining, compassionate, and empathetic way.
It takes a strong, ambitious female to not just be included but welcomed into the single-moniker club occupied by the likes of Beyoncé, Madonna, and Elsa, and this Polynesian voyager princess in search of a demigod who will restore the heart he stole from a goddess is oh so worthy of her membership. A near-perfect Disney film with a solid Lin-Manuel Miranda soundtrack, it’s a fairy tale, yes, but the happily ever after here has nothing to do with a prince and everything to do with self-discovery.
A League of Their Own (1992)
There may not be crying in baseball, but there is feminism. The late Penny Marshall directed this sporty wartime gem about the very first female professional baseball league. Geena Davis and Tom Hanks star as the heroine fighting the patriarchy, respectively, and as inspirational as it is just plain entertaining (hello, Madonna), it encourages female viewers young and old to embrace that unapologetic champion stifled inside each one of us.
The Joy Luck Club (1993)
Before Crazy Rich Asians had everyone buzzing in 2018 with its all-Asian rom-com, The Joy Luck Club was getting the cultural conversation started 25 years prior. A contemporary drama that starred all Asian women in its principal roles, it explores the relationships between four mothers and their daughters. And though it didn’t immediately change Hollywood the way critics thought it would, it still managed to leave its mark on this writer.
Whale Rider (2002)
Girls aren’t allowed to be Whangara chiefs. But that’s not acceptable to Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), the 11-year-old powerhouse who believes her destiny is to ride whales and lead her tribe. Courage, leadership and defiance—they’re all at play in this Kiwi drama from Niki Caro, an essential watch for any budding feminist.
Groundbreaking for 1979 science fiction, Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is one of the genre’s most iconic female characters. She’s not a damsel—she’s a badass final girl and the only survivor to defeat the monster that mutilated and destroyed every other member of the Nostromo crew.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Susan Sarandon and Gena Davis lock arms—and fates—in this buddy road trip drama with a feminist legacy that runs deeper than the Grand Canyon. Sure, it’s directed by Ridley Scott, but the screenplay about a pair of outlaws who are anything but passive comes straight from the pen of Callie Khouri.
The Color Purple (1985)
Whoopi Goldberg brings Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning feminist novel to life as Celie, a Southern woman who suffered abuse over decades. A project brought to a hesitant Steven Spielberg by producer Quincy Jones, the film marks Spielberg’s first female lead.
Her portrait, with that thick unibrow and un-waxed upper lip, has become an iconic symbol of feminism. Julie Taymor’s biopic takes us behind the canvas to reveal the artist, the activist, the revolutionary. And knowing what we do now about lead actress Selma Hayek’s off-screen experience, this film proves an even greater victory.
I Will Follow (2011)
If you can’t get something done, do it yourself. Ava DuVernay takes this adage to heart and writes, directs, produces and finances this family drama about a woman grieving the death of a loved one. Though just a blip on the box office radar, DuVernay's debut feature offers a peek at the feminist hero behind the camera.
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Disney has a way of making us feel like pawns in a game of Let’s See How Hard We Can Make Them Cry. But that’s not the case with Mira Nair’s feel-good drama about a Uganda girl’s path to chess champ, adapted from an ESPN sports essay. Moms and dads, you want your daughters to grow up to be chess champions.
There’s a lot at play here: Persepolis is animated like a graphic novel. It’s done in black and white. It’s about a girl who defies Islamic fundamentalists. It’s autobiographical. And it’s in French. The result: a brilliant feminist feat from Marjane Satrapi.
Overshadowed by a certain Richard Linklater coming-of-ager, Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, a contemporary narrative with a classic plot that isn’t too distant from anything in the Jane Austen canon, follows a French teenager’s slog through gang life on a quest to self-discovery.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Written, directed and produced by women, Susan Seidelman’s screwball comedy about a '50s housewife who wants to trade the mundane for the exciting is a fun watch—not to mention as saturated in feminist undertones as it is tuned to some of Madonna’s greatest hits.
A self-proclaimed feminist, Sally Potter gives Virginia Woolf a go with this gender-defying period piece that sees Tilda Swinton play both a man and a woman. She begins as Orlando, a nobleman, and jumps from one century to the next, all while shattering gender norms and cultural restraints.
February 28, 2020
Let’s hear it for the girls.