Femficātiō is counting down the Top 101 Feminist films all women (and men) must see. In our view, these films best reflect the landscape of women’s identity, experience and place in the world today.
We will be giving you 10 a day every day until we reach number one!
Here we go…!
Documentary. Written and Directed by Bill Duke and D. Channsin.
Perceptions of beauty can be one of the most crippling aspects of female life. We’re told that we’re too tall, too big, flat chested and flat butted – have boy legs, big hands etc. And all the variations and varieties of ways we aren’t considered “beautiful” we are considered less feminine, more masculine. Dark Girls is a gripping and painfully apt documentary, because for women of colour, our very colour according to it’s gradation, is used to denote that we are not beautiful – not feminine. Because of racism, caste systems and oppression, people of colour have internalised that their very colour is wrong. This critical documentary explores the extreme psychological toll this kind of cultural distortion takes on Black women. Director’s Bill Duke and D. Channsin are to be applauded for this poignant and truthful contribution to knowledge and healing.
Three women, unconnected except for living in the same house 22 years apart from the next, and their experiences with abortion. This interestingly avant-garde film looks into the culture of abortion in 1952, 1974 and 1996. It shows that in a 66 year span that sometimes things don’t change the way we think they do. Its worth mentioning the film If These Walls Could Talk 2, with Jane Anderson, Martha Coolidge, and Anne Heche directing, follows the lives of lesbian couples from the 60s to the millennium.
Crime-Drama. Written and Directed by Patty Jenkins.
This film, based on the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, was one of the best films to come along in a while. Charlize Theron well deserved her 17 awards for portraying the former prostitute Aileen, who was executed in Florida for killing 6 men. Pushed to the edge by inhumane treatment, poverty and societal indifference, Aileen had been a highway hooker, degrading herself in every way possible. From an abusive home, she lived a marginal existence, where rape was a common occupational hazard. Dubbed a “Monster” in popular press, Aileen was a tragic victim of the kind of prolonged and pervasive contempt befitting no animal, as well as the vilest exploitation imaginable. Even when she feels she’s found love, she forces herself back into a life of prostitution and degradation to support herself and her lover. It would not be a leap to believe after having led such a life, she would have post traumatic stress syndrome. Aileen sadly broke down, and when she did, 7 men were left dead.
This semi-autobiographical Spike Lee Joint is one of the sweetest and sensitive portrayals of a little girl coming of age out there. Troy, played by Zelda Harris, is just an ordinary African American girl growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn in the 1970’s. We see her play, become confused, see her parents argue, go to the suburbs, get cornrows, get hot-combed- among other marvelous dimensions of a little Black girl, which is not normally seen or appreciated in film. Such a great film, we see Troy grow up and grow strong, which she’s going to need in order to ultimately become who she is.
17. Sounder, 1972
Drama. Directed by Martin Ritt. Written by Lonne Elder III
A film nominated for 4 Academy Awards gives us Rebecca (Cicely Tyson) as a hardworking, loving wife and mother in the rural southern United States. Amidst the injustice that will not allow him to support his family, Rebecca’s husband finds himself on the chain-gang for stealing to feed them. The responsibilities of the farm would commonly fall on their son David while his father is in prison. But instead of him picking up where his father left off, a lifetime of toil with little profit, fairness or recognition – Rebecca takes the reigns and keeps the farm going in her husband’s absence, sacrificing so that young David is able to grow his intellect. The mother as protector of her children, her family, assuming full partnership with her man, is often overlooked as a feminist construct. Tyson’s character is the inspiration that says, women are able. Amongst the milieu of 70’s ‘Black Exploitation’ flicks that often reduce Black folks to comic-book gangstersism and whoredom, Sounder is a standout work – and you always need to come with tissues in hand for this one.
18.Frozen River, 2008
Crime-Drama. Written and Directed by Courtney Hunt
Why this is really a favourite? Because you very rarely see films representing the reality of Native American (indigenous to what is called North America) women on
or off reservations. Ray Eddy, (played by Melissa Leo) is a teetering racist, poor Caucasian woman store clerk with two sons and a husband who is a compulsive gambler. Lila Littlewolf (played by Misty Upham) is an equally economically troubled Native American bingo parlour worker, unable to support her small child. An unlikely and happenstance relationship is formed when they both agree to traffic illegal immigrants across the dangerous and treacherous Frozen River from the Quebec Border through the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. At first a relationship born out of the nesessity to make money – their burgeoning friendship and dedication to each other quickly becomes so much more. A really unique film, and Courtney Hunt certainly earned her Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Before the word “cougar” entered our everyday vernacular, Susan Sarandon and James Spader showed us that age really is just a number. While the
upper-crust, twenty-seven year old advertising executive and widower Max Baron (James Spader) is still struggling with his young wife’s untimely death, he meets Nora Baker, a nearly 44year old White Palace burger shop waitress. As juicy, movies do, somehow they end up in bed with each other not long after a heated exchange at the burger counter. And though Max seems willing to make a hesitant go at the relationship, Nora’s life has taught her that complicated things just end up bringing more trouble. This is not only a steamy and wonderful love story, it also shows that men aren’t all age-appropriate rescuers, women aren’t all young damsels, and relationships can be based on things like the willingness to open to the possibilities, mutual need, loss – and eclectic romantic adventure – not simply the pedestrian prescribes of the superficial status quo.
Shirin Neshat has been banned from Iran since 1996 for this film. This scathing look at the lives of women in Iran, during a religious ‘revolution’ that was going to bring death to intelligence, liberty, and most importantly women’s equality and quality of existence. The thin veil between fundamentalism and liberalism in Iran is poetically unravelled in this beautifully filmed movie. This film is a must see for anyone who didn’t know the politics of Iran in the 1950s, and who naively believed that fundamentalism and abuse of women was in the natural order of the Middle East.
13. Vera Drake, 2004
Drama. Written and Directed by Mike Leigh.
Vera Drake is a most courious woman. Played by Imelda Staunton, Vera is a working-class London woman in the 1950s who is a devoted wife, mother and friend. Working as a cleaner, she is kind and generous to all around her and not a shred unhappy or discontent with their modest lives. Without the knowledge of her family, she works as a backdoor abortionist for which she receives no money, yet there are others who prosper of her skills without her knowledge. What makes this film so wonderful, if not the feminist sub-plots but the fact that Vera makes the abortion process not pleasant, but not unnatural. A necessary procedure for which women assist one-another. She isn’t angst ridden, has a secret past where she wasn’t allowed abortion, hated children, overly scientific nor overly distant – this is something that is sometimes necessary, and there are people who need to be available to do it. Its a healthy characterization of women’s rights to reproduction, their rights to healthcare, and their right to make choices for themselves.
Drama. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Menno Meyjes. Adapted from the novel by Alice Walker.
Set from the 1900s to 1940s The Color Purple is a film that really tackles childhood abuse, domestic violence, racism, women’s marginalisation, lesbianism, and just about every other theme one can imagine when it comes to the breath of women’s existence during the turn of the 20th century. To be further Black, Southern and American confounds all these issues to what would seem an unbearable weight. The story of Celie Harris is could be all our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmother’s stories. A poignant and triumphant tale, it is a mainstay on feminist film lists for good reason.
Femficatio’s Top 101 Feminist Films 31-22