In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to compile a list of films directed/written by women that center around female characters. And this was actually quite harder than I anticipated. Although these movies had female representation that was far superior to said representation in movies written by men, I still ran into some issues. As I looked through countless lists of movies by and about women, I found that so many of them — especially movies about women of color — focused on female pain and suffering. Although I was able to find a few happier movies, it was difficult to find those for a diverse group of women. It is incredibly important to portray the struggles that women — especially women of color — go through in film, but I wished there were more movies that you all could just straight up enjoy, since it is exhausting to watch female suffering at the hands of men on screen over and over. But then again, maybe it’s impossible to separate women from this pain, as it is something we all have to endure.
That being said, I still believe all the movies on this list are must-sees, so watch them. Laugh and cry and then have an existential crisis over what it means to be a woman. But most of all, enjoy.
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
“Real Women Have Curves” tells the story of Mexican-American teenager Ana Garcia as she explores her relationships, ambitions, and body. The film has a primary focus on Ana’s relationship with her mother, Carmen, who is constantly body-shaming and insulting Ana’s ambitions of a college education. Throughout the film, Ana rebels against her overbearing mother, and we see how this affects their relationship as Carmen has a specific path that she envisions for Ana. “Real Women Have Curves” is a quick 85 minutes, but it delves into the complex themes of motherhood, sexual expression, class, education, womanhood, beauty, traditional Latinx culture and generational differences. I truly loved how much this movie made me care about the characters and feel with them.
Lady Bird (2017)
“Lady Bird” is Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film about a senior in high school as she balances her relationships and future plans. Similar to “Real Women Have Curves,” “Lady Bird” focuses on Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother. This is a movie I hold very dearly to my heart because I first watched it with my mom, and it resonated so deeply with my relationship with her. Lady Bird’s tumultuous, erratic, emotional relationship with her mom is relatable in a way that will make you reflect on your own relationship with your mother. Additionally, watching Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan) navigate her relationships with characters played by Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein and Laurie Metcalf is incredible.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is an absolute heart-breaker. The movie’s protagonist, Marianne, is hired to paint a woman who refuses to be painted. As the film unfolds, we learn why Heloise refuses to be painted, and we see how Marianne breaks down Heloise’s walls as the two form an intimate relationship. The film, which is originally in French with English subtitles, is visually stunning, and I believe it does a great job of exploring female desires and relationships. And oh my goodness the ending is one of my favorite movie endings I’ve ever seen.
The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is a black-and-white film written and directed by Radha Blank, who plays herself on screen. Blank’s character is a playwright and teacher on the cusp of turning 40, and the film depicts her struggles being a Black female playwright in a white-dominated field. When Radha decides to give rapping a shot, she discovers that she’s able to express herself through this medium, and she develops a relationship with the man who makes her beats. I enjoyed this movie’s artistry and authenticity, and it provided nuance to the topics it tackled.
Shiva Baby (2020)
“Shiva Baby” is 78 minutes of pure entertainment. The main character, Danielle, attends a Shiva, and so does just about everyone she’s ever met. Family, her ex-girlfriend, her current sugar-daddy and dozens of judgmental adults who look down on the 20-something college student. This movie is labeled as a comedy, and yes it’s funny, but more accurately, this movie is a horror movie because I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Danielle to get embarrassed again and again. This was probably the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in a while, perfect for your next girls’ night.
“Girlhood” is French coming-of-age film about Marieme, a shy young woman who keeps to herself. But when she is accepted into a friend group of three other girls, Marieme steps outside of her shell and transforms, though not always in the best way. As she tries to figure out who she is, Marieme struggles with her relationships and identity. My favorite thing about this movie is watching the group of girls just be friends. There was something so refreshing about watching a (relatively) healthy group of girl friends just trying to figure out who they are, and I think the movie really captured what it means to grow up as a woman.
For Sama (2019)
“For Sama'' is the only documentary on this list, and it has a much more somber tone. The film is the first-person account of filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab’s life as she watches the deaths of loved ones and violence in Aleppo, Syria. The documentary also acts as a medium through which Al-Kateab shares her life during the violence: getting married, having children and holding onto her home city as long as she can. Watching Al-Kateab, her husband and their neighbors trying not just to survive, but to live, provides a uniquely intimate view on the Syrian Civil War. I watched this movie in 2019, and it has not escaped my mind since. It is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen, and though it’s absolutely heart-breaking, it is an essential watch.
The Lost Daughter (2021)
The Lost Daughter is the most recent film on this list, and it follows an older woman, Leda, on her beach vacation. During the vacation, she shares the beach with a young mother and daughter, which causes her to have flashbacks to when Leda was a young mother to her daughters. I thought this movie was interesting because Leda’s actions and flashbacks reveal her regrets and shortcomings as a mother. This movie was refreshing, as the toll that motherhood takes on women is often overlooked, and I think this movie put motherhood into a whole new perspective.
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