Feminism At The Movies

Can’t think of a movie to watch this weekend? Well look no further as Doreen Manning has assembled a list of movies that she believes every feminist can enjoy. From tragic life experiences to kick-ass heroines, everything is covered.

International Women’s Day has already been and gone, but it’s still important to continue fighting for the rights of women and girls, and what better way to do it than to sit on your couch all weekend and watch movies that highlight both the vital contributions, and horrifying oppression, of women in society. Want some good movies to watch? Here’s a list. You’re welcome.

thelmaandlouise

  • Thelma and Louise (1991)

Where do you get off behaving that way with women you don’t even know, huh? How’d you feel if someone did that to your mother or your sister or your wife?”

Thelma and Louise is one of the most celebrated feminist films on this list, so it seems fitting to start with it. The two female leads are brilliantly written and portrayed in one of Ridley Scott’s greatest movies to date, which follows Thelma and Louise on their journey from Oklahoma to Mexico escaping the law.

joycevincent

  • Dreams of a Life (2011)

Everyone has their secrets, she just seemed to have more than most.”

On the 25th of January 2006, Joyce Carol Vincent’s mostly skeletal body was discovered in her London bedsit, when bailiffs broke in to collect overdue rent. Her body went unnoticed in the bedsit since her death at Christmas of 2003. Dreams of a Life tells her story beautifully, covering her aspiring music career, and her larger-than-life personality, derived from a series of heart-breaking interviews with her circle of friends and family, most of whom didn’t even know she had passed away at the time in which their interviews were being recorded.

yentl

  • Yentl (1983)

Why is it people who want the truth never believe it when they hear it?”

Try not to cringe at the idea of watching a Barbara Streisand movie, because this one is worth it. Yentl tells the courageous story of an Ashkenazi Jewish girl in Poland in the 20th century, who decides to dress and live like a man, under her late brother’s name Anshel so that she can receive an education in Talmudic Law after her father dies.

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  • Orlando (1992)

I can find only three words to describe the female sex. None of which are worth expressing.”

This one is definitely something special; you know it’s gonna be good when Tilda Swinton is in it. Based on Virginia Woolf’s ‘unfilmable’ novel, Swinton firstly plays the male Orlando, who is commanded by Queen Elizabeth I on her deathbed to stay forever young. He stays true to his command, all the while moving through several centuries of British history, experiencing a variety of lives and relationships along the way, and even changing sex.

deathproof

  • Death Proof (2007)

Well, physically speaking, Zoe is amazing. I mean, agility, reflexes, nimbleness, there’s few human beings who could fuck with Zoe on that front.”

Tarantino is one of only a few modern directors who have frequently written and/or directed movies with strong female protagonists. Although Kill Bill and Jackie Brown have also displayed his talent for highlighting the lead woman’s abilities against adversity, Death Proof is the most important, for its unflinching attention focused on women being pursued by a psychopathic stunt man who specifically targets young women before murdering them in staged car accidents. Zoe Bell particularly shines in her first major acting role, while amazingly doing all of her own nerve-wracking stunts.

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  • Aliens (1986)

You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

Few films have permeated the cultural zeitgeist in the same way that the Alien franchise has. Ellen Ripley has become synonymous with ‘women kicking ass’, since her introduction in the 1979 horror movie, Alien, as the only survivor of the Nostromo disaster. Aliens continues in a similar vein, chronicling Ripley’s gun-toting fight against the species of LV-426, surrounded by inexperienced military personnel.

clueless

  • Clueless (1995)

Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there’s no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value.”

Odd to see a movie on this list that’s commonly associated with the vapid cultural obsession with looks over intelligence, but Clueless, based loosely on Jane Austen’s Emma, has come to be recognized as a 90’s feminist masterpiece, for displaying the lead character, Cher, as a teenage girl who refused to bow to the pressures of high school, or the limits of a society that wants her to be just the ditzy blonde pretty girl who contributes nothing to society.

heathers

  • Heathers (1988)

Football season is over, Veronica. Kurt and Ram had nothing left to offer the school except date rapes and AIDS jokes.”

Considered one of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, Heathers tracks Veronica, an outsider-esque member of the Heathers, a high school clique hell-bent on psychologically torturing everyone in their general vicinity, whether they deserve such treatment or not. Veronica, played brilliantly by Winona Ryder, grows tired of their manipulation, and begins exacting revenge on the Heathers and other equally vapid gangs.

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  • 9 to 5 (1980)

Look, I’ve got a gun out there in my purse. Up until now I’ve been forgivin’ and forgettin’ because of the way I was brought up, but I’ll tell you one thing. If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot! And don’t think I can’t do it.”

One of the earlier successful feminist films on this list, 9 to 5 features Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton as 3 women living out their fantasies of getting back at their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss. The film, in spite of being considered a comedy, points an unforgiving light on sexism experienced by women in the workplace.

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  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)

Every girl should be given an electric guitar on her 16th birthday.”

Not a widely well-known movie, it follows Corinne Burns, the lead singer of a not so talented punk rock band, The Stains, with her sister and their cousin, who end up massively influencing girls of a similar age, with Corinne’s angsty and belligerent attitude to life.

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  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Great. My secret weapon is PMS. That’s just terrific. Thanks for telling me.”

Before it became a worldwide smash hit TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a small-budget movie about a cheerleader, who learns that it is her fate to hunt and kill vampires. Both the movie and the spin-off show have been celebrated for transforming the oft-displayed trope of the female in horror shows and movies as a damsel in distress, running around in her bikini and getting killed with no ability to defend herself.

Pride

  • Pride (2014)

“…what you’ve given us is more than money. It’s friendship. When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.”

Although Pride has been lauded for celebrating the Trojan work of LGSM, the women of Pride, despite not being at the forefront of the movie’s story, still play a pivotal role in LGSM and the fight for LGBTQ equality in both England and Wales, including Siân James, who became Director of Welsh Women’s Aid, and later became a Labour MP for Swansea East in May 2005.

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  • 3 Women (1977)

I’d rather face a thousand million savages than one woman who’s learned how to shoot.”

A beautifully-shot movie about an awkward teenage girl who becomes attached to a spa attendant when they begin living together. They hang out at a bar owned by a pregnant artist, and the three women band together to trade personalities until they each find what they were searching for. It’s an odd choice for a feminist film, but goes a long way to display the understanding and affection between women struggling to find their place in the world.

borninflames

  • Born in Flames (1983)

It is all our responsibilities as individuals and together to examine and to re-examine everything, leaving no stones unturned. Every word that we utter, every action and every thought. We are all, women and men, the prophets of this new age. And for those of us who would be safer in the sensibilities of racism, separatism, and martyrdom: if you can’t help us towards building this living church, then step out of the way.”

Lastly, a relatively unheard-of movie, Born in Flames is a documentary-style sci-fi movie, exploring racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism under a socialist democracy in America. Tensions reach fever pitch with groups of women conflicting with each other about how to tackle these issues, but all collectively knowing that no matter what approach they use, it is ultimately up to them to act.

I’d love to hear other suggestions for feminist movies. Leave them in the comments if you think of any.

Based in Cork, Doreen Manning is an activist, writer, graphic designer and self-styled “feminazi cunt who is taxed as a non-essential item.” You can follow her on Twitter here.

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2 responses to “Feminism At The Movies

  1. Dirty Dancing! Shows the horrors of pre Roe v Wade illegal abortion and gives the main woman character sexual agency, not common for an 18 year old woman to be the one doing the seducing. Few of my favourites on your list already.

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    • A great suggestion that I didn’t even think of, honestly because I hate those happy dancey romance movies! But yes, definitely a great feminist movie to watch, if you can stomach all the dancing and peppy music!

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