In no way a comprehensive list of everything women have accomplished in regard to creating empowering narratives for one another, but more a beginner's guide to feminist film that demonstrates just how big and rich a category that is. There is no shortage of magnificent films made by female hands, only a shortage of viewers willing to go see them.
1. Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
A gentle film to start off with, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is the pick of the work of one of the most subtle, humane American filmmakers working today. The film is an anthology following a disparate group of women, played with melancholy poignancy by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart, living their lives against the backdrop of the Badlands of the American Midwest. It’s a tender, bittersweet piece of filmmaking that although perhaps too slow paced for some to appreciate, I never pass up an opportunity to recommend.
2. Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Erguven, 2015)
Another recent masterpiece, Mustang follows five young orphaned Muslim sisters, kept under house arrest by their abusive uncle, pending their arranged marriages. Now if that sounds like the bleakest thing ever, don’t worry, although it certainly never shies away from its subject matter the very genuine bond between the sisters carries you through the difficult scenes and the ending is one of the most emotional reunions ever put to film.
3. Orlando (dir. Sally Potter, 1992)
Time for a classic, Sally Potter’s baroque adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel stars the always fabulous Tilda Swinton as the eponymous, never-ageing, sex-swapping every-person, whom we follow from the Renaissance court of Queen Elizabeth 1st to the Urban sprawl of Queen Elizabeth 2nd’s London. Despite the trappings of a staid costume drama, Orlando is a funny, energetic and totally unique satire of gender roles buoyed by a propulsive score (also composed by Potter).
4. Desert Hearts (dir. Donna Deitch, 1985)
In Desiree Akhavan’s brilliant new film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, when the titular Cameron has her first sexual experience with her best friend, this groundbreaking 1985 melodrama is the movie playing in the background. Widely regarded as the first truly positive representation of a lesbian couple onscreen, Desert Hearts is a classic of queer cinema that laid the foundations for the lesbian filmmakers of today.
5. Revenge (dir. Coraline Fargeat, 2017)
In case you anyone thought that this list would be full of tender movies about friendship and love, let me disabuse you of that notion by introducing Coralie Fargeat’s psychedelic gorefest starring Mathilda Lutz as a woman taking bloody revenge on the men who assaulted her. The film is intense, taut, silly, grisly and hugely entertaining.
6. Girlhood (dir. Celine Sciamma, 2014)
Sticking with the French theme, Celine Sciamma’s inner-city drama tells the coming-of-age of a young, working-class black teen as she earns the friendship of a band of shoplifting, fist-fighting, Rihanna-lip-syncing bad girls. This downright electric film is as perceptive and honest as it is visually and aurally stunning and makes a must-watch companion piece to the Oscar winner Moonlight.
7. Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins, 2017)
By far the most successful mainstream movie on this list and probably the first film to come into most of your heads when you read the title, 2017’s blockbuster smash secured itself a spot the moment former Miss Israel and IDF combat instructor Gal Gadot stepped out onto no-man’s-land and that rad guitar riff played.
8. Daughters of the Dust (dir. Julie Dash, 1991)
Another groundbreaking movie, (and it’s disappointing how recently much of this ground was broken) Daughters of the Dust was the first feature film theatrically distributed in the United States to be directed by a black woman. The film itself is no less remarkable in its own right, a bizarre, magic realist period drama about the Gullah culture, descendants of slaves living a sheltered existence on their island home with their own native Gullah creole dialect. Set in 1902 the film follows the women of three generations of the Peazant family, about to make the voyage north, abandoning their own unique way of life to integrate into the urban lifestyle awaiting.
9. The Lure (dir. Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)
Okay, bear with me here because I swear this is actually what this movie is about. It’s a polish prog-rock musical adaptation of The Little Mermaid, about two bisexual, cannibal, mermaid sisters, who come to land and get jobs as a burlesque act at a nightclub. And if you haven’t already ordered the Blu-Ray online then I just don’t know what to say to you.
10. In Between (dir. Maysaloun Hamoud, 2016)
An Israeli-French film set in Palestine, In Between, tells the story of Laila, a secular Muslim lawyer, Nour, a strict Muslim student engaged to an abusive arranged fiancée, and Salma, a lesbian DJ from a homophobic Christian family, sharing a flat in Tel-Aviv. A film from the frontline of the feminist struggle, In Between, earned multiple awards from film festivals across the Arab world and a fatwa against its director.
11. The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller, 2016)
Another oddball horror-comedy, producer-writer-director-set designer-costume designer-composer Anna Biller’s weird and wonderful homage to trashy, low budget 60s and 70s Hammer horror follows the eponymous witch Elaine as she attempts to use witchcraft to seduce her perfect man. It’s one of the strangest movies you’ll see from its chintzy, hippy, occult aesthetic to its arch performances, it’s definitely one to look out for.
12. Baise-Moi (dir. Virginie Despentes and Coralie, 2000)
This one might be a little too hardcore for some but I had to mention it, the French New Extremities movement brought us intense horror shockers like Martyrs and Irreversible, however its end goal of shocking audiences also allowed for feminist spins on familiar tropes, resulting in the lurid queer slasher Switchblade Romance with a very suggestive angle grinder, and this bombastic feminist exploitation movie from author of King Kong Theory Virginie Despentes. Starring her fellow former porn performers, featuring graphic violence, non-simulated sex and shot for barely any budget, Baise-Moi is guaranteed to provoke a reaction.
13. The Breadwinner (dir. Nora Twomey, 2017)
Nora Twomey’s animated family drama follows a young Afghani girl Parvana, forced to disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family after her father is arrested by the Taliban. The Breadwinner is an emotionally articulate and gorgeous looking movie in the vein of Persepolis that blends a childlike innocence with an adult maturity and sense of social awareness.
14. The Falling (dir. Carol Morley, 2014)
Documentary filmmaker Carol Morley’s follow up to her heart-breaking 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life is a strange musical mystery starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh from Park Chan-wook’s The Little Drummer Girl as two schoolgirls at a strict girls’ school struck by a sudden wave of fainting spells. The film is a heady, dreamlike experience that you rarely know whether to be enchanted or horrified, but that is never less than hypnotic.
15. Why Aren’t I Beautiful Yet? (Dir. Carys Wall, 2015)
What would happen if Aphrodite woke up in an art gallery, stepped off her plinth and entered the contemporary world? This short film explores the evolution of fickle western beauty standards and the pressures imposed by them and was directed for Maverick and The Rural Media Company by Carys Wall, a student currently studying here at the University of Kent and the film is available to watch for free on YouTube at Carys Wall, along with her other short films like These Voices Will Kill Me Last which was shot on location here on campus and other projects like her Stories for Cigarettes series. Check out her work and support her and other new female creatives like her.