March is Women’s History Month, a global celebration of the achievements of women from all social, cultural, economic and political backgrounds. It’s a great time for all genders to come together to raise awareness and advocate for women’s equality and gender parity. Whether it's through films about history’s unsung ladies in Hidden Figures or League of Their Own, fictional tales of the female experience or the celebration of famous stories told truthfully, let’s pause and reflect this March by watching an excellent movie this year.
For some brief history on the month itself, Women's History Month has roots in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28, which authorized and proclaimed March 7, 1982 as the beginning of "Women's History Week," proclaiming that American women of every race, creed and ethnic background had helped found and build the United States. The recognition came around 60 years after the women's suffrage movement gained momentum in the early 20th century. We’ve come far since that time, yet there are women across the world still fighting for these rights even today. In Hollywood industry is still dominated by male voices and executives, so let’s support female voices and filmmakers by streaming these movies:
A League Of Their Own
In the ‘90s, a movie written by, directed and fronted by a group of women was hard to come by, but A League of Their Own was clearly ahead of the game. Penny Marshall’s 1992 movie tells the fictionalized account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. The movie’s cast is seriously incredible with Tom Hanks’ iconic role as Jimmy Dugan managing players portrayed by Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell.
A League Of Their Own is a rare spin on the sports movie genre usually claimed by male-dominated sports teams. The movie confronts sexism in sports and in daily life and takes on issues with women in sports that are still an important discussion today. It’s a piece of history, a good present-day talking point and full of entertaining ensemble performances. Oh, and… “there’s no crying in baseball!”
For years, we’ve associated movies about NASA and space travel with the male astronauts who flew among the stars and walked on the moon, but Hidden Figures taught many of us something new about the Space Race. Three Black women mathematicians who contributed greatly to NASA’s achievements.
Theodore Melfi’s 2016 film told the true story of Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson with the talents of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. Hidden Figures, which is among the best movies on Disney+, is the perfect example of bringing to light unacknowledged women in history, along with their struggles at the time not only related to being women, but as Black women being discriminated against at that time in their place of work due to racism as well.
In the world of art, perhaps the most celebrated female artist is Mexican surrealist, Frida Kahlo. The icon was featured in 2002’s Frida, Julie Taymor’s memorable biopic starring Salma Hayek as Kahlo. The movie tells the story of the artist’s life, her memorable work, including her love life, which famously included a tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera and a wide array of lovers, both male and female.
Frida is a female-forward and outlier in Hollywood today, as it was directed by a woman and has a Latina woman at the forefront of the story, who is also bisexual. The role earned Salma Hayek a Best Actress nomination following its release. It remains an inspired homage to the artist and a poignant portrait of her struggles, how she overcame them and the odds against her.
Another great film to check out during Women's History Month is Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s 2015 Oscar-nominee, Mustang. The Turkish-French filmmaker co-wrote and directed about a group of five orphaned sisters living in a remote village in Turkey in present day. Mustang illustrates the isolated upbringing of the teenagers who are forbidden from their elders from interacting with the outside world, especially the one of boys and men.
Mustang provides a window for western viewers unaware of how a conservative society like the one in Northern Turkey often treats its women and a megaphone to often silenced voices, as the movie tells the story of a group of women preparing for arranged marriages. Oftentimes enraging, Mustang is truly necessary viewing.
One of the most important pieces of fiction literature written by and about women’s lives is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The story has been adapted into film over and over again over the years, but Greta Gerwig’s 2019 take on the material might be the best adaptation of the material yet. The Best Picture nominee is a sweeping work of film that tells the story of the four March sisters from their childhood to adulthood, with Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen starring.
The beauty of Little Women is how it tracks the lives of the four women in ways that illustrate the female coming-of-age experience in a variety of ways that stand the test of time. Perhaps the most chilling moment of Greta Gerwig’s version is Florence Pugh’s powerful speech about womanhood to Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie.
Buy Little Women on Amazon (opens in new tab).
Before Niki Caro helmed Disney’s 2020 live-action Mulan movie, the New Zealand filmmaker wrote and directed 2002’s Whale Rider. The family drama based on a 1987 novel of the same name, is about a 12-year-old Maori who dreams of being the chief of her tribe. Pai is a direct descendant of the Whale Rider, as the daughter of her village’s leader, but because she is a girl, she cannot inherit the position.
Whale Rider discusses gender in an understated, but powerful way through this story shot on location in New Zealand’s Whangara. Keisha Castle-Hughes’ role as Pai earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination at the age of 13. She was the youngest nominee in the category before Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis surpassed her ten years later.
Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé
It’s not everyday that a woman as influential in pop culture as Beyoncé gives audiences an inside look into her life and the work that goes into a performance such as headlining Coachella. After blowing fans away at the music festival in 2018, the Grammy-winning singer directed the story of bringing the concert to life with Ed Burke and it's incredibly inspiring and powerful piece of documentary filmmaking.
Her “Homecoming” set was produced soon after Beyoncé had her twins Rumi and Sir Carter. In the Netflix film, Beyoncé discusses the struggles involved in training for the performance following her pregnancy and birth, along with weaving in a conversation about motherhood, and the weight of representing the first Black female to headline Coachella. The movie shows Beyoncé’s perfectionism and takes us inside her strength and influence as an artist.
Stream Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé on Netflix. (opens in new tab)
Also on the subject of pop icons in women history, one of the most influential women to the world of music was the Queen of Tejano music, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. In 1997’s Selena, the biopic explored the artist's beginnings as a singer into a sensation still beloved today. This movie not only tells the empowering yet heartbreaking story of the “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” singer, who made strides for all women in music, it also served as an incredible breakout performance from Jennifer Lopez prior to her own massive fame.
Per a CinemaBlend interview with Selena’s director Gregory Nava, the massive concert sequence Jennifer Lopez filmed on the production actually inspired the young actress at the time to pursue music. In other words, Selena directly influenced Lopez, just as she will inspire other Latina artists after her.
An under-the-radar pick for your Women's History Month viewing is 2018’s Colette. Wash Westmoreland’s drama tells the true story of France’s 19th century novelist Colette through an incredible performance from Keira Knightley. The story follows Colette as a young woman and her relationship with Willy (played by Dominic West), a “literary entrepreneur” who exploits her writing as his own to make money on her work that provides a unique and relatable voice to a female audience.
Colette is another instance of film giving us a glimpse of a quite untold story in history, and as the movie details, Colette was a woman ahead of her time, as the movie tracks how she becomes a writer in her own write and also tells a rare empowering LGBTQ story in the 1800s as well.
Queen Of Katwe
Back in 2016, Disney made an inspiring biographical film called Queen of Katwe. The movie directed by Mira Nair follows the life of Phiona Mutesi, a young Ugandan girl, who learns to play chess and becomes a Woman Candidate Master after competing in the World Chess Olympiads. The movie was adapted from a ESPN magazine article and book by Tim Crothers.
Black Panther’s Lupita Nyong’o stars in the Queen of Katwe as Phiona’s mother and David Oyelowo, who plays her chess teacher, Robert Katende. The movie shows the poverty of Katwe, but how a supportive family and team can inspire great accomplishments despite the odds against one.
On The Basis Of Sex
Mimi Leder’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic On The Basis of Sex starring Felicity Jones is also a great pick for Women’s History Month. We lost the Supreme Court justice in September 2020 –watching the story of her life is a great way to honor a woman who has fought for women’s rights in the U.S. government, arguably more than any other figure in history.
On The Basis of Sex tracks Ginsberg’s journey starting with her time at Harvard Law School to her appointment as the second woman to be a Supreme Court Justice is history.
Rent On The Basis Of Sex on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
Nine To Five
The Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin-led classic is inching on being 45 years old, and yet it remains a relevant story about sexism and inequality in the workplace. The 1980 comedy that also starred Dolly Parton (and featured her hitmaking song) is about three female employees who band together to stick it to their egotistical boss. While the movie’s story itself is fiction, Nine to Five as a film is a historical film that shows Hollywood’s beginnings with tackling feminist issues.
It’s especially worth a watch well into the 20th century, because it allows us to reflect what we’ve since improved upon as a society regarding this topic, along with what elements of the storyline are achingly still applicable to the present day.
Among the latest entries in Hollywood’s examination of Women’s History is Pablo Larrain’s Spencer. The movie starring Kristen Stewart plays like a poetic reading of the late Princess Diana’s life in the spotlight. Spencer holds greatness in how it puts the audience in the place of the royal as she is constantly examined, placed in uncomfortable positions and actively struggles to keep her mental health afloat in the spotlight.
Spencer is a horrifying reminder of how immense pressure on one’s image, which many women can certainly relate to, can eat one up from the inside out. The 2021 movie can provide us with the empathy to remember the beloved figure and learn from her struggles.
Happy Women's History Month and happy streaming!