People voted, then people rallied, and people voted, and people expressed their anger and their wish to live dignified lives, no matter what those in power are expressing and enforcing.
While there is a great and necessary history of protests to maintain in the troubled and troubling times that we are going through, this momentum needs to be maintained. As artists, filmmakers have a privileged position to make those voices heard through their stories. As creators of the medium that is one of the most easily consumed cultural goods in the world; filmmakers have an urgent burden to make bring those stories into the world.
There is also a great history of films that push the boundaries of what can be done in film and what can be shown. Make new films. In the meantime: here are a few films from the past to give you inspiration and keep the flame strong.
Thelma & Louise
This landmark film is one of the earliest ones to pass Allison Bechdel’s test. It’s the story of two women who kill a rapist and flee the police in their ’66 Thunderbird. It came as a shock because it showed profound female bonding and actually was a buddy movie like so many Hollywood had produced except for the fact that it had two female protagonists. It also subtly subverted the codes of the road trip, buddy movie. This project was once supposed to star Meryl Streep and Cher, the two former co-stars from Silkwood. Streep turned down the role due to her pregnancy, and Cher consequently left the project. (If a remake is in the works, someone should think about contacting those two first.) We need more movies that will subvert traditional codes and represent women as complex characters. (Apparently a novel idea.)
Nine to Five
The mother of all “woman in the workplace” movies, long before Erin Brockovich or The Devil Wears Prada: it starred the incredible trio of Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Faced with sexist attitudes, which range from inadvertent to blatant, from their boss, three employees decide to fight back and get revenge on him. Even though it was made in 1980, the office dynamics (unfortunately) don’t really feel dated. While it is not encouraged to lasso your boss and tie him up, you can take to heart the advice that union is strength.
The Color Purple
After a string of hit films, such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. in the previous decade and inventing the modern blockbuster in the process (with pal George Lucas), Steven Spielberg turned his attention to adapting The Color Purple to the screen. The story of several women fighting back against men’s oppression in the segregated South, it deftly tackles the themes of sexism and racism (as well as their intersection) and female solidarity. It gave Whoopi Goldberg a star-making debut and quickly became a classic.
Todo Sobre Mi Madre
Pedro Almodovar has been one of the most singular filmmakers working in world cinema, ever since his beginnings in the post-Franco “Movida” in the 80’s. His 1999 film Todo Sobre Mi Madre, has garnered him laurels all over the world. It’s the story of a young man, Esteban, who wants to discover the identity of his father, carefully hidden by his mother. It turns out that his father is a transgender woman. With a variety of women in this film (as well as throughout his filmography), Almodovar gives a dignified representation of women with different backgrounds, while exploring the roles that they have in society, the ones that are assigned, and the ones that they carve out for themselves.
A.k.a. Lily Tomlin’s abortion road movie. Made on a small budget of $600,000 and shot in only 19 days, the film follows a teenager faced with an unwanted pregnancy who gets help from her second-wave feminist, lesbian poet grandmother to gather the money for an abortion. Exploring feminism through different generations and being completely unapologetically feminist, it’s also a very touching study of three generations of women who try to connect. The main characters are surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast that includes John Cho, Sam Elliott (in a moving turn) and Laverne Cox. A small film that puts its story where its heart and values are in a bold, unapologetic way.
Now is as good a time as any to remember that democratic rights and human rights are not guaranteed, and they were acquired through arduous fights. Following several women in the suffragette movement, in early 20th century United Kingdom, this film is as timely a reminder as any that acquiring women’s rights was/is a violent and profound battle. This moving British film illustrates the women on who’s shoulder the protesters of the women’s march now sit, and reminds us of our history.
Is it a good film? I think so, but many people will argue against that because of its feel-good vibe and its guilty pleasure quality. Maybe because it was marketed as a film about a dumb blonde. But just like Reese Witherspoon’s iconic character Elle Woods, there’s more to this movie than the first impression. Behind the lightness and all the pink, there is actually a woman who is smart, strong and hard-working, and will make her case (and win her case) in an unexpected, and unexpectedly smart way. Isn’t seeing that empowering?
There’s probably many more films that deserve to be on that list (Barbra Streisand’s Yentl, Sally Potter’s Orlando, Jane Campion’s The Piano come to mind), and there are probably much more waiting to be made. Now it’s your turn.