Feminist Films Worth Seeing

Posted on 18 Apr 00:00


Today's, feminism is often misunderstood and even in the movie industry, people easily assume a film with a strong female lead or several female characters is a "feminist" movie. A movie can easily embody strong female characters, however, this is not what makes it feminist. The question of whether a film is feminist or not cannot be answered based on whether the characters are feminist or have feminist conversations. The Bechdel Test, a  test created by Alison Bechdel, attempts to decide whether a film is feminist by asking if it has at least two female characters and at least one scene where the conversation is about anything other than a man. This test appears to dilute the meaning of feminism.

 Also, feminist films are often confused with sexist films. However, if we are to determine that a film is feminist-based on the actual definition of feminism, that is, “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men,” then there is a great possibility many films considered as feminist today are in fact, not. Another explanation is that “to be feminist, a movie has to have the explicit purpose of enlightening its target audience about social inequalities between women and men.” In addition, a film that is truly feminist is consciously made with the intention to get the audience thinking about equal rights for women.

Here are some films that are regarded as feminist:

This film is about an Indian family trying to raise their daughter, Jess (Parminder Nagra), in a traditional way. Unlike her more traditional sister, Pinky (Archie Panjabi) who is preparing to get married and fulfill all the expectations of a dutiful wife, Jess loves to play soccer and dreams of playing professionally like her hero, David Beckham. Because her parents want a more “feminine” life for her, she is forced to choose between sport and tradition. The film is inspirational and encourages women to be true to themselves, and to pursue their dreams, regardless of the stereotypes and cultural views.

Cast: Archie Panjabi  ("Pinky" Kaur Bhamra), Keira Knightley (Juliette "Jules" Paxton), and Parminder Nagra (Jesminder "Jess" Kaur Bhamra). 

This film is based on a Chinese folk tale about a Chinese teenager, Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) who defies the conventions of her tradition. When there is an invasion of the Huns, Mulan disguises herself as a boy to fight against them – something that defies, not only convention but her family’s desire to marry her off to someone of their choosing. The Emperor (Pat Morita) is prompted to call upon all the men to defend the Kingdom, and although Mulan’s father ( Soon-Tek oh) is old, he volunteers to help protect the Kingdom. Mulan secretly goes in the disguise of a boy to spare her father. It is a story of bravery and love – one that demonstrates that females are just as capable as males, in any situation.

Cast:  Miguel Ferrer (Shan Yu), Eddie Murphy (Mushu), and Ming-Na Wen (Mulan).

A film based on Alice Walker’s 1982 novel.  It is about a woman’s (Celie) fight and survival against the odds. Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), becomes pregnant by her father and is then married off to an abusive husband, Albert 'Mr.' Johnson (Danny Glover). The film is equally depressing and uplifting as it deals with themes such as incest, domestic abuse, sexism and racism, all adult themes. It is uplifting because if displays Celie's journey from abuse to her triumph of gaining her inner strength and independence.  

Cast: Danny Glover (Albert Johnson), Oprah Winfrey (Sofia Johnson), and Whoopi Goldberg (Celie Harris Johnson).

This movie depicts feminine strength, sincerity, and determination. It is not a typical superheroine movie nor does it take itself too seriously. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is a Barbie type of girl, her major concerns being fashion, the latest issue of Cosmopolitan, and anxiously waiting to hear her boyfriend (Mathew Davis) propose marriage to her. After her boyfriend drops a bombshell on her, telling her he needs a more serious woman by his side for his future in law school, Elle to applies to Harvard Law School in order to win her boyfriend back. She is accepted to Harvard.  However, law school turns out to be a far cry from the comforts of her poolside and the mall. Through a series of event, Elle figures out that there is more to her than just looks.

Cast: Luke Wilson (Emmett Richmond), Moonie (Bruiser Woods), and Reese Witherspoon (Elle Woods).

This movie is about people coping with the trials and tribulations of the war and general survival. It is based on the novel of the same name by Margeret Mitchell. The story line revolves around Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) who has a relentless determination to get whatever she wants and her strong will to survive. Scarlet manages to cope with an overcome at any cost, all obstacles as society collapses around her. She is a strong female character who demonstrates inner strength and hope, at times with a ruthless zeal, in the face of a seemingly hopeless situations, she is a true survivor.

Cast: Barbara O'Neil (Ellen O'Hara), Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara), and Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O'Hara)

This film had five Oscar nominations at the 73rd Academy Awards. It presents the audience with a story of a woman who takes on challenges as they come and transcends her surroundings. Erin Brockovich-Ellis is an unemployed single mother, desperate to find a job, but is having no luck. This losing streak even extends to a failed lawsuit against a doctor in a car accident she was in. With no alternative, she successfully browbeats her lawyer to give her a job in compensation for the loss. While no one takes her seriously, with her trashy clothes and earthy manners, that soon changes when she begins to investigate a suspicious real estate case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. What she discovers is that the company is trying quietly to buy land that was contaminated by hexavalent chromium, a deadly toxic waste that the company is improperly and illegally dumping and, in turn, poisoning the residents in the area. As she digs deeper, Erin finds herself leading point in a series of events that would involve her law firm in one of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history against a multi-billion dollar corporation. The Erin Brockovich character demonstrates how a woman can be beaten down and hardened by life can still have hope and strength of spirit.

Cast: Albert Finney (Edward L. Masry), Aaron Eckhart (George), and Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich).

Based on the real-life 1940s All American Girls Professional Baseball League, the movie has strong messages of girl power, teamwork, and compassion. In 1943, during World War II when all the men are fighting the war, most of the jobs that were left vacant because of their absence were filled in by women. The owners of the baseball teams, not wanting baseball to be dormant indefinitely, decide to form teams with women. So scouts are sent all over the country to find women players. One of the scouts, passes through Oregon and finds a woman named Dottie Hinson, who is incredible. He approaches her and asks her to try out but she's not interested. However, her sister, Kit who wants to get out of Oregon, offers to go. But he agrees only if she can get her sister to go. When they try out, they're chosen and are on the same team. Jimmy Dugan, a former player, who's now a drunk, is the team manager. But he doesn't feel as if it's a real job so he drinks and is not exactly doing his job. So Dottie steps up. After a few months when it appears the girls are not garnering any attention, the league is facing closure till Dottie does something that grabs attention. And it isn't long Dottie is the star of the team and Kit feels like she's living in her shadow. The team's popularity grows, which proves that women can do everything men can do, and are not just for the domestic sphere.

Cast: Rosie O'Donnell (Doris Murphy),Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan), and Geena Davis (Dorothy "Dottie" Hinson), Madonna ('All The Way', Mae Mordabito)

Thre are many more feminist movies available, these represent just a few of the most popular and enduring movies.  

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