Landmark Films for Women in Cinema

People’s focus has shifted to a specific group that mainstream films may not have adequately addressed. This particular group happens to comprise up half of the world’s population. From Patricia Arquette’s viral Academy Award speech to comments by Dame Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer Lawrence, and specific illustrations tied to the Sony Hack, a discussion about the status of women in movies has erupted. Here are some films that have contributed to the growth of women in the film business, either by their content or production.

  1. Cleo from 5 to 7: Between the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda is one of the few women to have emerged from the French New Wave. During the two hours (from 5 to 7) before she receives the findings, her video analyses the cognitive process of a self-centered singer who has had a biopsy and is contemplating her impending death. She wanders the streets of Paris, meeting up with friends who are almost as self-assured as she is. The picture is significant not only because it is directed by one of the few female directors in France, but also because it features a strong female protagonist.
  1. Nine to Five: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin worked with Dolly Parton long before Grace & Frankie, in a story about women in the workplace standing up to a plainly sexist employer. Since its release, the picture has become a cult classic with camp overtones. The office dynamics are clearly outdated (Fonda noted that if the film were created today, it would most likely be called 24/7), but the underlying message remains as important as ever.
  1. Thelma and Louise: This groundbreaking picture was one of the first to pass Allison Bechdel’s now-famous test. It’s the story of two women who kill a rapist and drive away from the cops in their 1966 Thunderbird. It was unexpected since it demonstrated strong female bonding and was, in reality, a buddy film similar to many others produced by Hollywood — with the exception that it had two female protagonists. It also cleverly defied the road trip buddy movie’s codes. Meryl Streep and Cher, who had previously worked together on Silkwood, were supposed to feature in this film. Due to Streep’s pregnancy, she declined the part, and Cher dropped out of the film. Someone should think about contacting those two if a remake is in the works.
  1. Kill Bill: It’s a given that Quentin Tarantino has never shied away from violence. He’s also always given terrific characters for his actresses to play, and Kill Bill is no exception. Uma Thurman’s now-iconic Bride has plenty of battle scenes (that fight against the Crazy 88 at the conclusion of Volume 1! ), as well as emotionally intense moments (not to spoil anything, but the last sequence of Volume 2 before she kills Bill is fairly heartbreaking). Despite the fact that female-led action films are still uncommon, this one sticks out.
  1. The Devil Wears Prada: This is another office comedy after 9 to 5, except this time a woman is in control. That woman is Miranda Priestly, portrayed by Meryl Streep in another Oscar-nominated performance. The film follows Anne Hathaway’s Andrea as she battles to deal with her boss’s unreasonable demands. Because it’s a comedy, the film doesn’t dwell too much on gender politics, but it does make the point that if Miranda Priestly were a male, he wouldn’t have the diabolical reputation she does – he’d simply be any other businessman going about his business.
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