Most moviegoers have heard at least a little bit about the struggle of Hollywood women for equality. Only 10 percent of directors and 19 percent of screenwriters are women, according to a nonprofit group called Women and Hollywood, which campaigns for the cause. It’s no surprise that women, who have been unable to tell their tales on the big screen for so long, have turned their grief into powerful films about the oppression of women from all walks of life.
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From the iron mine to NASA to the Supreme Court in these eight sexist films, women fight for equal rights. Racism, homophobia, and other heinous prejudices are denounced, as is the confluence of bigotry with the fight for gender equality. As a reminder of a shared struggle, these films will resonate with female audience members. For everyone else, they’ll serve as an educational tool, an opportunity to practice empathy, and a thrilling call to action. Consider what you can do in your own community and how you can be an ally in the long-term effort to achieve gender equality if any of these films inspire you to take action.
1. On the Basis of Sex
Felicity Jones stars in a biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s journey from Harvard Law School to the groundbreaking gender discrimination case she argued in federal court during the early 1970s. From Harvard, where she was one of just nine women in a class of over 500 students, to the working world, where she became a college professor when no legal firm would recruit a young female lawyer, On the Basis of Sex chronicles Ginsburg’s experiences with sexism.
Gender inequality is demolished in the film thanks to Ginsburg’s great legal method, which is still used today by feminists fighting for social justice. When asked about the film’s realism, Ginsburg just had one quibble: unlike her fictional counterpart, she never ran out of words when arguing her argument in court.
Beetlejuice-like in that Keira Knightley comes running if you say “historical feminist biopic” three times quickly The fact that she chose to focus on portraying French writer and bon vivant Colette, whose eighty-plus works paved the path for other French women to live and write as boldly as she did, is a gift to all of us. It begins with the marriage of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, at the age of twenty-one, to Henry Gauthier-Villars, better known by his pen name Willy, a nineteenth-century author who relied on a staff of ghostwriters to compose his widely read works of fiction.
After writing a semi-autobiographical novel at Willy’s request, Colette becomes Willy’s creative hostage, and he practically locks the author away to write three more bestsellers. A transgender guy named Missy is central to the story of Colette, the book’s namesake, who battles for control of her own work and sexual independence through extramarital affairs. Colette’s yearning for independence and self-actualization continues to resonate more than a century after her death.
3. Hidden Figures
Acclaimed actors pay tribute to three pioneering African-American scientists who played a pivotal role in the 1960s space race despite enduring harsh misogyny and bigotry from their NASA colleagues in this Academy Award-nominated film based on a true story. In the NASA headquarters, Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughn, and Janelle Monae’s Mary Jackson are stuck in a dead-end data processing position with no chance of development and are separated from the rest of the workforce.
A glorious success that owes everything to the ingenuity of NASA’s female astronauts occurs as the agency rushes to launch an astronaut into orbit. It is uplifting and encouraging, but it also slams the white male establishment for its many failings in Hidden Figures, which celebrates accomplishments that were overlooked for too long.
4. The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson
Activist, drag queen, and transgender woman Marsha P. Johnson is the subject of director David France’s riveting documentary, which delves into the life and death of the legendary activist. Victoria Cruz is a New York City Anti-Violence Project activist who has been investigating Johnson’s death for twenty-five years after her body was found in the Hudson River in July 1992, curiously categorized as a suicide.
To better understand the epidemic of violence against trans women of color that claimed Johnson’s life and continues to claim the lives of thousands of other trans women today, Cruz’s investigation has led to a thorough examination of the topic. The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson is at once a real crime whodunit, an illuminating of injustices still unresolved, and a celebration of a bygone New York City.
5. North Country
After the breakdown of her marriage, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) goes to her Minnesota village and finds employment as one of the first female iron miners. Male miners are outraged that Josie and her coworkers are working with women and resort to rape and other forms of sexual harassment in an attempt to drive them away. By going to court, Josie moves the film out of the mines and into a fascinating courtroom drama. Following the true narrative of the first class action lawsuit filed for sexual harassment in the workplace, this gripping drama offers stellar performances by a stellar cast, as well as outrageous behavior and a rousing verdict that continues to safeguard American women.
Dramatizing the events of Anita Hill’s stunning testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Confirmation reveals the perfect storm of discrimination and national media attention that devoured Hill during her brave appearances. The late George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, for those who may not recall. Senators from both parties were summoned to hear testimony from civil rights lawyer and professor Linda Hill, who claimed that Thomas sexually harassed her.
Afterwards, the committee that confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court staged a parody of Hill, who was humiliated and insulted by the panel. This horrible moment in American history is brought to light in Confirmation by examining the tangled nexus of race, gender, and power, while reminding us of the obligation that American women owe to Hill.
7. Set It Off
A gang of four working-class Black women in Los Angeles, who are pushed to the brink by misogyny and homophobia, turn to bank robbery in Set It Off, a heartfelt, socially conscious thriller about their plight. Setting the record straight about the institutional barriers that hinder these women of color from achieving financial independence is what Set It Off, which stars Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and then-newcomer Kimberly Elise, does so delicately.
8. A League of Their Own
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was established in 1943 to keep professional baseball alive while men were fighting overseas in World War II, and director Penny Marshall fictionalizes its emergence in this iconic masterpiece. With sexist beliefs about female sports and friction with their ex-coach, the Rockford Peaches, an underdog team that advances all the way to the World Series, star Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell (played by Tom Hanks). A League of Their Own is a sentimental and feisty film that will make you laugh, cry, and remind you of the everlasting power of sisterhood.
9. 9 to 5
An office full of women plots to remove their “sexist, arrogant, dishonest, hypocritical bigot” CEO, played by Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. A abduction plot reveals an embezzlement scam and a convoluted network of blackmail, which rapidly and delightfully gets out of hand. Despite the fact that the film was filmed in 1980, the social issues it addresses, such as child care, fair pay, and clear avenues to progress, continue to sadly inspire modern discussions about the American workplace.
10. In A World…
Carol, a vocal coach and dialect expert who yearns to follow in the footsteps of her father’s successful voiceover career, is played by writer-director Lake Bell, who also stars in the alt-comedy In a World… With the opportunity to voice a high-profile character on the same show, Carol and her father’s male protegé quickly dissolve into a raucous poop fight. Bell takes aim at Hollywood’s systemic sexism, while also examining how generational variations affect how we utilize our voices in this winning and smart novel.