Now is a great time for women in cinema. In the past year we’ve had Lorraine Toussaint playing the amazing Amelia Boynton Robinson in Selma; Jennifer Lawrence as the amazing, eponymous Joy; Meryl Streep Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan got together to show some serious female solidarity in Suffragette and The Danish Girl, The Duke of Burgundy and Carol have all done great jobs in bringing LGBT issues to our screens and to the forefront of popular culture. To celebrate I’ve been enjoying trawling through Netflix and watching as many films featuring fabulous females as I can find.
It’s not that I’m elitist in the kind of films I watch. Some of my favourites would definitely not pass the Bechdel test, and sometimes the women in them are weak as hell. It’s not realistic to expect every women in every film to be tough and to never ever get completely hung up on a guy. What we want is representation, not lies. Realism. Not all women are strong all of the time the same as not all men are strong all of the time. So films about men and women being weak are also cool, but I think everyone would agree we are desperately in need of there being even more kickass chicks like Katniss in the mix.
Here are seven of my favourite films about women:
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I rediscovered this film not long ago when I was trying to find positive representations of the Roma/ Gypsy community in popular culture. I remembered Esmeralda, and then immediately afterwards remembered she featured in a film called, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ Not exactly PC. But I was pleasantly surprised. Esmeralda is mega! Quasi Modo may be a sweetheart, but it’s Esmeralda who does the ass-kicking and the life-saving in this film. It was when she dived into the Seine to rescue Phoebus that I knew Esmeralda had officially made it onto my list of Girls on Film. In my opinion she surpasses almost all of the Disney Princesses and sits level with Merida and Mulan.
- Made in Dagenham (2010)
A very British film based on the real life fight for equal pay by ordinary working women at the Ford Dagenham Plant. The film has everything you could possibly want from some of the best British actors of our time, stunning sixties costumes and absolute killer lines. My personal favourite: when asked how she’ll cope if they don’t win the fight, Rita (Sally Hawkins) says, ‘We’re women! Now don’t ask such stupid questions!’ Despite the elation at the end of the film however, it always makes me tear up to think that even now, 45 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still getting a raw deal when it comes to how much they earn compared to their male colleagues.
- Salt (2010)
An obvious choice I know, but no list would be complete without this film whose female lead will stop at nothing. Salt is everything a male action hero is and more. And Jolie herself is pretty epic; when asked to be a Bond girl she famously said she was more interested in playing Bond himself. To hell with Disney princesses and femme fatales, when I grow up (and one day I will have to) I want to be Angelina Jolie.
- Heathers (1988)
The ultimate mean girls. Winona Ryder stars as Veronica Sawyer, the original, darker, tougher and altogether more evil version of Cady Heron and she doesn’t give a shit. She’s full of wise words, oozes cool and calculation and the film is quotable as fuck. Some of the best lines include: ‘We have to talk, whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager has to make.’ and ‘If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being; you’d be a gameshow host.’ Never have truer words been spoken.
- The Help (2011)
Also seriously quotable, but unlike Heathers this film features women who are genuinely likeable. Aibileen Clark, Minnie Jackson and Celia Foote have all stolen my heart, and Skeeter is great too even though I didn’t warm to her quite as much. As with Made in Dagenham, this film is a rare breed in that it doesn’t just feature one strong woman, or worse, several strong women who all hate each other. This is a film about what can happen when women pull together, and I absolutely love it even if the ending does make me cry like a baby.
6. Educating Rita (1983)
Who can resist this old classic about a hilariously funny and seriously intelligent working-class woman who tries to break out of her own class and gives her Open University Professor a good shake up in the process. She’s someone I could seriously relate to when I was a first year undergrad with a passion for literature but literally no clue about how any of that world worked. A must watch for any film fan.
7. Potiche (2010)
I’d been looking forward to this film for a long time. I must have watched the trailer on YouTube about fifteen times, but last week was the first time I ever watched the actual film. Catherine Deneuve plays Suzanne, initially a trophy wife with grown up children who gets to a certain point in life and realises she can be so much more. Anything her husband does she can do better whether it’s raise her children, run a business or even have extra-marital affairs. So she becomes a powerhouse, and shows us that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams. She is the ultimate woman.
Some of my favourites didn’t quite make it to this list. But if you’re planning a movie marathon you should definitely include: Blue is the Warmest Colour, Brave, Hanna, Precious, the entire Harry Potter series (Hermione? Ginny? Bellatrix? Mrs Weasley? Yes please!), Obvious Child and Tracks to name just a few.
There are so many films about amazing women out there. Go and find them!
Image is a still from Made in Dagenham