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Brighton Wankeaw | March 4, 2022

Much to the chagrin of misogynistic Hollywood elitists worldwide, at last year’s 93rd Academy Awards Chloe Zhao became the first woman of colour to win Best Picture and Directing. A huge milestone for women in film.

The topic of women in film has greatly increased in traction in the progressive Hollywood atmosphere in recent years alongside the rise of the women’s movement. In 2021, women accounted for 25% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) on the top 250 grossing films, up from 23% in 2020. Initiatives such as the BBC’s 50:50 Project to increase women’s input in media to 50% by 2020 have been instrumental in bringing forward new female auteurs. And although this goal hasn’t been reached universally in the media industry, the expansion of the project has seen over 41 organisations take part in the initiative with more to come.

Directors have the unique power of being executive visionaries for films, responsible for its success or failure. Many great directors have signature trademarks or ideas that draw from their own predispositions and experiences. One of which is gender. Gender in 2022 is influencing refreshing new perspectives expressed on screen, different to the male-dominated cinema of the previous century.

If you’ve heard of the critiques on the representations of women in film, you have may have come across the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test is simple—the only condition needed to pass the test is for a film to feature at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. Now you may think this is absurdly easy but the Bechdel website points to just over half of the films in their database passing these requirements. This sheds light on the number of films which dehumanise and objectify women to further a male story. Much of the time a male screenwriter writes women into their script as a mere plot device, nothing more. For some reason a lot of men just can’t write women (probably because they’re not women and don’t understand the perspectives of women!). It is vital to allow more accurate portrayals of women which are spearheaded by female directors whose personal experiences will allow authentic female stories to be shared. Akin to when female painters like Mary Cassatt and Artemisia Gentileschi paved their way into the spotlight with their powerful portrayals of women—different and somewhat rebellious to the zeitgeist of the time. The fingerprints of a woman’s touch have already shown to be innovative in creating new original film language in the form of the new age of female directors.

Without further ado, here is my must watch women-directed films list:

Cléo from 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7), directed by Agnès Varda (1962)

A shortie but a goodie. Legendary auteur Agnès Varda’s most celebrated film chronicles the minutes of a woman’s life in Paris. For me Agnès Varda sits on the Mount Rushmore of female directors producing masterpieces in the 1960s and being one of the faces of the French New Wave. It is paramount I place her at the start of this list as a sign of respect to the legend. Overall, the film is great if you’re in an introspective mood.

City of God (Cidade de Deus), directed by Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund(2002)

One of my personal favourite movies of all time. The Brazilian classic City of God co-directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund is about the journey of narrator Buscapé in the violent and dangerous favela nicknamed ‘The City of God’. The movie is intense to say the least and was far beyond its time in its meld of style and substance. A film-bro classic with violence and action as well as heart and soul.

Titane, directed by Julia Ducournau (2021)

Titane is undoubtedly the best film of 2021 and winner of the 2021 Palme d’Or. Julia Ducournau is at the forefront of women in film right now and definitely someone to keep your eye on. I know I said the last movie is intense, but this makes that seem like a Jonathan Van Ness centred episode of Queer Eye. Femininity like you’ve never seen it before; feral and fiery. Watch it with your mum (if you’re an absolute savage).

Lost in Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola (2003)

This is arguably the magnum opus of acclaimed director Sofia Coppola. The film is a beautiful showcase of tone and mood coupled with minimal, yet meaningful, dialogue which makes its characters relatable and understandable. I’d say this is one of the best portrayals of alienation and loneliness associated with a foreign environment while also exploring the power of deep human connections. Lost in Translation is for when you feel a bit lost or sentimental, but be careful because it might make you cry (totally not speaking from experience).

The Power of the Dog, directed by Jane Campion (2021)

Directed by Jane Campion, a Kiwi star in her own right, the film is rich in subtext and thematic integration, and is ultimately a masterclass in slowly exploring character and masculinity. She explores the setting of the ‘wild west’ with a sense of moodiness and humility. A great departure from the vulgarity of previous explorations of the genre.

Little Women (2019) & Lady Bird (2017), directed by Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig is my undisputed queen of mumblecore and English-language women directors. No one explores characters and relationships like her. The women in her films are actually women! Complex and realistic characters which you could assuredly identify with in your own life. Certainly, Little Women and Lady Bird are the most accessible picks of this list for those wanting to dip their toes in. Both films have been showered with countless awards and nominations making it inevitable that Gerwig will continue to win big in the future. Lady Bird is one of the best female coming of age films of the modern era exploring the often ignored mother-daughter relationship. While Little Women is the best portrayal of a timeless story to date that just makes you wish you had sisters. Please watch them. You won’t regret it.

Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (2015)

The description of the film reads: ‘In a Turkish village, five orphaned sisters live under strict rule while members of their family prepare their arranged marriages.’ If that isn’t the best premise for a girl’s pursuit of freedom, an escape from patriarchy, and sisterhood, then I don’t know what is. Beautiful tearjerker from Deniz Gamze Ergüven.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, directed by Céline Sciamma (2019)

A beautiful film about two women and love. Just love. No men needed. Slow and alluring with a heart stopping ending. Masterpiece from Céline Sciamma.

Nomadland, directed by Chloe Zhao (2020)

Hollywood’s newest golden-girl, Chloe Zhao, won the Oscar for Best Director for her work on Nomadland. I think it best to not reveal too much about the plot because it all speaks for itself. It’s really just a beautiful experience.

Honourable Mention: The Worst Person in the World (2021)

Whilst this film isn’t directed by a woman, it is one of the best portrayals of a modern woman trying to get their shit together I’ve seen. The film perfectly captures the struggles of finding oneself while being bombarded with societal and familial pressures we all know and love!  It will prompt you to reflect on the cultural politics of gender and the role of gender in today’s society. An unforgettable performance from Renate Reinsve, a magnificent showcase of filmmaking from Joachim Trier and a sensational modern woman movie.      

These films should keep you busy for a while whilst also helping all of us appreciate the greatness of women filmmaking and possibly inviting you into a rabbit hole of amazing women-directed movies. The films listed also largely pass the Bechdel Test which is a bonus! Hopefully this is all a sign of what is yet to come in film.

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Brighton Wankeaw

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