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Girls just wanna have film representation
April 20, 2023
The evidence is clear: in 2022, out of all the writers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films in the US, only 25 percent were women. At the top five film festivals (known to be the Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival), which screened movies from around the world, only 25 percent of the directors were female. On screen, Celluloid reported that only 33 percent of films featured female protagonists in 2022, barely a two percent increase from the year before. Although women represent more than half of the U.S.’s population, Hollywood’s casts and crews still fail to reflect an accurate and healthy representation of American society. Female directors are babied, isolated and invalidated in the film industry, while male directors are much more likely to be praised for equally emotional, experimental or “risky” films. In recent years, there have been a few films that stand out as important moments for women in film, particularly movies that showcase strong female leads. We encourage you to learn more about these films and look out for more movies that can bring us closer to 50 percent of women—not anything less—into the busy and bustling film industry.
How can we cover important female films without discussing Hidden Figures? Released in 2017 (directed by Theodore Melfi), the film follows a team of Black female mathematicians at NASA in the ‘60s as they work to land the first Americans on the moon. From the powerful cast to the heart-wrenching monologues, Hidden Figures fights to reflect an accurate depiction of what the main characters overcame as Black women in a white, male-dominated space (pun intended). It explores intersectionality—not only are Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaugn and Mary Jackson discriminated against because they are women, but they are also banned from using bathrooms, blocked from using coffee pots and prevented from seeing important space reports because they are African American. Seeing these three women strive to achieve equality (fighting with their white coworkers, finding ways to read redacted documents, etc.) is inspiring. We start to see a reality where women (particularly POC) are represented fairly and equally in workplace environments. Women are collaborative. Women are interested in tech. Women can pioneer change. The film, based on a book written by Black female author Margot Lee Shetterly (and adapted into film by a woman) has been heavily praised. Notable successes include three Academy Award nominations and a SAG award win. Overall, it is a compelling film based on true, horrific events. Shedding light on the past and paving the way for the future, Hidden Figures sets the bar high for strong female storytelling.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Ah yes, the diamond of the season, the cream of the crop of 2022. There’s no denying Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (admiringly nicknamed “The Daniels”) have produced a masterful film in the form of Everything Everywhere All at Once (Everything…). In fact, The Evanstonian has already discussed this film before (check out Ben’s article here!). To summarize, Everything… has now become the most awarded film ever, beating out The Return of the King’s 213 with 336 freaking accolades! Everything… won seven out of the 11 Academy Award nominations it received, a Critics’ Choice award, plus both lead actors won awards last year at the Golden Globes. The film follows Evelyn Wang, a woman failing to maintain her laundromat and the relationships she has with her daughter and husband. Evelyn lives with hundreds of regrets. When her daughter demands she accept her LGBTQ identity, Evelyn is thrown into a multiverse filled with what would’ve happened if she had pursued her past goals. After all, she wonders, where did it all go wrong? The film is crazy and absurdist, but at its heart it is a brilliantly-told story of an immigrant woman and her family. It explores transgenerational trauma, cultural stigmas, multiverses, romantic relationships and more. It may not be entirely realistic (unless… multiverses exist?? Racocoonie?), but the story of female struggle has resonated with millions of people all around the world. The film’s success is mind-boggling. If you haven’t seen it already, what are you waiting for? Go verse jump right now!
The Woman King
This 2022 film starring the legendary Viola Davis seemed at first like a blockbuster cash grab. It turned out to be nothing like that. The film follows the all-female warrior unit of Agojie in the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. It traces the lives of General Nanisca (Davis), her second in command Izogie, and the new recruit Nawi, as they push change within the ranks. Nanisca advocates to end their involvement in the slave trade, while Igozie works to teach the young and hot-headed Nawi how to be a warrior despite her recklessness in the face of orders. The film is stunning visually, as well high in quality in its storytelling. The film is rich with the reds of clay and the greens of nature, while director Gina Prince-Bythewood emphasizes the endearing beauty of Black skin (not to mention she’s a Black woman herself, further breaking down barriers). This vibrant approach pushes the story visually, a beautiful accompaniment to a captivating plot. The main characters are strong and completely unique, avoiding the commonalities of movies that are based on the uniqueness of one group. Every character has their own troubles to overcome, from the oppressive patriarchal system of marriage and the ever-present danger of capture by the enemy, both as women and as Africans at the height of the slave trade. Similar to Hidden Figures, it explores the intersectionality of these identities in a different and often-overwritten context. Above all though, the movie is simply empowering. In spite of the gratuitous violence of the Agojie’s fighting style, their training and unity as a cohort is amazing. They train through thorns and intense sparring, and fight to the death, taking hits from massive swords as mere nicks. The action itself even defies expectations, as they do not fight in some hyper-feminized style as many other female action stars do. It is shockingly brutal, reminiscent of the gritty, makeshift nature of John Wick, with all the cinematic flair of fellow 2023 Academy Nomination All Quiet On The Western Front. Unlike these two, it’s not a story we’ve seen, or heard before, but one we are buzzing with anticipation for.
The world of film would not be where it is without the incredibly talented women that continue to pioneer in it. From the genius of Celine Sciamma’s intimate focus on womanhood to the powerfully unique stories crafted by Chloe Zhao, the women behind and in front of the cameras are the true heroes. They are the ones who can create and bring forward these incredible tales of fierce warriors and groundbreaking engineers. They have the perspective that hindered many male predecessors from truly capturing these stories in full. As women’s history month wraps up, we can still adore and advocate for these films and their creators, because they are the future of film.