Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
placeholder article
placeholder article
Culture > Entertainment

The Ultimate Guide to Feminist Movies (& Why They’re More Important Than Ever)

If there’s something we should remember about the past year, it’s the incredible strength of women across every industry, breaking their silence about issues from sexual misconduct to salary disparity. One of the most recognized shifts has occurred in the film industry, where men have had the upper hand in Hollywood’s most prestigious roles for far too long.

Astonishingly enough, it has been decades since women dominated the box office. The last time this sadly rare phenomenon occurred was in 1958 when box office statistics wouldn’t be thoroughly tracked until 1980. However, Mitzi Gaynor’s South Pacific, Rosalind Russell’s Auntie Mame and Elizabeth Taylor’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof claimed first, second and third place during a time when drive-in movie theaters were all the rage.

Last year was a milestone year because women held the lead roles in the top three highest-grossing films. Making over $533 million in domestic ticket sales, Star Wars: The Last Jedi with Daisy Ridley starring as Rey secured the top spot. Not too far behind, Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson pulled in a whopping $504 million, leaving Wonder Woman with Gal Gadot to round out the trio with $412.6 million in domestic ticket sales.

We’re thrilled there’s finally some #girlpower being shown, but it’s clear that female representation in the film industry still has a long way to go. According to Women and Hollywood, women only made up 18 percent of all writers, editors, producers, executive producers, directors and cinematographers in the top 250 highest-grossing movies of 2017. Even more shocking, there have only been 11 females of color who directed films in the top 1,100 highest-grossing films from 2007 to 2017. In a span of a decade, one female director was hired for every 22 male directors.

At the 75th Golden Globes, women walked the red carpet in a sea of black dresses in support of “Time’s Up,” a movement against sexual harassment, but one of the most snap-deserving moments came when Natalie Portman dissed the all-male group of nominees for Best Director. She emphasized the phrase “all-male” after the voters of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association failed to acknowledge a single female director. And while Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird won Best Picture and lead actress Saoirse Ronan won Best Actress, Gerwig didn’t even receive a nomination for Best Director.

Here are some questions to consider: how can we as viewers support women in the film industry? How can we ensure more female actresses, more female directors, more female producers and every other female working behind the scenes receive the recognition and compensation they have deserved since the birth of Hollywood? How can we help empower these women to stand up for themselves and all women in similar circumstances?

The simple way is to start watching, talking about and supporting feminist films. But what really makes a film feminist? Is it one where all the leads are women? Is it one where the majority of the production team is female? Or it is one where female cast and crew members are treated with respect? There isn’t a definitive answer, but there’s one thematic element that objectively ties all feminist films together: strong and independent heroines.

However, it’s not uncommon to see sexist themes across different genres. In horror films, females are often sexually objectified victims of violence. Both adventure and romance movies take advantage of the “damsel in distress” trope, insinuating that women can’t possibly live without men. Comedies make women the butt of their crude jokes, and dramas often depict women as emotionally unstable and incapable of making intelligent decisions.

In direct opposition to these sexist themes, Director Patty Jenkins created an exemplary character in her award-winning film, Wonder Woman, but it was the way Gal Gadot described the heroine in her recent Critics’ Choice Awards speech that really emphasized what makes a great character.

“[Wonder Woman] is full of heart, strength, compassion, and forgiveness. She sees wrong that must be made right; she takes action when everyone around her is idle…Wonder Woman also struggles with her own love and hopes, she gets confused, insecure, and she’s not perfect,” Gadot said.

She continued, “I want to share this award with all the women and men who stand for what’s right: Standing for those who can’t stand or speak for themselves. My promise and commitment to all of you is that I will never be silenced, and we will continue: band together to make strides, uniting for equality.”

If you’re not convinced by Wonder Woman herself, try giving the movie another watch, or perhaps other feminist films, like the ones we’re laying out in the genre-specific Ultimate Guide to Feminist Movies.

Emily Schmidt

Stanford '20

Emily Schmidt is a junior at Stanford University, studying English and Spanish. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, she quickly fell in love with the Californian sunshine and warm winter temperatures. Emily writes a hodgepodge of pieces from satiric articles for The Stanford Daily to free-verse poetry to historical fiction. Just like her writing repertoire, her collection of hobbies are widely scattered from speed-crocheting to Irish dancing to practicing calligraphy. When she is not writing or reading, Emily can also be found jamming out to Phil Collins or watching her favorite film, 'Belle.'
Follow Allison on Twitter @AllisonMCrist.