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Female Empowerment Moments at Sundance 2020

This year at the Sundance Film Festival, female empowerment was a recurring theme. Films with female leads, female creative teams, and movies about powerful women were at the forefront of the festival. These stories are being told because people care and are finally ready to let women have a turn at steering the wheel of Sundance. Here are some of the most impactful moments for women at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival:

“Hillary”: coming to Hulu in March 2020

Message to take away: Don’t tear other women down

Hillary Clinton has historically been one of the most polarizing women in America, but that is all about to change when people see her new documentary series on Hulu. She has been picked apart her entire career for things like not taking her husband’s last name, her looks, and for being a woman in politics. The documentary series Hillary takes us back through Clinton’s life and shows how hard she has worked to make it to where she is today. She cares about the legal system in America, people in America, and most importantly…women in America. 

Hillary Clinton has been through A LOT in her life. She started in politics when she was very young and was able to witness some of the most exciting moments for women in history. Hillary was first a lawyer, then a Senator, First Lady and then Secretary of State. She was the first woman to be a major contender in the Democratic Primary in 2008 (against Obama) and was the first woman to be the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2016. Hillary Clinton is one of the most important women in American politics, but her accomplishments have often been overshadowed by the men that surround her. After watching the documentary I realized that in all aspects of life, women have been torn down. Most often by men, but also by other women. The people who have been the hardest on Hillary her entire life have been women. Instead of supporting her and lifting her up, they beat her down. As women, we need to support each other and push each other to do the truly amazing things we are all capable of. 

“Miss Americana”: coming to Netflix January 31, 2020

Message to take away: Equality for all

The song ‘The Man’ on Taylor’s new album says it best through the lyrics, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/wondering if I’d get there quicker If I was a man”. Watching her life unfold in front of millions of people from such a young age puts a lot of things into perspective. In an industry primarily run by men, she has always been a woman with a lot of power. But to her, it hasn’t always felt like that. A large element of her life in the spotlight discussed by Taylor in this film is her constant search for approval from others. She said that it stemmed from early moments in her career and has only started to go away in recent years. 

She talks about how in a female recording artist’s career they will need to reinvent themselves many more times than their male counterparts, and that is exactly what Taylor and many others have done. She started in the country music scene and has transitioned to pop. But during that switch, she has been through a lot. In the documentary Miss Americana, you see Taylor Swift grow up dealing with issues that all women in the world face. From body image and eating disorders to sexual harassment, privacy, and more, she has gone through it all. Whether you have a friend who is going through one of those things or you have gone through it yourself, as women, we can relate. But the most amazing thing that Miss Americana shows about Taylor’s life is not only her perseverance through all of these things, but how she has always worked to support other women in the process. Through her music and her platform she has stood up for what she believes in and has fought for those without a voice. She is a woman empowering all people, which is the most important thing to do right now. 

“The Glorias”: public premiere date TBD

Message to take away: Give women a space to share their voice

Gloria Steinem is one of the most influential women in American feminism. She has not just brought together women from the United States, but the entire world. As a journalist, she has always wanted to tell women’s stories. From turning the “fluff” newspieces her male bosses assigned her into a commentary on the disparity between the sexes to going undercover to work for playboy in order to expose the terrible working conditions the women faced, she has done amazing things. When media outlets stopped letting women tell their own stories by only letting men write them, Gloria and her colleagues created a space for them to talk about women’s issues. They started Ms. Magazine in 1971 and pushed the envelope to help women gain respect and be able to share their opinions and experiences. 

The thing that stood out to me the most when learning about Gloria Steinem was how she has always advocated for all women of all races and sexual identities. This has not always been the case in feminist movements and is very telling about the kind of woman she is. She talks about how she was always there to listen to others, to learn, and to promote their needs. The director of the movie, Julie Taymor, said that “Gloria is the women that she has met along her journey”. She brings us all together by showing us how we are similar and how we can support each other’s differences. The Glorias is an incredible movie about an incredible woman. You won’t want to miss this one. 

“Herself”: film release info TBD

Message to take away: Take control of your life

As women, we are often put into situations where others believe they are in control of our life and our happiness. Herself tells the story of a woman who is in an abusive relationship and how she deals with and perseveres through her given situation. It can sometimes be hard to understand an issue unless you have gone through it yourself. Herself gives a look into a world that so many women live in, one where the person you love the most is also the person who causes you the most pain. It is a powerful movie that proves that we are enough. We don’t need anyone else to complete us. 

The most prominent part of my experience seeing the premiere of ‘Herself’ was a discussion with the cast and director held after the screening. The director, Phyllida Lloyd, discussed how the idea for the movie came about. She was working with Clare Dunne (the screenwriter and star of the film) while experimenting with an all-female Shakespeare company when Dunne asked her to read a first draft of the script. Lloyd was immediately drawn to it and knew it needed to be made. The element of the film that Dunne was most worried about was who would play the lead. Phyllida was shocked because she had known from the moment she read it who would be playing the main part. Phyllida suggested said that Dunne should play the role because she was the role. Not literally, but she knew and cared about the story so much, that it needed to be her to bring it to life. I brought this up because as women we do not always speak up and ask for what we want and know we deserve. We can’t be afraid anymore and must live our lives for ourselves, starting now.

My experience at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival was filled with empowering moments that made me feel proud to be a woman. Our stories matter and need to be told. This is the beginning of amazing things for women in film, I can feel it. 

Sources: 1, 2, 3 and 4  


Kim Davison is a recent graduate from the University of Utah that double majored in Theatre and Communications. She was the President of Her Campus Utah and a Chapter Advisor, a Campus Expansion Assistant and a Her Campus Ambassador Advisor for Her Campus Nationals. Kim loves theatre, event planning, dachshunds and strives to live her life every day to make Leslie Knope proud. She is currently searching to jobs in the media industry and is excited to see where life takes her!
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