August 22, 2021
11 feminist documentaries to empower you
Happy Monday, Feministas. This week, we’re excited to introduce you to the documentaries we’re finding most empowering and enlightening at the moment—the kind that shine a light on women’s issues and stories that all too often go untold.
So whether you’re looking for a little background on feminism in general or the history of Roe v. Wade, or you want to learn more about extraordinary women like RBG, Michelle Obama, and AOC, we’ve got you covered. Beyond that, these docs touch on everything from sexual assault cases on college campuses and the portrayal of women in comedy and the media to the importance of education in young girls’ lives and the glory of self-acceptance and style as we age.
These stories will inspire, challenge, inform, and surprise you, and it’s downright refreshing to see these feminist issues get the attention they deserve, if only for an hour or two. So next time you find yourself scrolling listlessly through your streaming services, as we all do, wondering what to watch, do yourself a favor and experience the beauty that is one of these remarkable feminist documentaries.
Feminist Documentary #1: Girl Rising
This one’s all about the power of education in the lives of young women around the world… and the many ways we all benefit from making space for girls in school. Watch as actors like Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez, Anne Hathaway and others lend their voices to the stories of nine courageous and unforgettable girls, who overcome impossible odds and obstacles for the chance to learn and change their fates.
P.S. If you like the format of a documentary that employs the star power of people like Blake Lively, Eva Longoria, and Jennifer Garner to tell difficult but important stories about people facing poverty, gender-based violence, and more, A Path Appears is also worth a watch.
Feminist Documentary #2: Knock Down the House
This doc follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first congressional campaign and her historic upset over incumbent Joe Crowley in the primary and her Republican opponent in the general election. The film reflects the kind of charisma and empathy that AOC brings to her politics, and underscores the power of ordinary people to demand and achieve change from the ground up. It’s the underdog story that every feminist deserves and needs to see, and a glimmer of hope as we look forward to a new generation of female representatives in the House, Senate, and beyond.
Feminist Documentary #3: Becoming
Speaking of powerful women at the Capitol, this documentary follows on of our all-time feminist favorites, Michelle Obama, on her 34-city book tour and offers a behind-the-scenes, inside look at how this woman went from a young girl on the South Side of Chicago to the First Lady of the United States of America. It’s a moving depiction of a woman we already associate with grace and strength in honest conversation with the young women who look up to her about her journey, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and the enduring power of hard work, humor, and kindness.
Feminist Documentary #4: Period. End of Sentence
Short on time, but longing for a little inspo? This doc is just 26 minutes long and won an Oscar for its brilliant portrayal of a group of women in a village near Delhi, India, who came together to fight the stigma around menstruation. This story will open your eyes to the ways in which a lack of access to period products can profoundly affect the lives of women and girls—from school dropout to easily avoidable health problems—and serves as a reminder that in any feminist fight, men ought to be allies.
Feminist Documentary #5: The Hunting Ground
This doc covers the difficult and disturbingly prevalent issue of rape on college campuses across the U.S., and the lack of acknowledgement and accountability by institutions designed not to protect their students, but their reputations, first and foremost. Thanks to the bravery of the survivors who share their stories in this film, we get an inside look at the horrifying cover-ups and social persecution allowed—and sometimes even facilitated by—administrations acting in their own self-interest at the expense of young women.
If you enjoy The Hunting Ground, check out The Invisible War, made by the same team to expose the same kind of cover-ups and denial of sexual harassment and assault allegations in the context of the U.S. Military.
Feminist Documentary #6: Anita
This same culture of victim-blaming and denial is on display in the story of Anita Hill, who came forward over 25 years ago to accuse Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. This documentary takes a look back at the way she was treated by the press and several members of Congress, who, instead of believing her story, questioned her motives and attacked her character.
It feels all-too-prescient decades later—just a year after Christine Blasey Ford bravely came forward with sexual assault allegations against the now-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Feminist Documentary #7: Feminists: What Were They Thinking?
This documentary uses a collection of feminist portraits by photographer Cynthia MacAdams as a foundation for a larger conversation about the feminist movement starting in the 1970s and through today. It’s a moving homage to the women who have been fighting for equality and freedom over the years, offering insight into the various challenges and triumphs we’ve collectively faced over the last 50 years. It’s interspersed with interviews with famous feminists like Jane Fonda, Judy Chicago, and Gloria Steinem, and serves as an important reminder of both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
Feminist Documentary #8: Hysterical
We’ve all seen and heard our fair share of sexist comedy—and if you haven’t, a quick YouTube search of stand-up that’s over ten years old will yield the kind of offensive, misogynistic, almost always male jokes we’re talking about—but this film shines a light on a deeper, more pernicious culture of gender inequality in that world.
The comedians in this doc are so refreshingly honest and, of course, funny, and their experiences feel so familiar and universal that the comedy scene becomes a proxy for workplaces of almost any kind—their fight for equal pay and opportunity in that male-dominated space is our fight.
Feminist Documentary #9: Advanced Style
Let’s keep things on the bright side for a moment and talk fashion, Feministas. This documentary features seven colorful New York women, all of whom are in their sixties, seventies, eighties, or nineties, who have impeccable style and refreshing takes on aging and beauty in a culture so woefully obsessed with youth. These powerful women are an absolute joy to watch and an important reminder that strength and vibrant, unapologetic femininity can be one in the same.
Feminist Documentary #10: Reversing Roe
This documentary spotlights the state of reproductive rights and abortion law in America, 45 years after the 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. Given how much time has passed since that historic decision, it’s humbling to learn just how easily that decision could be reversed, and how often the already fragile laws protecting a woman’s right to choose come under threat. Don’t miss this comprehensive review of one of feminism’s most enduring battles against the patriarchy.
Feminist Documentary #11: RBG
Speaking of fighting the power, no list of ours would be complete without a mention of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and this documentary, released when she was 84, truly does her justice... ;) In it, we get a look inside the unique personal journey of this notorious feminist icon, from her early life and career to her historic rise and time on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thanks for reading, Feministas. Remember this is by no means an exhaustive list and, who knows, maybe one day we’ll offer up Feminist Docs: Part Deux. A few honorable mentions that almost made the cut? He Named Me Malala, Miss Representation, and For Sama. Feel free to check them out or let us know what we missed :)
Otherwise, we’ll see you next week for more of The “F” Word, our weekly newsletter and blog on all things feminist, from activism to fashion and beyond. Want it delivered? Scroll down, sign up, and we’ll send it straight to your inbox.