June 28, 2021
15 feminist films to inspire you this summer
Happy Monday, Feministas! In honor of the heat wave this week, we’ve got some movie recs to feminize your Netflix and chill… and by that we mean the literal take-a-cold-shower, stand-in-front-of-a-fan, grab-a-popsicle-and-linger-with-your-face-in-the-freezer kind of chill.
And what’s cooler than kicking back and enjoying some sweet feminist vibes from some of the most compelling, lady-led films of all time? Nothing, that's what.
So when the heat--and, let’s face it: the patriarchy--is feeling downright oppressive, these empowering feminist films will help you cool the heck down and get fired up to fight the power. So scroll through our list of essential feminist movie picks and get inspired :)
Too good, too true
Our first three picks are incredible stories grounded in reality, and highlight some of the most inspiring moments in feminist history. Watch these powerful women take on patriarchal structures in the arts, sciences, and even in the courtroom.
Feminist Film #1: On the Basis of Sex
If you know The Feminista at all, you know we’re major RBG stans. (Just ask the merch: I Dissent, When There Are Nine, Feminist Icons, RBG Fight Shirt…) So it feels only right to kick off this list with the one and only Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This dramatized version of her early career centers on her fight in a famous gender discrimination case and brings all the feminist energy you might expect from the notorious future Supreme Court Justice (s)hero.
Feminist Film #2: Hidden Figures
This true story proves that women really do make the world go 'round. Learn all about the badass lady mathematicians behind the scenes at NASA to send John Glenn to space. This star studded-cast features Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe (yes please!), and tells just one of the many incredible stories about women of color who are so often left untold in our history.
Feminist Film #3: Frida
Learn a little about the life and legacy of legendary artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution. Played by #MeToo activist Salma Hayak, Frida’s story shows how powerful women can be when they’re uncompromising and unapologetic when it comes to fashion, love, and artistic vision. Needless to say, she takes the phrase fearless, flawless feminist to a whole new level.
Worth another watch
These next three all happen to be from the early aughts--2000, 2001, and 2002 respectively. And we’re willing to bet you’ve seen these three before, but these feminist flicks really stand the test of time.
Feminist Film #4 : Erin Brockavich
What happens when a badass single mom and environmental activist working as a legal aid decides to take on a corrupt energy company? Time to find out. This one’s got all the feel-good female empowerment you’re looking for on a hot summer day, plus, it stars Julia Roberts and is based on a true story. What are you waiting for?
Feminist Film #5: Legally Blonde
Who says feminism can’t be fun? And pink. And girly! Watch Reese Witherspoon a.k.a. Elle Woods defy society’s expectations of a ditzy blonde fashionista, stand up to a misogynistic boyfriend and professor, prioritize female friendships, make waves at Harvard Law, and, of course, bend and snap. As classic as it gets.
Feminist Film #6: Bend it Like Beckham
Written, directed, and produced by a woman of color--Gurinder Chadha, to be exact--this 2002 classic is all about challenging traditional gender roles and girl power in the context of a soccer team. Female friendships, an exploration of cross-cultural relationships, plus a little romcom action happening that we’re not mad at. It’s got everything!
All too often, we look back at films made even a few years ago and cringe at the sexual politics (hey, at least we’re making progress!)... But these feminist movies are serious gems that were way ahead of their time and led the way for the empowering flicks we see more and more often these days.
Feminist Film #7: 9-5
Feminist icon Jane Fonda, her Grace & Frankie co-star and acting legend Lily Tomlin, and the one and only Dolly Parton come together in this funny 1980s take on what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace before the #MeToo movement. Watch as they confront issues like equal pay and sexual harassment and team up to take revenge on their chauvinistic boss. Talk about babes supporting babes.
Feminist Film #8: Alien
This one’s for all you Feminista action fans looking for a classic that’s not so… well, male. Watch Sigourney Weaver play the cool, calm, and collected sci-fi icon, Ripley, who kicks ass and takes names in this 80’s classic film set in space. Honorary mentions in feminist action flicks: Atomic Blonde and, honestly, don’t overthink it: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Feminist Film #9: Thelma & Louise
If you haven’t seen this road trip buddy drama yet, the time has come! It follows the two title characters on the run after Louise shoots and kills a man trying to rape her friend Thelma at a bar and centers sisterhood above all else. Plus, it stars lady greats, Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon and when it was released in 1991, it proved to the world that women were more than capable of leading epic adventure stories. More women lead characters! Always!
Okay, so these are all pretty new, but we think it’s safe to say they’re future classics. These feminist films so beautifully capture the experiences of strong young women fumbling their way into adulthood, as we all do <3
Feminist Film #10: Ladybird
This film is about a fiercely independent, head-strong girl who’s renamed herself Ladybird and wants nothing more than to get into a good college across the country, leave home, and get on with her life. Starring Saoirse Ronan and written and directed by Greta Gerwig (a duo also responsible for Little Women, another must-see), this one’s funny, irreverent, and so heartwarming, as we follow Lady Bird in her last year of high school, navigating relationships with boys, her best friend, and most notably: her mother.
Feminist Film #11: Dumplin’
Looking for more mother-daughter love and hardship? Look no further. This one’s all about challenging traditional beauty standards in the South, as the daughter of a former pageant queen rebels against what her mom has always defined as “ladylike” and beautiful and learns to love herself. Body positivity, a spotlight on the Texas drag scene, and authentic women who exist on a spectrum of femininity? Sign us up.
Feminist Film #12: Booksmart
A coming-of-age buddy comedy about two straight-A students who decide they need to let loose and party at least once before their high school graduation? Sign us up. This flick is so funny in its own right, but doesn’t shy away from the complexity of female friendship on the cusp of college and major life changes. For what it’s worth, it gets an A++ from us.
New(ish) & notable
These feminist movies were all made within the last decade and cover topics near and dear to modern feminists like us… and are appropriately intersectional about the lived experiences of real women in the 21st century. Don’t miss our final three feminist picks--they may be last, but they’re certainly not least.
Feminist Film #13: The Incredible Jessica James
This has everything we want in a contemporary romantic comedy. The main character is cool, self-conscious, and complex in all of the ways real women are. Jessica Williams plays a talented, aspiring playwright recovering from a recent breakup who's sex positive and flawed and the bi-racial love story that ensues feels nuanced and up-to-speed with modern dating. Sign us up.
Feminist Film #14: Obvious Child
A romcom centered around an unplanned pregnancy? How's that for a feminist premise?! Heart-warming, hilarious, and challenging in all of the ways that the realities of getting pregnant and considering abortion can be challenging. This film doesn't take a hard stance on anything but choice, and that's exactly what we like to see.
Feminist Film #15: Promising Young Woman
The jury's out on whether or not this film's take on the rape revenge thriller gets it right, but the controversy around it has sparked an important (and difficult) conversation that we're excited to see happening on a large scale: what is the right way for the media to portray sexual assault? And what does true justice look like for survivors?
Some people found this one exploitative, while others found it empowering. It just goes to show that regardless of where you stand on Promising Young Woman, engaging with feminist art (or even just attempts at it) is such an important part of feminist progress. Let us know what you think!
Thanks for reading, Feministas, and stay cool! If you want to keep up with more of The F Word, our weekly newsletter and blog, scroll down, share your deets, and stay in the loop on all things feminist, from activism to fashion and beyond.
Oh, and a quick concession: this is by no means a comprehensive list. There are so many incredible movies made by by, for, and about powerful women, so if we left out one of your faves, let us know in the comments!