by Cynthia Rodríguez
It is no secret that the film industry tends to be quite unfriendly to women both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. TV Tropes, that wonderful encyclopedia of media cliches, includes several stereotypes that have been repeated for decades on the silver screen: disposable women, hysterical women, screaming women, “single women seeking good men”, and — my personal (least) favourite — women in the refrigerator. Outside the realm of fiction, the disparities can still be noticed: in the Oscars, only four women have been nominated for Best Director, and only Kathryn Bigelow has won. A bitter “victory” considering Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker was your average fake patriotic American Army drama where the “baddies” looked like the son of Mr Patel from the newsstands. Almost like celebrating that we have a female Prime Minister now, ne?
But I digress. As a feminist pop culture fiend, I am always on the lookout for films that are deep and empowering in their own ways, starring multidimensional women and girls, and perhaps critiquing the circumstances in which these people are placed. They don’t have to be films directed by women (I mean, look at Bigelow’s impeccable record: Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty…) or written by women. Heck, they don’t necessarily have to have an explicit feminist agenda. In fact, the most concealed, the better. Like it happened with Mad Max: Fury Road, a bunch of dudes can walk into the cinema expecting super-masculine action but get trolled hard by feminist liberation and, by the time they realise Imperator Furiosa is the main character and Mad Max is just a cog in the dystopian vehicle plot, it’s too late.
Here’s a list of films I’ve found surprisingly feminist and empowering. A lot of them might surprise you:
One of the worst films of the 90s. Rated NC-17 for excessive nudity, even if half of the time this nudity is not of a sexual nature — literally, people getting changed in their dressing rooms. It depicts the strong friendship between smalltown Nomi and costume designer Molly. Nomi is strong and defends her line of work, and once she becomes famous, she prefers to stick to her values and avenge her friend than to turn a blind eye and stand up as others (quite literally) fall down. Also, that dance move thing with your hands across your face is legendary.
Zach Snyder’s dream movie about a group of girls locked in a cabaret/mental institution/realm of death and destruction who plot a way to leave their captors through the power of erotic dance, sorority and subconscious fantasy fighting. The soundtrack is packed with girl power: Björk, Skunk Anansie, Emiliana Torrini, Alison Mosshart, the film’s own Emily Browning, most of them covering iconic rock anthems originally written and performed by men. To those who see Sucker Punch as Zach’s wet dream come true, it might be weird to know that his wife Deborah was a producer. Once you see it as the accidental feminist masterpiece it actually is, it all makes sense.
Yes, there is a lot of girl-on-girl hate and gossip, but there’s also love and camaraderie as Cady Heron finds herself. She may have started as a Trojan Horse aiming to destroy “The Plastics”, but the more she gets to know them, the more she knows their circumstances and the more she knows they are as flawed and insecure as everyone else. The film, co-written by Tina Fey, also shows that every single High School clique has its own inner conflicts and that, after quite a cheesy session at the school’s gym, a lot of rivalries can be mended once we stop tearing each other down.
Josie and the Pussycats
OK, on to the hardcore shit. The ill-fated live action film adaptation of the cartoon series not only was extremely femme-centric and Bechdel-approved, but it was a sharp critique on capitalism and the fusion of marketing and media. Brand logos as aggressive wallpapers, potentially racist agenda prioritising Rachael Leigh Cook’s Josie over Rosario Dawson’s Valerie, TV hosts as pawns of The Powers that Be, and tons of MK-ULTRA imagery and concepts. A surgical deconstruction of pre-9/11’s American teenage entertainment.
These are just a few examples of films that may look shallow or objectifying, but once you get to explore them through a critical eye, you’re blown away by their feminist magic. Also, you can see them with your more “basic” friends, relatives and darlings. Gee, I haven’t even gone further and talked about accidentally positive queer and trans/non-binary led films. Maybe in another post.