Films By & About Women

‘She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry’: An Incomplete Portrait of The Women’s Movement

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When the young, hippie-ish movie star Shailene Woodley said in an interview that she wasn’t a feminist, many women pointed out that she didn’t seem to know what feminism was. Perhaps Woodley and other women of her generation (she is 22) don’t know what feminism is for the same reason fish don’t know what water is–because it’s all around them and has been for the entirety of their lives.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a Superstar in ‘Beyond The Lights’

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I thought of Beyoncé often while watching writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s (‘Love and Basketball’) new film ‘Beyond The Lights.’ The main character, pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is supposed to remind us of Beyoncé, as well as Rihanna, with bits of Nicki Minaj, Lauren Hill, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan thrown in. In early scenes we see her in elaborate videos wearing hardly any clothes, her skimpy outfits often incorporating glittering chains. She has first blonde, then purple, long flowing hair.

Seed & Spark: The Film Industry Needs Women Like You

The all-woman creative "Team Trichster": Producer Amanda Giordano, Director Jillian Corsie, DP/Co-Producer Seun Babalola, Producer Carolyn and Cinematographer/Co-Producer Katie Maul)

Being a female in the male-driven world of film often elicits instant praise: “Good for you! The industry needs women like you!” which opens the door for us to respond with, “Yes! Let me tell you all about our documentary, ‘Trichster’!” The problem is—because Hollywood is well-known for having an astonishing lack of females—this is without having ever seen or heard about our work; we’re just what the industry needs (having lady parts and all). We are proud to represent the growing number of women in the independent film industry and gladly share the story of our team, but we’d prefer the focus to be on our work.

‘She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry’: An Incomplete Portrait of The Women’s Movement

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When the young, hippie-ish movie star Shailene Woodley said in an interview that she wasn’t a feminist, a lot of women pointed out that she didn’t seem to know what feminism was. Perhaps Woodley and other women of her generation (she is 22) don’t know what feminism is for the same reason fish don’t know what water is–because it’s all around them and has been for the entirety of their lives.

Girls, Consent, and Sex in ‘Palo Alto’ and ‘I Believe In Unicorns’

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Films set in high school are often about boys; films which feature high school girl characters complex enough to surprise an audience (one measure of good screenwriting) are relatively rare–‘Say Anything’, ‘Mean Girls,’ ‘Clueless’ and from earlier this year ‘It Felt Like Love.’ ‘Palo Alto,’ the first film directed by Gia Coppola (niece of Sofia and granddaughter of Francis), who also wrote the script (based on the stories of James Franco) focuses on several main characters in high school, including April (‘American Horror Story’s’ Emma Roberts, whose auburn hair and dark eyebrows recall her Aunt Julia’s). We see her as she plays soccer, babysits, goes to boozy parties and is alone in her room.

‘Belle’: A Costume Drama Like and Unlike the Others

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People of color are often omitted from historical dramas (except to play slaves or servants), with the rationale that it’s not “realistic” to have them in the cast. We can see through this excuse in historical dramas in which casting people of color would match the story being told, but white people still have the biggest roles in–and sometimes even make up the entire cast of–the film, as in the recently released ‘Noah.’ Historical “realism” is not always what we think it is: literature and visual art through the ages confirm that people of color who weren’t slaves, like Alexandre Dumas the author of ‘The Three Musketeers,’ have been in Europe for as long as people have lived there. We need to see more of their stories onscreen.

“I Believe ‘Anita'”

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Women and girl characters in film (and the plays and works of literature films are based on) lie a lot. I don’t mean that they tell an occasional (or not so occasional) untruth, the way male characters often do. I mean that the role of a woman or girl in the movie can many times be summed up as “the liar.” The student in ‘The Children’s Hour’, the girl in ‘Atonement’, the girl in ‘The Hunt’, the two teenagers in ‘Wild Things’ the Demi Moore character in ‘Disclosure’ are all liars who disrupt the lives of those around them, usually men, whom they falsely accuse of sexual misconduct or abuse. The men are, of course, always completely innocent of the charges.

‘It Felt Like Love’ (or Something): One High School Girl’s Sexual Exploration

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Some of these scenes we watch like they are part of a horror movie, wanting to say to Lila, “What are you thinking?” Lila, with all her lies (to her father, to Chiara, to her neighbor and to Sammy) never takes the audience (or anyone else) completely into her confidence, so we don’t know what she might do next–and dread seeing her do it. Besides Chiara (who does offer some limited advice and support) Lila has no female figure in her life who can help her navigate the complicated sexual landscape in which boys treat her as if she’s not there. While she listens and watches they talk shit about other girls (and even about her), look at porn and listen to hip-hop in which a man brags that “she fuck me…until she bleed cum.” Lila’s mother is dead and her father hardly seems like someone she can talk to. We can see she wants someone to care about her comings and goings as much as she wants sex: when she texts Sammy or calls him and gets his voice mail the family dog is often her only company.

‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’: Being a “Difficult” Older Woman

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I remember a woman artist friend talking about Barbra Streisand: “When people called her ‘difficult’, it was probably just because she asked for a microphone that worked.” Broadway musical star Elaine Stritch’s reputation for being “difficult” is familiar even to those of us who can’t stand Broadway musicals. But all through the documentary ‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’ (directed by Chiemi Karasawa who first met Stritch in a hair salon) I couldn’t help wondering if an 87-year-old man behaving the way Stritch (who was 87 when the documentary was shot) does in the film would be denigrated the way she has been (men are rarely called “difficult”–no matter what they do).

‘Short Term 12,’ ‘In A World,’ and Athena

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Local film festivals have proliferated in recent years–every city and town seems to want its own Sundance and my city is no exception: every spring it has a well-respected, week-long independent film festival with celebrity appearances and panels. But well-publicized festivals focusing on women don’t seem to be part of this trend. In the 90s women in the arts, not just film, seemed to finally be given a chance to do their own work and tell their own stories. In the era of ‘Thelma and Louise,’ women taking up a more equitable piece of the pie in filmmaking (as well as in writing books and in the visual arts) seemed inevitable. In the 21st century we seem to be going backward: the percentage of women making films has dropped since 2012 so we’re overdue for a festival like Athena: “a celebration of women and leadership.”

‘Moms Mabley’ and The Hard Work of Show Business

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People who don’t work in the arts don’t realize how much work goes into it. Writers write hundreds of pages before any reader (who isn’t a blood relative) loves their work. Musicians practice for countless hours and write a lot of shitty songs before they compose a tune that makes someone want to sing along. Moms Mabley, the Black, queer woman comedian born in 1894 in the Jim Crow south, ran away at age 14 to become a performer and spent much of the next 66 years onstage, performing and polishing her own comedy routines. Her long experience may be why her work, nearly 40 years after her death, still elicits laughs.

‘Concussion’: When Queer Marriage in The Suburbs Isn’t Enough

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Some clues for her motives are in the scenes between Abby and her spouse. They are affectionate and loving with each other, even when they’re alone, but the sex has gone out of their marriage. After a disastrous first encounter with an escort, we feel Abby’s ache of longing when a second “better” escort begins to touch her. Later we see Eleanor’s first client, a 23-year-old virgin, react to Eleanor’s touch in much the same way.