International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8 and everyone across the globe is getting ready to celebrate all things female. Kickstarted as far back as 1908, International Women’s Day recognises all the efforts made by women around the world who have strove to ensure equal rights across genders. We have taken the opportunity to go through some of our favourite flicks that celebrate woman; either by embracing feminist ideas or simply by showing off some seriously empowered women. Check out our list of ten feminist favourites to celebrate International Women’s Day.
For a classic feminist image, Mehboob Khan’s ‘Mother India’ is about as iconic as it gets. Remaking his own earlier film ‘Aurat’, Khan’s film is recognised as one of the most pivotal films in all Hindi cinema, and it remains, when adjusted for inflation, among the highest Indian box-office figures. The film follows the story of villager Radha, as she struggles to provide for her children against many difficulties. ‘Mother India’ is regarded as an allegory for the nation of India post-independence and its tale of a struggling mother resonates with audiences to this day.
‘Arth’ tells the story of Pooja, a woman who is betrayed by her husband and must move into a woman’s hostel with no family and little money. Whilst on the surface, ‘Arth’ is a tragic story about betrayal and unhappiness, the narrative of the film sees Pooja re-emerge, a phoenix from the ashes, a stronger and more self-assured woman. ‘Arth’ is also regarded as one of the greatest Indian dramas of all time and portrays a well-trodden tale of disloyalty but with a reinvigorating and motivational conclusion.
‘The Color Purple’ is recognised not only for its feminist narrative but for its attitudes towards race relations as well. An adaptation of the Alice Walker novel of the same name, ‘The Color Purple’ follows the brutal life story of an early twentieth century African American woman, played by Whoopi Goldberg, as she negotiates the racism and sexism of the deep South. The film is an honest portrayal of the difficulties of Celie’s life but tells how she learns to embrace the challenges through female companionship. ‘The Color Purple’ was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and gave Goldberg the opportunity to break away from her comedian stereotyping.
‘Thelma and Louise’ tells the tale of an unbreakable friendship between two women who find themselves on the run after Louise kills someone to protect Thelma. The film features such an iconic female friendship that the title is now synonymous with the idea of a ride-or-die relationship. It is widely considered that ‘Thelma & Louise’ was the first of its kind in terms of a film that stars two women as its outrageous protagonists, and it is considered a major landmark in the progression of female-centric narratives.
Damini is perhaps considered to be the greatest piece of feminist Bollywood cinema. Starring a career defining performance from Meenakshi Seshadri, ‘Damini’ witnesses as the titular character betrays her marital family in the name of justice, after she witnesses her brother-in-law raping a servant. The film’s portrayal of a woman who is scorned for seeking justice is regarded as an honest piece of feminist cinema and was one of the first Bollywood films to openly discuss the subject of rape.
‘Bandit Queen’ the unbelievable biography of Phoolan Devi, a woman who forms a bandit gang after being subject to several incidents of sexual assault. Devi was hailed as the Bandit Queen after she liberated herself from the chains of misogyny and from the caste system, and found her own way. ‘Bandit Queen’ won the National Film Award for Best Feature in the year of its release and Devi’s fight against oppression is heralded as one of the greatest feminist tales of all time.
Another biographical tale is ‘Erin Brockovich’. ‘Erin Brockovich’ is the story of an American woman, played by Julia Roberts, who finds herself a job at a law firm after she is left unemployed because of a car accident. Brockovich ended up fighting against huge energy corporation PG&E in a water contamination case, and establishes herself as a hugely successful legal clerk. ‘Erin Brockovich’ was nominated for five Oscars and is hugely successful as a female empowerment story. Fun fact: the real Erin Brockovich appears early in the film as a waitress called Julia!
‘Bend It Like Beckham’ is a seminal piece of British-Asian cinema. Written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, this social comedy follows 18-year-old Jesminder who is caught between her familial duties and her dream of becoming a football player. ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ recognises the trials and tribulations of being a teenage girl in a male dominated world but takes a light-hearted look at friendship, young love, and family. Ultimately, however, it inspirationally prioritises a woman’s personal goals above everything else. The film also features breakout performances from Kiera Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Parminder Nagra.
‘Queen’ is yet another iconic piece of feminist Indian cinema. Starring Kangana Ranaut in what is considered to be one of her finest performances, ‘Queen’ follows the tale of Rani Mehra, who decides to go it alone on her honeymoon after being dumped by her fiancé the day before their wedding. Mehra blossoms from a shy, good-natured girl into a strong, independent woman on her travels and has been recognised internationally as a recognition of the highs and lows of being a woman. The film was amazingly shot in just 45 days on a budget of roughly Rs 105 million but went on to make over Rs 2.2 billion as well as earning two National Film Awards.
It would be quite difficult to discuss women-centric cinema without mentioning ‘Suffragette’. This 2015 historical drama tells the fictional story of Maud Watts who gets caught up in the very real suffragette movement. The film follows her story as she is ostracised by her friends and colleagues and dives into the early twentieth century movement. Featuring Meryl Streep as the iconic suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, it is the first film to have ever shot inside the Houses of Parliament and portrays the suffragette movement from the perspective of a revolutionary woman.