Given the current political climate around the world, it’s easy to feel a little alienated as a woman. However, the long tradition of storytelling through film provides a welcome relief from the harsh realities of the world. Whether through brilliant biopics about fierce feminist heroes like Frida Kahlo or familiar coming-of-age stories, these seven films will put you in touch with your inner #GirlBoss.
Little Miss Sunshine
Directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
This touching and laugh-out-loud portrait of the dysfunctional Hoover family is one that will stick with you long after the credits have scrolled. In a role that launched her to stardom, Abigail Breslin stars as the young Olive, who is determined to perform at the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant with a little coaching from her grandfather. Although she’s not the typical pageant girl, Olive’s enthusiasm is what (barely) keeps the family together as they cross the country in a broken down van while anything and everything goes awry.
When they finally arrive at the pageant for Olive’s big moment, the dance routine she has been working on with her grandfather shocks everyone, allowing for one seriously unforgettable ending. Olive’s self-confidence and the support of her family are the empowering touchstones that make this an indispensable film for any movie lover – male or female.
Directed by Amy Heckerling
On the surface, Clueless looks like a music video from the 90s, iconically capturing the music and fashion of well-to-do Los Angeles teenagers. However, lead character Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone) turns out to be a remarkably self-determined individual, even when she’s being billed as a classic ditz.
No one’s standards are higher than Cher’s, and her passion for helping others lends dimensionality to an otherwise superficial character. Given the strong female friendships and messages of self-reliance in the film, it’s no wonder that Clueless has become something of a feminist phenomenon in the present day.
Directed by Julie Taymor
As one of art’s most controversial heroines, Frida Kahlo became the voice of a generation of minority female artists. In this intense biopic, Salma Hayek embraces one of her career’s best roles to completely embody Kahlo – right down to those iconic eyebrows.
The fiery artist, who was often laid low by chronic pain due to severe injury in her youth, still lived life to the fullest, even when that meant angering the powers that be. If you don’t come away with a deep appreciation of her contributions to the cultural lexicon, you’re doing something wrong.
Directed by Niki Caro
Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Maori girl named Pai – played by Keisha Castle-Hughes – who is determined to rule her tribe, even though the role is traditionally reserved for males only. The Maori tribe claims descent from Paikea, the “Whale Rider”, and only men are allowed to take on the dangerous and challenging task of controlling the herds of whales that populate the ocean outside the village.
No one believes that a young girl has the ability to become the next Whale Rider, but Pai’s determination proves everyone wrong. This incredible movie resulted in an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actress category for Castle-Hughes who, at the time, was the youngest person ever to be nominated.
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Marie Antoinette, the spoilt queen consort to Louis XVI, has long been the subject of fascination because of her excessive spending and lavish lifestyle. Sofia Coppola’s anachronistic adaptation, which includes an incredible 1980s soundtrack, sees actress Kirsten Dunst at her best.
Simultaneously naive about her duties as a queen – she is 14 when she gets married, after all – and coupled with an ill-suited husband, Antoinette treats her loneliness with extravagant fashion and opulent parties. As the pressures of running a kingdom grow, audiences see Antoinette grow up, eventually abandoning her youthful ways for a serious embrace of motherhood.
Bend It Like Beckham
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Many of us know the pressures and scrutiny that come with growing up in a more traditional family, where it often feels like one’s own desires are subsumed beneath parental demands. This is the case for Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra (played by Parminder Nagra), who is growing up in London under the watchful eye of strict Punjabi parents.
Her passion for football eventually leads her to disobey her parents’ wishes and seek out an actual soccer team in which her talents can shine. Although she acts in defiance of their rules, Bhamra is driven by an infatuation with the sport, which her coach and best friend (played by Keira Knightley) encourage. This funny, memorable film showcases a familiar coming-of-age story, a cultural collision, and ultimately a liberating choice.
A League of Their Own
Directed by Penny Marshall
When women in rural Midwestern America are scouted from their local leagues for a new “all girls” professional baseball team in this 1992 film, they’re met with blowback, both publicly and at home. Considering women were predominantly teachers, secretaries, and stay-at-home mothers at the time, the fictionalized look at female athletes yields some seriously feminist moments. It also happened to launch the careers of actresses like Geena Davis and Rosie O’Donnell and, for a change of pace, showed Tom Hanks playing a villainous character.