20 Movies to watch during Women's History Month

Updated: Sep 18, 2021


The fun thing about historical months is that there's different ways to observe the achievements and the lived lives of those the month honors. This year for Women's History month, since mostly everyone still has to be in their home most of the time, a great way to pay homage, learn about, and celebrate women, is to watch some of the best films made about women by women, from all over the world. Within these 20 films are the talents, genius, perspectives, histories, passion, and worlds of women. And in no ranking order, these are films that the show many experiences of women we may know of and many experiences it would do us good to understand more deeply. From memorable stories about women's achievements in history, extravagant tales about iconic women, girlfriends taking over the mall or fighting crime, to a variety of experiences concerning love, challenging but rewarding paths to self discovery, familial relationships, ladies making change in the world, and more. Whichever film you check out you will see into the lives of women in a way that is expansive and in the end, the viewing will make you want to rejoice! Here are 20 films to watch during Women's History Month!


1. Daughters of the Dust: Directed by Julie Dash










Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime, Kanopy


Set in the legendary Sea Islands off the South Carolina/Georgia coast in 1902, the film follows a Gullah family (descendants of West African slaves) on the eve of its migration to the North. Led by a group of women who carry with them ancient African traditions, the extended family readies itself to leave behind friends, loved ones and their insulated way of life. Can these women hold fast to their sacred religious beliefs and customs, or will they be swept into the race toward an era of science and industry? This richly costumed drama, structured in tableaux to reflect the art and icons of African tradition, testifies movingly to the secret celebrations and packed-away sorrows of African-American women. -Film Forum


2. Jeanne Dielman: Directed by Chantal Akerman









Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime, Kanopy


Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, meticulously details, with a sense of impending doom, the daily routine of a middle-aged widow, whose chores include making the beds, cooking dinner for her son, and turning the occasional trick. In its enormous spareness, Akerman’s film seems simple, but it encompasses an entire world. Whether seen as an exacting character study or as one of cinema’s most hypnotic and complete depictions of space and time, Jeanne Dielman is an astonishing, compelling movie experiment, one that has been analyzed and argued over for decades. -Criterion Collection


3. Orlando: Directed by Sally Potter











Amazon Prime, BFI Player


Orlando is a story of the quest for love, and it is also an ironic dance through English history. Addressing contemporary concerns about gender and identity, the film is remarkably true to the spirit of Virginia Woolf, but it also skillfully adapts the original story to give it a striking, cinematic form. The screenplay is a standard text taught in film schools as a radical and successful adaptation of a classic work. Orlando is a bold, unsentimental re-working of Virginia Woolf's classic novel in which an innocent aristocrat journeys through 400 years of English history first as a man, then as a woman. -Sally Potter


4. At Land: Directed by Maya Deren













Youtube


Deren’s thematic preoccupation with the human body, its movement and the process of filmmaking, begins to take shape in her second film, which draws some of its power from jump-cuts and the juxtaposition of spaces. Shot by the sea in Amagansett, Long Island, it features Deren herself again, as a woman washed up on the shore. She climbs up a dead tree, then is suddenly crawling on a dinner table, unnoticed by the party guests. Deren cuts from the seashore to the dinner party and back again to the seashore. At Land is an inimitable study of social rituals and the human body’s place in nature. -BFI


5. Shirkers: Directed by Sandi Tan












Netflix


In her home country of Singapore, Sandi pens a thriller about a teenage assassin and enlisted her friends, Jasmine and Sophie—think the Coen sisters—and the mysterious mentor Georges to film it. Shirkers became one of the few films in the country to be shot guerrilla style, coloring the newly independent nation with a playful, hyper-real aesthetic. Then one day, Georges disappeared with all the 16mm footage. Sandi embarks on a personal, singular journey into her creative life, unpacks the urban legend of Shirkers, and connects the clues embedded in the film to unravel the mystery of who her friend Georges Cardona really was. -Google


6. Real Women Have Curves: Directed by Patricia Cardoso










HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime


Real Women Have Curves is a humorous and warm hearted look at a Mexican American teenage girl coming of age in a boiling cauldron of cultural expectations, class constrictions, family duty, and her own personal aspirations. In this auspicious debut, Patricia Cardoso gives us a cast of characters we very rarely see—working class Latina women—with refreshing human complexity. Ana, a first generation Mexican American teenager living in East Los Angeles, has just graduated from high school. Because she is a talented writer, a caring teacher urges her to apply to college. Ana secretly is excited about the possibility, but her overbearing and hyper-critical mother, Carmen, insists that it is time for her to help provide for the family by working in her sister's sewing factory. It seems as if Ana's fate is unhappily sealed, but her indomitable will to reach beyond a sweatshop life eventually leads her to burst, defiant and resplendent, through every restriction on her life. -Sundance Institute


7. At Five in the Afternoon: Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf









Youtube


After the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, girls are once again allowed to go to school. But Noqreh’s conservative father maintains his belief that girls should not be educated, although he concedes enough to allow her to attend Koran school. Each morning she pretends to honour his wishes, but after he drops her off she changes her slippers for high-heeled shoes and heads for the newly-opened secular school. There, girls learn self-respect along with everything else. In a class on politics, Noqreh begins to voice her dream of becoming president of her country, taking former Pakistani president Benazir Bhutto as her inspiration... -Karlovy Vary Film Festival


8. Belle: Directed by Amma Asante










Amazon Prime


Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her status prevents her from the traditions of noble social standing. While her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) chases suitors for marriage, Belle is left on the sidelines wondering if she will ever find love. After meeting an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on changing society, he and Belle help shape Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England. -Searchlight Pictures


9. Circumstance: Directed by Maryam Keshavarz











Amazon Prime


Set in contemporary Iran in the unseen world of Iranian youth culture, filled with underground parties, sex, drugs and defiance, Circumstance is the story of two vivacious young girls -- wealthy Atafeh and orphaned Shireen -- discovering their burgeoning sexuality and, like 16 year-old girls anywhere, struggling with their desires and the boundaries placed upon them by the world they were born into. -Fandango


10. Clueless: Directed by Amy Heckerling













Amazon Prime


Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) comes from a very wealthy family. Her life is one of privilege, although her former stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) keeps popping in to annoy her. Along with her equally popular friend Dionne (Stacey Dash), Cher rules the school. Although Dionne has a boyfriend, Murray (Donald Faison), Cher thinks high school boys are beneath her. She's waiting for college - and college boys. When Cher and Dionne have success when they decide to better their marks by playing matchmakers for two teachers, they're inspired to take Tai (Brittany Murphy), a "clueless" transfer student under their wing. While Cher tries to make an advantageous match for Tai, she begins to think about maybe finding a boyfriend of her own, despite her earlier rule about no high school boyfriends. As she gives Tai a makeover, she learns about caring for others, going through pain, and love. -Showtimes.com


11. Rafiki: Directed by Wanuri Kahiu










Hulu, Amazon Prime


Bursting with the colorful street style & music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture, Rafiki is a tender love story between two young women in a country that still criminalizes homosexuality. Kena and Ziki have long been told that “good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives” - but they yearn for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls encourage each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, Kena and Ziki must choose between happiness and safety. -Film Movement


12. Bessie: Directed by Dee Rees











HBO Max, Amazon Prime


The film stars Latifah as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in the biopic about Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s. -Ash-Moviehole.com


13. Marie Antoinette: Directed by Sofia Coppola










Amazon Prime


Written and directed by Academy Award® winner Sofia Coppola (2003, Best Writing, Lost In Translation), Marie Antoinette is an electrifying yet intimate re-telling of the turbulent life of history's favorite villainess. Kirsten Dunst portrays the ill-fated child princess who married France's young and indifferent King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). Feeling isolated in a royal court rife with scandal and intrigue, Marie Antoinette defied both royalty and commoner by living like a rock star, which served only to seal her fate. -Sony Pictures


14. The Farewell: Directed by Lulu Wang











Amazon Prime


In this funny, uplifting tale based on an actual lie, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken. -A24


15. Middle of Nowhere: Directed by Ava DuVernay










Netflix


A young wife named Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is sticking by her husband Derek, who's serving an eight-year sentence in prison on an unspecified weapons charge. Even though he begs her to get on with her life, Ruby rearranges her schedule to wait for him, putting her medical-school studies on hold. The years pass and the sacrifices Ruby has made begin to take a toll on her. She makes friends with a friendly bus driver (David Oyelowo) who breaks through her emotional barriers, forcing Ruby to take a hard look at the choices she has made. -Showtimes.com


16. I Am Somebody: Directed by Madeleine Anderson
















Vimeo


In 1969, black female hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina went on strike for union recognition and a wage increase, only to find themselves in a confrontation with the state government and the National Guard. Featuring Andrew Young, Charles Abernathy, and Coretta Scott King and produced by Local 1199, New York’s Drug and Hospital Union, I Am Somebody is a crucial document in the struggle for labor rights. -Icarus Films


17. Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Celine Sciamma










Hulu


Passion brews quietly between an artist and her subject, until together they create a space in which it can briefly flourish, in this sumptuous eighteenth-century romance from Céline Sciamma, one of contemporary French cinema’s most acclaimed auteurs. Summoned to an isolated seaside estate on a secret assignment, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) must find a way to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is resisting chattel marriage, by furtively observing her. What unfolds in exquisite tension is an exchange of sustained gazes in which the two women come to know each other’s gestures, expressions, and bodies with rapturous intimacy, ultimately forging a subversive creative collaboration as well as a delirious romance. -Criterion Collection


18. Watermelon Woman: Directed by Cheryl Dunye












Amazon Prime


Set in Philadelphia, The Watermelon Woman is the story of Cheryl (Cheryl Dunye), a twenty-something black lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s black film actress popularly known as "The Watermelon Woman." While uncovering the meaning of Fae Richards' life, Cheryl experiences a total upheaval of her personal life. Her love affair with Diana (Guinevere Turner), a beautiful white woman, and her interaction with the gay and black communities are subject to the comic yet biting criticism of her best friend Tamara (Valarie Walker.) Meanwhile, each answer Cheryl discovers about The Watermelon Woman evokes a flurry of new questions about herself and her future.-Cheryl Dunye


19. Atlantics: Directed by Mati Diop










Netflix


After a group of unpaid construction workers disappears at sea one night in search of a better life abroad, the women they have left behind in Dakar are overwhelmed with a mysterious fever. Ada, 17, secretly grieves for her love Souleiman, one of the departed workers, but she has been promised to another man. After a fire breaks out on her wedding night, a young policeman is sent to investigate the crime. Little does he know that the aggrieved workers have come back as haunting, possessive spirits. While many of them seek vengeance for their unpaid labor, Souleiman has come back for a different purpose - to be with his Ada one last time. -Netflix


20. Birds of Prey: Directed by Cathy Yan















HBO Max


Birds Of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it. When one of Gotham’s most sinister villains, Roman Sionis, and his sadistic right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city’s wicked underbelly is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Canary and Renee Montoya’s paths collide and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down. -Warner Bros.

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