What to Watch: 5 Movies by Women for Women

In movies, TV shows and novels, women are often portrayed through the lenses of male creators. This week, TV Tea will provide you with a list of movies in which female characters are depicted by women creators. Although these movies seem to only target women at first glance, the audience is actually much broader. And while they do aim to empower women — often by reminding them of their own power — they also address other social issues. Urging women to remember their inner strength, they allow men to have a look at women’s perspectives and open much-needed conversations. Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared because you are about to be inspired.

1. Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This movie is the 2019 adaptation of pioneer feminist Louisa May Alcott’s novel with the same title, which was published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. As a matter of fact, the book is pretty much an autobiographical testimony of the author’s own existence. In this light, the story follows Josephine March (“Jo,” played by Saoirse Ronan) and her three sisters Margaret (“Meg,” played by Emma Watson), Elizabeth (“Beth,” played by Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) in their coming-of-age years. Meg, the eldest, seems fit to become an actress, but chooses to get married for love instead. While Beth’s life is shadowed by illness as soon as the movie starts, Amy, the youngest, is an aspiring painter. Alcott’s counterpart is Jo, a writer who strives to make a living to provide for her family. She is a tomboy who fancies literature and is against the institution of marriage. 

Several adaptations of “Little women” were made in the past, but Oscar-winner director Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) set this one apart by adding some praise-worthy nuances. In an enterprise to be faithful to Alcott’s original piece, but also stretch it with authentic content, Gerwig introduced the author herself through Jo’s character in a mise en abyme. This shows at the end of the movie, when Jo discusses her book’s ending with her publisher, explaining that she doesn’t want her main character’s story to end with a marriage. 

It should be noted that the author herself never married and managed to be financially independent until she died. Nevertheless, in an attempt to satisfy that time’s commercial needs, a female character had to get married at the end of a story. This being said, even if Alcott agreed to marry off her female lead, the modernist writer never let go of her copyright and the ownership of her works. Gerwig did an excellent job including that determination in Jo’s character. The director also added quotes from Alcott’s other works, notably from her own journal. By way of example, Jo’s line “I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe” was taken from Alcott’s journal. 

What also makes the 2019 version of the book stand out from its fellow franchises is the achronological structure of the film. Gerwig chose not to follow the initial timeline of the novel, but rather to alternate between the younger years of the characters with their more adult lives. It was pure genius, really, as it was so perfectly put together, making it all the more convincing. 

“Little women,” a story that was read over the course of centuries, dives headfirst into Jo’s fight for independence while also depicting how she and her sisters figure out who they are and what they want.  

“Little Women” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and Starz.

2. “Queen of Katwe”

Courtesy of Disney Studios.

This movie also stems from a book. Entitled “The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion,” it was written by Tim Crothers in 2012. In 2016, the story was adapted by accomplished Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair (“New York, I Love You”) through Disney. 

“Queen of Katwe” tells the true story of 11-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a Ugandan girl who grew up in poverty and discovers she has a gift for chess. Throughout the movie, viewers get to witness Phiona’s staggering path to greatness. She goes from apologizing for winning against the best player in her chess club (played by Ethan Nazario Lubega)​​ to aiming for the Grandmaster’s title (the ultimate level in chess). When Phiona comes to understand that chess could help her and her family make their way out of misery, she sets herself up to be the best with the help of her unfailing coach (David Oyelowo). 

In the absence of a sanitized and sugar-coated approach, Nair managed to take this outstanding story and her own knowledge of Ugandan culture (as the director lived there for thirty years) to make a Disney movie that is, per se, very “un-Disney-like.” Not afraid of displaying graphic details of poverty, Nair excels in blowing the viewers away. More than the story of a girl who triumphs in life, “Queen of Katwe” is an inspiration to all. And whether you understand chess or not, the film magnificently handles the craft of keeping you on your toes the whole time. Above all else, the movie teaches a beautiful lesson: “In chess, the small one can become the big one”.

“Queen of Katwe” is available to stream on Disney Plus, Prime Video, Vudu Movie & TV Store, Apple TV and Redbox.

 3. “Good After Bad (More than Enough)”

Courtesy of Shoreline Entertainment.

This is a movie about a young woman who discovers her worth. Shelly (Maddie Hasson) is a seventeen-year-old teenager whose mom (Melora Walters) is mentally unstable and has an alcoholic and abusive boyfriend (Craig Stark). At school, the girls she thought were her friends turned their backs on her and are bullying her. Shelly then finds refuge in her former friend’s godfather, Wes (Billy Burke), who offers to let her move into his house. There, she begins a transformative journey in a safe place. Cliché, isn’t it? As a matter of fact, Shelly admits it, saying, “I feel kind of stupid being that cliché girl that’s always in the corner writing in her notebook.” Yet, this movie, which premiered at the Bentonville Film Festival, surprises its audience in an unexpected way. At first, Shelly living with Wes seems suspicious, but their bond turns out to be different than what it initially appeared.

Written and directed by Anne-Marie Hess, “Good After Bad” is an embodiment of self-love, true friendship, perseverance and ambition. The chemistry between Maddie Hasson (“The Finder”) and Billy Burke (“Twilight”) is remarkable, and every time they are together, it is pure and sensational. The movie, in its delicately threaded storyline, managed to portray the blossoming of a young woman into “the she that she is.” 

 “Good After Bad (More than Enough)” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

4. “Moxie” 

Courtesy of Netflix.

Out of this collection of films, “Moxie” is certainly the best introduction to modern feminism. Originally based on the eponymous novel by Jennifer Mathieu, “Moxie” (which means confidence and determination) tells the story of Vivian (Hadley Robinson), an introverted teenager who counts the days she has left at school. Initially neither “brave,” “fierce” nor “the prototype of a leader in any way,” Vivian at first doesn’t recognize what goes wrong at her school. Mind you, this only makes the plot thicker, as you would not expect such a character to lead a revolt — and yet she does.  

With the intention of writing a compelling essay for her college application, Vivian finds inspiration in her mother’s rebellious youth against the patriarchy (who took part in the 90s real-life movement, the Riot Grrrl). Vivian then ventures into creating an anonymous zine to call out the uncontested sexist behavior at her school. Little did she know this endeavor would empower many more of her peers to stand up for themselves. This superbly captures what “Moxie” is, as explained by director Amy Poehler as “this energy” and “what a person needs in order to get things changed.”

Needless to say, Poehler (who also plays Vivian’s mother), did a marvelous job taking the novel to the next level. Moreover, “Moxie” also addresses rape culture, even if it takes up only a small part of the plot. This movie really shows how one person who starts speaking up about something — no matter who they are — can make big waves. 

“Moxie” is available to stream on Netflix.

5. “Persepolis”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

I believe the first time I have ever heard of the concept of feminism was through “Persepolis.” I was fifteen at the time, and I had a school project on this graphic novel of the same title that was adapted into an animated French film in 2007. Oscar-nominated, “Persepolis” is based on the true story of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born French. Born in 1969 to open-minded and liberty-oriented parents, they instilled in her how to stand up for herself and what’s right — both as a human being and as a woman. Marjane was also forged by the events that occurred while she grew up, like the destitution of the Iranian Shah (1979), followed by the rise to power of the Islamic dictatorial regime and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). 

Marjane’s grandfather and uncle died fighting for freedom. Her grandmother also holds a strong role model status, as she always supports her granddaughter in becoming a strong independent woman. Marjane steers through repression, death, bombings, exile and depression in a beautifully yet painfully honest narrative. “Persepolis,” being mostly in black and white, erases all hints of color or ethnicity to offer viewers a universal heartfelt narration, putting forth a story that goes beyond the Iranian historical background. 

“Persepolis” is available on Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

By Sourour Elfourti

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