While there are many, many different ways ways to celebrate Women's History Month, I would like to focus your attention specifically on March 8, better known as International Women's Day. This holiday, which you may have noticed on your calendar, has been celebrating the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women for over 100 years. Each year though, the day celebrates a different theme that asks us all to take action, and the 2016 International Women's Day's theme is pledge for parity. On that day, women and men all over the world are being asked to stop the ever-growing gender wage gap anyway they can, and my way is to introduce you to female-directed foreign films from the 2000s that you just don't want to miss.
In 2015, we learned how desperate the gap between female and male directors really was. Variety reported that women made just 7 percent of the top-grossing 250 films last year. “People with more experience are paid more,” Nancy Dubuc, president-CEO of A+E Networks, said. “The problem is that the industry continues to give a disproportionate number of men the opportunity to gain that experience, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that men earn more than women.” But these women are making amazing films that deserve to be seen by as many people as possible. Because, logically, the more of these movies that are seen and celebrated, the harder it becomes for Hollywood to overlook these talented filmmakers.
So, in honor of this international holiday, I've come up with a list of 18 foreign films made by female directors in the 2000s that you may have never even heard of. You're welcome.
1. Mustang (2015)
Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven's film is about five orphaned sisters growing up in a conservative Turkish village. The movie, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Film prize at this year's Oscars, quickly earned comparisons to Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides, so don't expect a happy ending. But definitely expect to feel overwhelmed (in a good way) once it's all over.
2. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
This black and white Persian-language thriller from Ana Lily Amanpour is a moody look at a lonely female vampire, who quietly stalks an Iranian city. Here in the "Bad City," drug dealers rule the streets, which means it's actually our young vampire that enacts some vigilante justice on those she thinks deserves it. Yes, this a feminist take on a classic vampire movie. And, yes, it's definitely a must-see.
3. Bend It Like Beckham (2003)
Gurinder Chadha's film takes a look at the David Beckham-loving, soccer-playing Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra as she deals with wanting to do what she loves while still trying to adhere to her Indian family's strict rules. Those rules mainly apply to what Indian women are supposed to do, and it's definitely not play soccer. Chadha manages to address this issue with humor, love, and absolutely no judgment.
4. Una Noche (2012)
Lucy Mulloy's drama looks at the journey of three Cubans looking to escape to Miami after one of them is accused of assaulting a tourist. But the 90-mile journey to freedom is more harrowing than they expect, and Mulloy leaves you on the edge of your seat with every shot of their rickety raft. Knowing this is Mulloy's first feature will definitely leave you feeling even more in awe of everything you see.
5. Zero Motivation (2014)
Talya Lavie's debut film about female soldiers in the Israeli army is a feminist take on M.A.S.H. that manages to make paper-pushing seem funny. The Israeli director based the movie on her own experience serving in the Israel Defense Forces, which is probably why it seems so real. No one could find humor in things so mundane unless they experienced it for themselves.
6. A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015)
This 2016 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short by Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy looks at honor killings in Pakistan, TK. Specifically, an 18-year-old girl who managed to survive an honor killing attempt by her village. Obaid-Chinoy's decision to focus on the survivor of such a horrific crime also gives us a scary look at the price of surviving. In her acceptance speech, Obaid-Chinoy said that, after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif watched the film, he said he would change the laws on honor killing. And lucky for us, we'll be able watch this short on HBO on March 7, right in time for International Women's Day.
7. Whale Rider (2002)
New Zealand director Niki Caro's family drama looks at a 12-year-old girl who wants to become the leader of her Maori tribe, but her grandfather thinks it's a role for males only. The film's 13-year-old star, Keisha Castle-Hughes, is one of the youngest Best Actress nominees in history. Definitely watch this one with a box of tissues.
8. Persepolis (2007)
Marjane Satrapi's film based on her autobiographical graphic novel of the same name looks at her life growing up during the Iranian revolution. The black and white animation, a nod to the novel's original look, makes it really feel like Satrapi's book has come to life.
9. Monsoon Wedding (2001)
Mira Nair's romantic film looks at an arranged marriage, which brings a family together and also shows how they've grown apart. There's an affair, discussion of homosexuality, a focus on the price India's political climate has left some of the guests, and lots of beautiful traditional fashion. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll likely want to watch it again and again.
11. Girlhood (2014)
Written and directed by Celine Sciamma, this coming-of-age film from France looks at an African-French teenager, who is growing up in a poor Paris suburb. Sciamma wanted to focus her movie on black teenagers, a group that too often is forgotten in French films. She also wanted to give a different take on the idea of race, gender, and class in Paris, something that is often portrayed through a very specific lens. Sciamma's film makes you wish more would take her lead.
12. The Mourning Forest (2007)
Naomi Kawase's film is a gorgeously breathtaking film about a nurse who's lost her son and the bond she forms with an elderly man with dementia who's mourning his wife. The two manage to come together through the power of this forest, which holds a lost key for both of them to move on with their lives.
13. The Second Mother (2015)
Anna Muylaert's film, which she wrote and directed, looks at a live-in-housekeeper whose daughter comes to visit after nearly a decade. The Brazilian film looks at the price women like this face pay to help their family by being away from them.
14. White Material (2009)
This French film from Claire Denis looks at a struggling female coffee plantation owner in Africa during a time of civil unrest. This is an agonizing film as you watch child soldiers do brutal things that they were told to do. But it's worth watching, and remembering this tale isn't so farfetched.
15. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's Austrian horror film is about 9-year-old twin brothers, who are awaiting their mother’s return after having cosmetic facial surgery. The scary part, though, is that the kids aren't so sure the bandaged women who returns to their home is actually their mother. Definitely will be having nightmares after this one.
16. My Life Without Me (2003)
Canadian director Isabel Coixet's indie film about a young mother, played by Sarah Polley, who finds out she is dying will make you think about how you would want to be remembered. It will also probably make you fall in love with Mark Ruffalo all over again.
17. The Milk of Sorrow (2009)
The title of Peruvian director Claudia Llosa's film is a reference to a rare disease that is transmitted through the breast milk of women who were abused and raped during or after becoming pregnant. It's believed to be folklore stemming from years of violence in Peru towards women from 1980 to 1992. It was believed that the trauma many women faced was passed down to their children. Llosa's film wonders, though, if there is a way to stop it.
18. After the Wedding (2006)
This Danish film by Susanne Bier, starring Hannibal's Mads Mikkelsen, is about the secrets we keep and the effect they have on everyone involved. The wedding is the setting for all to be revealed, but it's after this mysterious wedding that everything comes together.
This list is just an introduction to the crop of female filmmakers who are making movies today by women, often for women. But ask any of these filmmakers what made them want to make movies, and you'll likely hear them tick off the names of their female predecessors like Jane Campion, Chantal Akerman and Ida Lupino. So, once you've finished this list, make a point to revisit those directors who paved the way for female films.
Image: Sony; Giphy