Feminist Films That Showcased Women's Strength

by Tracy Dye

News broke today that Natalie Portman will be playing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an upcoming biopic, and I couldn't be more ecstatic! Seriously, guys, when I first learned about this, my response was a resounding "YAS!" Ginsberg has been a pioneer for ending gender discrimination, and Portman is also one of my personal idols, as well as a self-proclaimed feminists. The news also reminds of of this: with all the salaciousness, derogation, and archaic attitudes portrayed in certain cinema that can — and most likely will continue to — garner criticism, there are a litany of those within the industry of cinema that utilize their wide scope as an opportunity to use movies as a vehicle for enlightenment, positivity, and change in our constantly evolving society.

In 2015, we have seen great progress made for women's rights. However great these triumphs, there are still leaps and bounds to be made in equality. Movies have the ability to showcase this importance to a broad audience, and they can also serve to remind us of the struggles women — along with others — have faced. There are so many cinematic pieces I would like to give accolades to, and will continue to in future posts (stay tuned, guys!). For now, let's look at seven films that were exponential in showcasing the struggles of feminists, and inspired us in regard to the topic of women's rights.

The Help

The critically acclaimed novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett spurred the pivotal 2009 motion picture, which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture as well as Academy Award wins for Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Octavia Spencer. The regales over this film are more than well-deserved, as it chronicles the struggles experienced in the 1960s by the African-American women making up the help as well as women like Skeeter (played by the inimitable Emma Stone), who struggled to be accepted as a career-driven woman in a male dominated — and predominately sexist — society. Both the novel and the film succeeded in being a dispenser of side-splitting laughter (remember the scene with Minny's chocolate pie? Oh the taste of sweet revenge!), as well as a catalyst to tears. The poignance within the film lies in the voices and stories of the help — stories that were relegated to a state of silence by so many during that time.

A Little Princess

One of my favorite feminists — the incredible Emma Watson — reminded me of this movie when she shut down rumors that she was dating Prince Harry via tweet:

The clip she tweeted was from 1995's "A Little Princess," in which a brave and inspirational Frances Hodgson Burnett states: "All girls are princesses...Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses." That single quote turned perpetuating stereotypes about femininity and the archaic "do's and don'ts" of being a woman on their proverbial heads.

The Hunger Games

In the original Hunger Games from 2012 — along with the subsequent sequels — Jennifer Lawrence brought the novels' Katniss Evergreen to life, and I personally can't think of a better person to play this quintessence of strength, and prove that YES, women can be protagonists, and we can kick some serious butt while doing so.

Iron Jawed Angels

This film from 2004 took audiences back to the first wave of feminism, in which advocates (and two of my personal heroes) Alice Paul (played by Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Francis O'Connor) became pivotal — and enduring — figures in obtaining the right for women to vote in the United States. The film doesn't hold back on revealing the raw and life-threatening measures that were taken by these prominent feminists, including the violence suffragettes became recipients of, and a particularly grueling scene where Paul, Burns, and other feminists go on a hunger strike (and are subsequently force fed) as part of their fight to liberate women across the nation.


Yes, I'm referencing Frozen on this list. That may come as a surprise to some, but hear me out: Frozen took Disney's typical trajectory of displaying princesses as cliched ingenues and turned it on its head. Rather than center on the typical plot of a "damsel in distress" in need of a prince (not that there's anything wrong with finding your respective "prince" — love #FTW, am I right?), Frozen focused on the relationship between the sisters, Anna and Elsa, offering not one, but two female protagonists. Moreover, with all her girlish giggling (again, nothing wrong with girlish giggling) and affinity for crushing oh-so-hard on dashing princes, Anna proved herself to be a true heroine that wasn't afraid of some frigid temperatures and ended up — spoiler alert — doing all the rescuing. Messages of self-love and the need to "let it go" when it comes to others' opinions and unjustified shushing are also weaved throughout the film. Have I mentioned I'm obsessed with this movie? Yeah...I am.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Before Katniss Evergreen, there was Buffy Summers, a high school girl who happened to know her way around a stake and kicking butt when it came to vampires attempting to invade her town. This 1992 movie was the catalyst behind the '90s series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar that we've all come to know and love. This film was also a prime example of breaking stereotypes when it comes to women playing super heroes. Damsel in distress? Please. How's this roundhouse kick look?

Big Eyes

The relegation of women to shadows where their words were encouraged to not be spoken and — much too often — their work was not given credit was exemplified in 2014's Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams. Adams played prodigious artist, Margaret, who entered into an emotionally abusive relationship where her husband, Walter (played by Christopher Waltz), achieved fame by stealing ownership of Margaret's paintings. In 2014, Bustle spoke with Adams, and also noted one a key figure of feminism within the film (other than Margaret): Deann, played by the wildly talented Kristen Ritter.

Erin Brockovich

For any criticisms made to Erin Brockovich's (played by Julia Roberts) appearance in this film, I'll say this — that was part of the point. Erin Brockovich chronicled the real-life plight of a legal clerk eschewing convention, proving that she could exhibit unparalleled skills and success despite odds being against her. And, hey, if she wants to rock a low-cut shirt while doing that, I'm all for it. This film was the quintessence of the phrase, "don't judge a book by its cover."

Image: DreamWorks