March is Women's History Month, so now would be a great time to watch these 11 films that celebrate and encourage women. (Please note: you're welcome to watch movies about women the rest of the year too!)
'Princess Cyd' (2017)
Metacritic score: 71
"Princess Cyd" completely knocked my socks off. The premise is simple: Cyd, a 16-year-old girl, spends a few weeks visiting her aunt in Chicago. I usually mitigate my expectations for performances in low-budget independent films, but "Princess Cyd" features some of the most realistic portrayals of women I've ever seen on screen. The dialogue perfectly captures the way my own family members might speak to one another, and there's nothing self-serving about the film. It merely champions, quite successfully, the importance of positive female role models in a young woman's life.
Metacritic score: 81
The tide has turned, so to speak. Instead of the helpless "rescued by a prince" princesses of yesteryear, Disney has made a sincere effort in the last decade to tell stories that will inspire young girls to be strong and independent. Moana plays a Polynesian teenager who sets out on an oceanic mission to help her people, guided by demigod Maui. "Moana" is a beautifully animated, well-written film that should be played on repeat for our young sons and daughters. (Bonus: you won't have to listen to "Let It Go" for the nine millionth time.)
'She's Beautiful When She's Angry' (2014)
Metacritic score: 80
There's arguably no better time than Women's History Month to brush up on women's history. Mary Dore's documentary looks back at the second-wave feminism movement from 1966 to 1971 and interviews a number of pioneers who fought for women's liberation. It's a great quick watch and a helpful reminder that even though young women today are a few generations out from second-wave feminism, there are still important conversations to be had about issues like reproductive rights and gender equality in the workplace.
'Daughters of the Dust' (1991)
Metacritic score: 81
Julie Dash wrote, directed and produced this independent film about three generations of Gullah women. It was the first film directed by an African-American woman to get a theatrical distribution in the US (yes, in the '90s). "Daughters of the Dust" is a fascinating portrayal of Gullah culture, made with an unconventional and poetic storytelling style. Also, UCLA film school graduates unite! (Julie Dash, my apologies for the shameless plug for our shared alma mater.)
'Big Eyes' (2014)
Metacritic score: 62
"Big Eyes" tells the real-life story of Margaret Keane, the famous artist whose husband, Walter Keane, took credit for her paintings for over a decade. I'd find the premise rage-inducing enough if it was merely fiction, but the fact that this actually happened is a bit hard for me to stomach. Don't worry, there's a happy outcome, though; Keane is ultimately vindicated in the courtroom and in public opinion. Amy Adams gives a sympathetic and inspired performance as the talented artist Keane, even earning herself a Golden Globe for Best Actress in (Comedy or Musical).
'Frances Ha' (2012)
Metacritic score: 82
If you didn't get a chance to catch "Lady Bird" (Greta Gerwig's directorial debut) in theaters, it's worth checking out "Frances Ha," a film in which she stars as the titular character. The film follows Frances' journey through New York, and to various locations, as she struggles with her friendships and limited prospects of becoming a dancer. Frances is a charismatic presence in a joyful film that makes young women feel like their stories have a place in this world.
'The Women's Balcony' (2016)
Metacritic score: 74
"The Women's Balcony" is an amusing, heartfelt Israeli film about a group of women raising money to rebuild their synagogue's women's balcony after it collapses -- and challenging their new rabbi's strict beliefs on gender roles. I found myself instantly attached to the likable characters and appreciating the film for its sincerity and charm. "The Women's Balcony" also offers an interesting perspective not always seen in Western-made films on maintaining traditional gender-related religious customs, while still expecting women be respected in their community.
'Seeing Allred' (2018)
Metacritic score: 68
You have to have pretty thick skin to be an activist in the public eye. And even thicker skin if you're a female lawyer. But Gloria Allred has championed women's rights for decades, seeming completely immune to the childish taunts thrown her way. This documentary is an utterly fascinating look at the life and motivations of one of America's most known attorneys.
'Queen of Katwe' (2016)
Metacritic score: 73
I'm not going to admit publicly how many times I've seen "Searching for Bobby Fischer," so let's just say I enjoy movies about chess, OK? "Queen of Katwe" is the true story of a young girl living in Katwe, a slum in Uganda, who learns to play chess from a missionary and begins competing in competitions. This female-directed Disney film is another great addition to our list of films you can watch on family movie night.
'She's Gotta Have It' (1986)
Metacritic score: 79
Spike Lee's directorial debut "She's Gotta Have It" still holds up three decades later as a comedy, a drama, a romance and a thought piece on race and sexuality. Which is why I probably keep recommending it on every Netflix write-up I've done. The film follows the incredible Nola Darling as she juggles three men simultaneously, while not letting them define her or her independence. On the upside, once you finish the movie you can start straight away on the Netflix series Lee just adapted. It's also fantastic.
'She Makes Comics' (2016)
This documentary focuses on the history of women working on comic books. It's frustrating women still have to point out to certain folks that they, too, enjoy things like comic books or video games as much as men, but here's a film that serves as a not so gentle reminder. "She Makes Comics" has interviews with a number of talented women working in the comic industry, and asserts a woman's right to have interests in anything she damn well pleases.