In 2011, only two female directed films made it into the top 100 grossing films of the year. Yet if you move beyond Hollywood to independent films, you will find a number of quality films directed by women in 2011 that shouldn’t be missed.
Among those is Tomboy, a film that Celine Sciamma wrote in three weeks and shot in twenty days: “In French, Tomboy is ‘garcon manque,’ which means ‘failed boy'” (indiewire.com). The film tackles the issue of socially constructed gender roles through the character of Laure Zoe Heran, a ten year old who begins to present herself as a boy after her family moves to a new town. Without passing judgment, the film encourages viewers to confront the ramifications of gender roles, and the impact they have on people’s lives. Tomboy carries an important message, especially for parents of children who might be questioning their gender. According to Sciamma, “I didn’t make it as an educational film, but now I see how useful it can be. I received a lot of testimonies from parents with kids questioning their gender, saying thanks, or asking questions” (indiewire.com).
Another film that addresses the importance of living a genuine life is Pariah, directed by Dee Rees and starring Adepero Oduye as seventeen year old Alike and Kim Wayans as her mother. Alike knows she is gay, but lives two lives, one in which she tries to be the stereotypical girl her mother wants her to be, and one in which she dresses in baggy clothes and ball caps. Her mother cannot accept who her daughter truly is, and as a result the family is torn apart.
A third noteworthy film is We Need to Talk About Kevin, directed by Lynne Ramsey and starring Tilda Swinton. This film, an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, examines the aftermath of a Columbine-like high school killing spree from the point of view of the perpetrator’s mother. The film asks the questions that go through all of our minds when we hear of these devastating events: how could she not see this coming? How could she not know that her son was a sociopath, and how much of this is her fault?
The Whistleblower, directed by Larysa Kondracki, is a film that speaks volumes about how women across the globe are viewed–as commodities to be bought and sold like cattle at auction. The film is a fictionalized account of the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a woman who worked as a peacekeeper in Bosnia in the late 1990s, where she found herself among countless men who instead of making a positive difference became part of the problem. Against the odds she struggled to save the lives of girls being sold–girls no one else cared about. Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, and David Strathairn deliver stunning performances as they shed light on the dark epidemic of human trafficking.
A film that examines sex trafficking closer to home is Sex & Money: A National Search for Human Worth, a documentary produced by Morgan Perry. Perry and her colleagues traveled to over thirty states and conducted more than seventy-five interviews with politicians, victims, federal agents, porn stars, psychologists, and activists. This film exposes the sex trafficking of minors within our own cities and suburbs, and serves as a springboard for a movement to stop it.
Another documentary that serves as an important call to action is Miss Representation, an educational film written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The film intertwines startling statistics, images, and television clips with provocative interviews with politicians, entertainers, journalists, activists, and students, including Gloria Steinem, Katie Couric, Condoleeza Rice, and Margaret Cho. The film explores how the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the under-representation of women in positions of power. This film literally knocks the wind out of you like a punch to the gut. While attending a screening of Miss Representation on the University of Colorado campus, I heard audible gasps from audience members who were shocked by what they were seeing and hearing. When the lights went up, there were tears of both anger and frustration, followed by heated discussion. Once you have seen this film, you will want to do something–anything–to help women and girls realize that their true power does not lie in their youth, beauty, and sexuality, but in their strength and capacity to lead and to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Women as subject, not object, is the powerful message this film delivers.
The films included here are only a sampling of this year’s best. It is important to take the time to support the work being done by women artists who are sharing their talents and their passion in order to get their message heard. I encourage you to see at least one of these films. By spending our money to support the efforts of these female filmmakers, we can begin to make a difference.