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Celebrating Women in Film

Updated: Apr 4

From The Office to the Barbie movie, women have been taking on a larger role in the film and TV industries in the twenty-first century. In the summer of 2023, director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” a movie that explored gender norms, finding balance as a woman, and self-love and acceptance, was released. Not only was it the highest-grossing film of 2023, but it was also the fourteenth-highest-grossing film of all time. The film was also produced in part by Margot Robbie, who played the main character, Barbie. While participating in and promoting films exploring womanhood is not new for either Gerwig or Robbie, public acceptance for such media has, likewise, come a long way since TV shows like I Love Lucy of the 1950s, a show which broke barriers in its time, particularly with respect to normalizing pregnancy on screen. 


Akin to the Barbie movie, Clueless (1995) is a landmark film of the 90’s, also directed by a woman, Amy Heckerling. Clueless is an “all-time” classic teen movie, not only was it a large success upon its release in 1995, but to this day it still has a sustained popularity and persisting legacy. While the movie was not as “on the nose” with the way it promoted the empowerment of women, the protagonist, Cher, does make a point of using femininity to her advantage at times, but is not limited as a character to just her femininity as she attains more emotional growth throughout the movie. Nonetheless, Heckerling’s role as a writer and director in Clueless deserves to be celebrated for the film’s widespread popularity and legacy. 

 

Thelma and Louise (1991) is another classic and well-liked movie, though not directed by a woman, it was produced in part by a woman, Mimi Polk Gitlin. Thelma and Louise is likely the defining “girl-power” film of the 90’s. Its themes compliment the third wave of feminism that took place in the 90s, as the film depicts the outcome of two women, Thelma and Louise, attempting to flee the country after Louise murders a man trying to sexually assault Thelma. The two end up in more and more trouble as the story unfolds until they can no longer escape the consequences of their actions. The film offers a stark contrast to the stereotypical roles of women, such as the femme fatale or traditional housewife often portrayed in films prior; and was ground-breaking at the time for having two female leads. According to Becky Aikman, part of the inspiration for the movie came from the bond between writer Callie Khouri and singer Pam Tillis, both women working in male-dominated spaces at the time. 


The Joy Luck Club (1993) is another ground-breaking film of the 90’s. Based on the novel “The Joy Luck Club,” by Amy Tan, which tells the story of four Chinese-American women, their relationships with their daughters, and the trials and tribulations of immigrating to a new country from the perspective of immigrant mothers. Their daughters face their own challenges having to navigate and balance their Chinese heritage and American upbringing. This is such an important story that deserves to be told and shared, but is often under-represented, and was one of the first of its kind in the time it was released. Writer and co-producer Amy Tan’s involvement in the film should be celebrated for introducing such an impactful story in Hollywood. More recently, themes explored in The Joy Luck Club have been mirrored in director Domee Shi’s Turning Red, particularly the theme of mother-daughter relationships. 


Often in film, especially before the 2000s or even 2010s, many of the popular films produced, directed, or written by women, had womanhood or girlhood as a fundamental or central theme of the movie. In modern times, while we still see these movies where themes of womanhood and girlhood take center stage, the Barbie movie is a great example of this, as is Bridgerton, produced in part by Shonda Rhimes. We also see more of womanhood being integrated into shows and films as more of a subtle theme, and not necessarily the primary theme. Examples of this include shows like Abbott Elementary, created and produced in part by Quinta Brunson. While the show follows Janine Teagues through the challenges and triumphs that she faces as a teacher and ultimately as a woman in the workplace, it ultimately is a comedy-driven sitcom about teachers working in an under-funded school, among other things. Another example is The Office, written and produced in part by Mindy Kaling. While subtle themes such as female friendships, like that of Kelly and Erin, are explored; the overarching presentation of the office is as a workplace comedy. Superstore, produced in part by America Ferrara, takes on themes like motherhood and female-friendships through characters like Amy, Cheyenne, and Dina, but it is ultimately a workplace comedy. A more serious film, The Farewell (2019), written and directed by Lulu Wang, heavily emphasizes themes of grief and identity, and not so much womanhood. All this to say, it is important that women are not limited to only producing and directing films and shows where womanhood is the central theme. It is a step in the right direction, that the perspectives and creative insights of women in the film and TV industries are being included in media in anything ranging from themes of comedy as in The Office, to grief as in The Farewell. With that in mind, the many movies created by women, centering around womanhood or girlhood, often serve to challenge and redefine what that looks like. Both these types of movies, where womanhood is a central theme and those where it is not, are important and women should have a role in the production and direction of both of these types of movies. 


Women, in roles such as directors, producers, and writers, have come a long way in the film and TV industries over the past few decades. This should be celebrated as it is paving the way for new women and girls to enter these industries in these roles. This blog post only scratches the surface of how many incredible women are involved in the film and television industries, and the difficulties they face in getting their stories told. While there is much room for change to occur in these industries, that is, there is still an under-representation of women in these roles, it is important to look at the past as a measure of how far women have come and celebrate those who led us here. 


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