The Year of the Fighter: The Top 10 Feminist Films of 2014

257368762_a9f2b10c32_zHollywood has long been a boy’s club, but this year, women made a dent in the door.

From bow-wielding revolutionaries to outspoken intellectuals to ordinary women with the will to change the world, women warriors, both onscreen and off, challenged audiences to reimagine women as masters of their own destinies. Though the battle is far from won, in Hollywood and throughout the world, the Ms. Blog’s list of our top 10 fiercely feminist films of 2014 may offer some inspiration to fight another day.

10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I (Fantasy/Drama, Dir. Francis Lawrence)

It’s a woman’s world in the the third installment of this wildly popular film franchise. As Katniss Everdeen’s star continues to rise as the face of the rebellion against the Capitol, District 13 President Alma Coin, a power-hungry wolf in sheep’s clothing, reveals herself a formidable adversary. A strong female protagonist and an unapologetically deceptive female antagonist in an action-packed war fantasy? Sign us up!                

9. Difret (Drama, Dir. Zeresenay Berhane Mehari)
After 14-year-old Hirut is abducted and raped by a man who intends to marry her by force, she steals her would-be husband’s rifle and kills him in fear for her life. Facing execution for her crime, Meaza Ashenafi, a lawyer and advocate for women’s rights in Ethiopia, volunteers to represent Hirut, but risks her own legal-aid practice in the process. Based on true events, Difret serves as a reminder of the hard-won battles for equal rights of women and girls globally.

8. Regarding Susan Sontag (Documentary, Dir. Nancy D. Kates)
Moody, brooding and fiercely independent, writer Susan Sontag emerged as one of America’s most revered public intellectuals in the early 1960s. Sontag’s refusal to adhere to society’s rigid rules of womanhood without apology—abandoning her marriage and motherly duties to move to Paris, write books and engage in passionate lesbian love affairs—is both what draws readers to her and what turns some off. But if you’re a feminist, Regarding Susan Sontag may just cause you to jump into bed with one of her books.

7. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Thriller/Romance, Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
In crumbling Iranian underworld Bad City, a predator prowls the dark streets. She glides through the night on a skateboard, outfitted in a traditional black hajib, feasting on the flesh of men taken by surprise by a non-submissive woman. HELL. YES. This genre-bending pulpy masterpiece—the first ever Iranian vampire western—takes back the night with equal parts horror, romance and badassery.

6. Obvious Child (Comedy, Dir. Gillian Robespierre)
Refreshingly honest and hilarious, Obvious Child is not your average rom-com. After discovering she is pregnant after a drunken one-stand, struggling stand-up comedian Donna decides to have an abortion. What’s unique about this “abortion movie,” however, is the humor filmmaker Gillian Robespierre employs to handle this sensitive subject matter. It is this lightness of touch that grounds the film in the reality of the situation and keeps it from veering into the-pit-of-death-and-despair trap that abortion narratives often fall into.

5. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Documentary, Dir. Mary Dore)
With director Mary Dore leading the march, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry sheds light on the 1960s Women’s Liberation Movement’s lesser-known history, detailing the extraordinary efforts of everyday women who sparked a revolution and blazed the trail for women’s rights in the United States. Featuring commentary from National Organization for Women (NOW) co-founder Muriel Fox to early lesbian movement organizer Rita Mae Brown to Redstockings co-founder Ellen Willis, this documentary puts you on the frontlines of the world-changing revolution of women.

4. Belle (Historical Drama, Dir. Amma Asante)
Inspired by true events, Dido Elizabeth Belle is the illegitimate biracial daughter of a British admiral and an enslaved African woman. Rather than doom his child to a life of poverty, the admiral entrusts her care in the hands of his extended aristocratic relatives. Though they raise her as one of their own, Belle must still negotiate issues of class and gender in 18th century England.

3. Anita (Documentary, Dir. Freida Lee Mock)
Victims of sexual harassment and assault are often met with scorn and intense scrutiny, but few women have endured as much derision as Anita Hill. In 1991, Hill provided testimony against Clarence Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court, alleging that under his employment, he sexually harassed her. What resulted was a media firestorm complete with swirling winds of racism, sexism, power and politics. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock revisits the scandal, compiling archival footage with fresh commentary.

2. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (Documentary, Dir. Chiemi Karasawa)
Broadway diva Elaine Stritch breaks the fourth wall and shares the script of her life. Brash and bawdy, Stritch brought her special brand of humor to every situation on and offscreen, a technique often applied to mask deep insecurities about her own talent. As Stritch prepares for her swan song performance at the Cafe Carlyle, Shoot Me audiences have a front-row seat to observe master thespian—and one helluva woman—at work.

1. Wild (Drama/Biography, Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée)
Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild tracks the emotional journey of Cheryl, a 26-year-old heroin addict grieving the loss of her mother, as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone from California’s Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon. Beautiful, poetic and deeply moving, Wild winds the road to Cheryl’s self-discovery with wit, grace and the will to confront one’s self, no matter how rough the emotional terrain may be.

Didn’t see your favorite feminist film of 2014 on the list? Add it in our comments!

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Photo courtesy of rpb1001 via Flickr

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Kitty Lindsay is an editorial intern at Ms. Follow her on Twitter @KittyLindsayLA

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    Comments

    1. Shanika Lazo says:

      I’d say the white-washing of Katniss in the Hunger Games is anti-feminist.

      • There is nothing in the book that says Katniss is a Poc, in fact it is implyed that she is White. There was no whitewhashing involved in this at all. Stop proclaiming headcannons as fact. Rue was also implied to be white in the book, yet they made her black in the film, that is inclusive. I’m not saying thay they Couldn’t have casted Katniss as a different race, but the fact that they kept her white is not whitewashing. Not everything on tumblr is true.

    2. This list is missing Swedish film about 3 punk rock girls:
      WE ARE THE BEST!

    3. We’re the Best! From Sweden is a wonderful look at irreverent girls in 1982 Stockholm. A great take on relationships among 13 year old girls.

    4. Cheryl Strayed wasn’t a heroin addict, she did heroin a few times with one of her boyfriends… that wasn’t really a thing in the book that was important or even really influenced her…

    5. Solid list of those I do know which makes me want to definitely see the ones I don’t.

    6. Great list! Not seen all of these so that gives me something to do in January!
      I’ve created a list of films we can get excited about in 2015 – let me know what I’ve missed! http://bechdeltestfest.com/2014/12/10/films-for-feminists-to-get-excited-about-in-2015/

    7. How about “The Tracks”? It is also an adventure film, which makes me want to jump on a plane to Australia (wait, I have just got tickets to South Africa instead!) and, although, not strictly feminist, but definitely with some most neglected great women in modern history – Imitation Game (parallel story of Joan Clarke) and The Long Walk to Freedom with its new portrayal of Winnie Mandela and her role in South Africa’s fight for freedom.

    8. Thank you for sharing this marvelous list of movies to watch and share with my 17year old daughter. I just got The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore for Christmas. Now you have given me a 2015 to do list to grow my feminist knowledge and history.

      Thanks
      Maria

    9. Interesting choices. I’ll have to check these out. I didn’t see many movies this year. I love that the Hunger Games has been so popular with girls. My daughters both love the books and movies and it’s good that there are stories with strong female protagonists.

    10. Hey Kitty,
      Thanks for the inclusion! Elaine was WAY ahead of her time, never ashamed to be who she was. It’s also wonderful to note how many of these films were directed by women, what a wonderful comment as well!
      Keep it coming.

      Chiemi Karasawa

    11. Great list! I am particularly interested in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” Here are two more for you: Jennifer Kent’s Australian horror indie “The Babadook,” which is a great parable about the challenges of single motherhood, and Diana Whitten’s “Vessel,” a documentary I saw at SXSW about the brave Dutch women who anchor a floating abortion clinic off-shore – in international waters – near countries that have major restrictions on access to abortion, to serve women in need.

    12. I think that Ida or Under the Skin should have been recognized.

    13. Really? only THREE of these films are about women fighting for something other than being female (Hunger Games/Wild/Elaine Stritch). I’ll be glad when women’s stories aren’t about being WOMEN, but about being HUMAN. Then we’ll really know we’ve made progress. It’s like black people only making movies about fighting against racism. Black people are so much more than that, and so are women.

    14. I think it’s pretty awful that there is no mention in this article of 3 important feminist films from India’s mainstream Bollywood industry: Mary Kom, Queen and Gulaab Gang. India makes more films each year than any other country in the world.
      However, India also does an abysmal job of publicizing its films worldwide, so it’s not the writer’s fault.

    15. Hunger Games is more Video-Gamism than feminism. Let’s face it, it’s a rip off of a really great gender neutral story of Japanese school kids who have to kill each other off called Battle Royale. The filmmaker must be pissed. All for the sake of a female lead for blond tween sales. Too bad. That aside, I would add ‘The Babadook’ by Jennifer Kent, and ‘Selma,’ by the amazing Ava DuVernay. It’s about MLK, but I swear it’s every bit about the feminists and what poor Corretta had to put up with with that man, with so much dignity and grace. It isn’t about women, but it dignifies every single woman in it in a way rarely even seen in movies pointedly about women.

    16. what about girlhood!?

    17. I was expecting to see Big Eyes, Tim Burton’s portrait of Margaret Keane, somewhere in the list.

    18. Guardian – a 2014 Indonesian movie available on Netflix – is one of the first feminist cheesy low-budget violent action movies I’ve ever seen.

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