Here at Ms., we’re always on the hunt for feminist documentaries and love showcasing them on the site and in Ms. magazine. Feminist filmmakers telling the stories of women in new and interesting ways help to push women’s issues into the cultural mainstream and highlight societal problems that otherwise may have been overlooked.
And these terrific films are not hard to find!
Here are 10 great feminist documentaries streaming on Netflix right now, many of which have been reviewed in Ms.:
Late-term abortions make up only 1.5 percent of the abortions performed in the U.S., but attract disproportionate attention from anti-abortion advocates. This film follows four abortion providers, all part of the small handful of physicians willing to terminate third-semester pregnancies. All four worked closely with the late Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009 by Scott Roeder while attending church services in Wichita, Kansas. These doctors offer compassionate abortion care to women in crisis, and the film highlights the daily toll of this task–the grueling hours spent traveling from clinic to clinic, the death threats from extremists–as well as the profound sense of purpose they get from continuing the mission of their friend and colleague.
Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation calls out mainstream media for its limited and often degrading portrayals of girls and women. The documentary intertwines interviews with teenage girls with ones featuring famed women such as Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Lisa Ling, Rachel Maddow and Gloria Steinem. The interviews are bolstered by compelling statistics such as this one: 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, but that number increases to 78 percent by age 17.
It’s a Girl
This film tackles the rampant problem of gendercide, primarily in India and China, where more girls are “eliminated” than are born in the U.S. In certain provinces, the ratio of very young men to young women runs as high as 140 to 100. This imbalance leads to increased sex trafficking, prostitution and, in China, kidnapping girls for brides. In India, a quarter of girls don’t survive to puberty. The directors even interview a mother in India who nonchalantly talks of strangling the eight newborn girls she has given birth to. It’s a Girl helps to piece together what has happened to the 200 million girls the U.N. estimates are missing worldwide.
No Woman No Cry
After she nearly died from a postpartum hemorrhage, former model Christy Turlington Burns was inspired to make her directorial debut with a documentary on maternal mortality around the globe. The hour-long film follows several women around the world as they deal with barriers facing women during pregnancy. It lets viewers see such moments as doctors brusquely dismissing poor pregnant women in Bangladesh to post-abortion care in Guatemala (where nobody says the word abortion). As the narrative jumps from Turlington Burn’s New York apartment to Tanzanian hospitals, we see that women from all economic backgrounds are affected by maternal healthcare.
Live Nude Girls Unite
This documentary by feminist stripper Julia Query follows about 80 other strippers as they unionize, hire a lawyer and mount a strike in an attempt to gain more worker rights. The women of Lusty Lady in San Francisco argue that stripping is a valid occupation and that they should have the same protections as any other worker. The film also exposes the wage-stealing and discriminatory practices of some strip clubs: owners who misclassify strippers as independent contractors to avoid paying fair wages, and who book dancers based on race, hair color or breast size. Live Nude Girls Unite tells the story of the struggle to organize the first ever “stripper union” while pushing to humanize and destigmatize exotic dancing.
This raw and emotional documentary explores the challenges dark-skinned women face in their own communities and the world at large. Including a history of skin color in the United States and a collection of jarring interviews with dark-skinned black women–one of whom is actor Viola Davis–Dark Girls provides a candid look into the meaning of color in black America. Though the film has been criticized by some black thought leaders for portraying colorism as an internalized aspect of black pathology instead of a problem of white supremacy, its overarching message remains revealing and relevant.
An even-handed documentary about the sex industry that does its best to explore both sides of the prostitution debate, Buying Sex contains interviews with abolitionists, sex workers, johns and politicians. This Canadian film also chronicles the heated battle over the decriminalization of sex work in Canada, following an influential Ontario Superior Court ruling that struck down laws regulating prostitution. Does decriminalization give women more freedom, or does it just give male buyers and pimps greater leeway to exploit women? The film ultimately leaves it up to viewers to decide which side they fall on.
The Punk Singer
Director Sini Anderson captures the feminist punk movement of the early ’90s, Riot Grrrl, through a compelling portrait of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. Using two decades worth of archival footage and original interviews, she follows Hanna from her artistic roots in the Pacific Northwest to her activism in the D.C. Riot Grrrl scene. Even though sometimes too hagiographic, The Punk Singer chronicles the lionization of a reluctant and often-reticent hero and celebrates her pivotal place in feminist art.
Half the Sky
This documentary—filmed in 10 countries with narrations from celebrities such as Olivia Wilde, Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan—tells uplifting stories of women around the world who are fighting back against systemic oppression. The film presents gender equality as the unfinished business of the our time and highlights women who are working to improve everything from healthcare to education.Though one of the faces of the Half the Sky movement, Somaly Mam, has recently been exposed for allegedly fabricating her harrowing story, it doesn’t diminish the power of this meaningful film.
The Invisible War
Using interviews with survivors, this documentary explores the culture of impunity that has allowed a military rape epidemic to flourish. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York credited the film as her inspiration for drafting a recent bill that aims to curb rape in the military and bring justice to perpetrators. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Hope you’re all updating your queues after reading this!
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