For many feminists (this writer included), 2016 will be remembered as the year angry white men, so fearful of losing cultural dominance and their control of the sociopolitical narrative, did everything in their power to silence the voices of women, queer people, and people of color—including voting for Donald Trump.
But, to quote my favorite movie musical to date Hairspray: “You can’t stop the beat!” This year, the most talked about films did more than just spotlight the remarkable stories of fictional and real-life social justice agitators, instigators, and truth-tellers—they raised consciousness and actively challenged widely-held attitudes about race, sexuality, and gender. These ten feminist films were perfect examples.
(Animated, Dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush)
After graduating with honors from police academy in her rural hometown of Bunnyburrow, Judy Hopps knows it won’t be long before she jumps into her dream job as the first rabbit police officer in the urban jungle of Zootopia, a roaring metropolis where prey and predators coexist in harmony. But if she wants to be more than a meter maid in the eyes of her colleagues, this “bunny cop” will need to show her teeth and overcome some pretty hairy prejudices (not to mention majorly discriminatory hiring practices!). Cleverly challenging social stereotypes through the animation of anthropomorphic mammals, Zootopia trumpets a message of inclusivity your whole feminist family will enjoy!
(Drama, Dir. Barry Jenkins)
With his mother trapped in the shadow of addiction and his life at school an endless nightmare of bullying and violence, Chiron, a young, queer African-American boy, looks for light, love, and acceptance in a dark and dangerous world. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight shines as an achingly beautiful meditation on masculinity and sexuality, illuminating the damaging ways in which expectations of race and gender can impede our ability to meaningfully connect with others – and ourselves.
8. Audrie and Daisy
(Documentary, Dir. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)
Two girls. Two rapes. No justice. It’s just another day in America. This deeply disturbing documentary chronicles the inaction of local law enforcement and public officials to adequately address the sexual assaults of two teenaged girls – 15-year-old Audrie Pott of Saratoga Springs, California and 14-year-old Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri – and the brutal bullying and harassment that was to follow within their respective communities. Providing yet another example of the pervasiveness of rape culture and the judicial system’s seeming lack of ability (or desire) to hold boys and men accountable for their deplorable behavior, Audrie and Daisy is a devastating watch, but a necessary one.
7. Certain Women
(Drama, Dir. Kelly Reichardt)
An overworked attorney who sacrifices her personal wellness to serve the needs of her demanding clients. An unappreciated wife and mother who hopes to strengthen her family’s foundations by building them a new home. A queer rancher who longs to escape her self-imposed isolation and ride off into the sunset with a young professional on the verge of burnout. Based on the short stories of Maile Meloy, Certain Women’s beauty lives in filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s gentle, but honest handling of these three interconnected stories depicting deeply flawed and emotionally adrift women at their most raw.
(Drama, Dir. Meera Menon)
Rolling Stone may have dubbed it “The She-Wolf of Wall Street,” but Equity‘s women-centric take on Wall Street corruption excels in one area Scorsese’s Wolf does not: in representation of powerful women. While Hollywood’s newest cinematic ode to corporate capitalism may not ring feminist bells for some audiences, the film’s accurate and nuanced depiction of the many invisible barriers erected on each rung on the corporate ladder and the ways in which they impede the ascension of highly educated and competent women resonates deeply. Even more impressive, the film boasts a nearly all-women creative team including director, writers, and producers – practically unheard of in today’s women-hostile Hollywood. How’s that for equity!
(Documentary, Dir. Ava DuVernay)
Following ratification in 1865, the 13th amendment of the US Constitution stated:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The US may be home to less than five percent of the world’s population today, thanks to this carefully crafted exception, it is also a prison to almost 25 percent of people globally. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma) takes no prisoners with this scathing indictment of the American criminal justice system, linking the ever-increasing rates of mass incarceration of African-American men and women to for-profit prisons run by corporations eager to grow their bottom line on the backs of inmates. Modern day slavery, anyone? Powerful and enraging, if you see one documentary this year, make it count with 13th!
(Drama, Dir. Jeff Nichols)
Rural Virginia, 1958. A woman, Mildred Jeter, discovers she is pregnant by her childhood sweetheart, Richard Loving. The couple, deeply enamored with one another, excitedly agree to marry. There’s just one problem. According to the law in the state they call home, such a union is illegal and punishable by jail. Why? Because Mildred is black and Richard is white. Detailing the true love story behind the 1967 landmark Supreme Court ruling that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage, Loving serves as a moving reminder of love’s power to trump hate.
3. Queen of Katwe
(Drama, Dir. Mira Nair)
In a Ugandan slum called Katwe in the country’s capital of Kampala, 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi dreams of escaping the poverty that plagues her homeland. When a local minister moves to teach her chess, Phiona learns the game is much more than a leisurely pastime. In fact, it may just put her and her family on the path towards prosperity. Based on a true story, this sports drama (featuring 20 Years A Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o and Selma‘s David Oyelowo) will inspire you to stand up and cheer!
(Comedy, Dir. Paul Feig)
Few films on our list unleashed as much anti-feminist ghoulishness from the darkest corners of the manosphere as this all-women reboot of the 1984 paranormal classic by the same name, so it seems only fitting that the film’s villain takes the form of a pasty white, basement-dwelling troll of the Internet netherworld. Who ya gonna call to neutralize all the negativity and lay the tired “women aren’t funny” myth to rest once and for all? Who else but this dream team of otherworldly talents and hilarity: Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig! This eye-popping update will give you all the feels – and all the lolz – you need to scare away the ghosts of misogynists past, present, and future!
1. Hidden Figures
(Drama, Dir. Theodore Melfi)
Meet Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), the mathematical masterminds behind the successful launch of American astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit in 1962. Together with their fellow “computers” – brilliant women of color who crunched numbers and calculated flight trajectories at NASA’s segregated Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia – Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughan secured the United States’ lead in the Space Race, but have only just recently received any recognition for their remarkable contributions. Thanks to the popularity of Hidden Figures, though (as well as the nonfiction book by the same name by Margot Lee Shatterly), these historical figures shall be hidden no longer!
Tell me your favorite feminist films from 2016 in the comments!