Celebrating 2019's female-fronted films for International Women's Day

08 Mar 2019 BY Noor Daldoul in Film Features

7 mins

8 March marks International Women's Day, a focal point in the global movement for women's rights, equality and justice. This year, the theme #BalanceforBetter calls for driving a more gender-balanced world.

Debates around the lack of inclusivity and the underrepresentation of women in the film industry both on-screen and behind the camera have been particularly salient these past years. In 2018, only 15% of the top 500 films were directed by women, and although this year's Oscars® have set a record with 15 female winners, only a quarter of the nominees were female - evidence that underrepresentation remains an issue even if the trend is toward improvement.

Pioneering these changes, various movements have recently stimulated further discussions around gender parity in the film and media industries. Time's Up and #metoo call against sexual harassment and inequality, while the #AskHerMore campaign suggests journalists to ask female filmmakers and actresses questions about their career and work on the red carpet and in interviews, rather than focusing on their clothes. The ‘F-rating' is another initiative which identifies films written by, directed by, or starring female protagonists, with titles which meet all three criteria receiving a ‘Triple-F' rating. Introduced in Bath Festival in 2014 but more widely adopted across the industry in 2017, it is a step towards supporting and recognising female talents as well as promoting alternative voices and stories on screen.

The beginning of 2019 has already brought powerful female-led historical dramas on international screens, including The Favourite's critically-acclaimed leading trio Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, as well as Felicity Jones' portrayal of trailblazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female Justice to serve on the US Supreme Court, in the biopic On the Basis of Sex. Gender roles and sexuality have been further explored in films such as Colette in which Keira Knightley portrays a writer demanding recognition for her work after her novels were credited to her husband, and Mary Queen of Scots, which focuses on the relation between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in their fight over the English throne.

The rest of the year promises to be just as interesting:

Films for the Family

Throughout the year, young audiences will be able to choose from an array of animated and live-action features, all co-directed by women.

Released this month are the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel - in which the superhero played by Brie Larson is caught in the middle of a galactic conflict between two alien worlds - and children's adventure Harvie and the Magic Museum where the young hero must save the city from the Puppet Master's evil plans. Dog lovers will enjoy heartfelt documentary Pick of the Litter, a two-year odyssey following a group of puppies as they train to become guide dogs for the blind. 

Later in the year, two animated magical-adventure films will follow: first in the much-anticipated sequel to 2013's Frozen, where Queen Elsa and her sister embark on a journey beyond the kingdom of Arendelle, and secondly with DreamWorks Animation's Abominable, which follows a magical Yeti's quest to reunite with his family with the help of two teenagers.

On-Screen Stories of Female Solidarity and Resilience

Two scam artists played by Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson team up to take down the men who have wronged them in The Hustle, a reworking of classic comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; the general manager at a ‘sports bar with curves' tries to protect her all-female staff in big-hearted comedy Support the Girls; and the reboot of 2000 film Charlie's Angels promises adventures led by a powerful trio starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska.

Elsewhere, tales of resilience sees a musician from Glasgow pursuing her dreams of becoming a Nashville star in potential breakout British drama Wild Rose, the rise of a young teenager to stardom as she uses music to express herself after surviving a high-school shooting in Vox Lux, and the tribulations a thirteen-year-old with social anxiety as she goes through her last year of middle school in Eighth Grade.

Films by Female Directors

After three nominations at the Oscars® for Can You Every Forgive Me?, Marielle Heller comes back with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks in the role of the beloved American television icon Fred Rogers.

Beyond this, a number of coming-of-age tales tackling issues of race and identity come in the form of Ry Russo-Young's love story between Daniel and Natacha, as her family is hours away of being deported to Jamaica in The Sun Is Also a Star, and in Gurinder Chadha's portrayal of a Muslim teenager living in 1987 England who finds refuge and courage in Bruce Springsteen's songs in Blinded by The Light.

Triple F-Rated Tales

Stories by women and about women have an increasingly wide appeal, as foreseen by these inspiring triple F-Rated films, each highlighting captivating female characters and exploring issues of mental wellbeing, diversity and inclusion.

In Josephine Decker's Madeline's Madeline, newcomer Helena Howard plays a vulnerable and isolated teenager who finds that experimental theatre is a seemingly healthy outlet in which she can navigate her fragile mental state and escape her overbearing mother. 

British comedy regular Jessica Hynes is the writer, director and star of The Fight, a family drama about anxiety, bullying and the importance of standing out for yourself; Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu's effervescent Rafiki chronicles the secretly growing romance between two young women against the backdrop of their families' political rivalry in a conservative neighbourhood of Nairobi; and, heading into 2020 and next year's awards contenders, a stellar female-led cast (Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern) will star in Greta Gerwig's screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's period drama Little Women, exploring the lives of four sisters in 1860s Massachusetts.

Finally, directed by Nisha Ganatra from a screenplay by Mindy Kaling, Late Night addresses the lack of diversity in the media through the story of a long-running late-night show host played by Emma Thompson pressured into hiring more women and minorities in the writer's room. 

The exciting changes pointing towards greater female representation and female expression in the film industry are ones to look forward to, both for the development of the art form itself and more broadly for the promotion of gender equality across society, and is a cause for celebration on International Women's Day 2019.


Noor Daldoul, Curation Officer (Learning)

Noor has an MA in Arts and Cultural Management from King's College London and has previously worked at various film festivals in London and abroad.

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