Gender parity and female representation are some of the most hot-button issues swarming around the entertainment industry today. A lot of folks say they want to usher in a new wave of female storytellers in front of and behind the camera. But, how can we make sure that real change is being made? And, more importantly, how can we make sure this change serves to amplify the experiences and opportunities for women in other industries as well?
Revisiting the amazing work that has been done by female film artists of the past is the perfect place to start. And fortunately for us, there is no shortage of hysterical, heart-wrenching, top of the line work helmed by women on the horizon. Let’s continue supporting the full gambit of films with strong female leads from old to new:
Bonafide Classics With Strong Female Leads
“Crazy Rich Asians”
Although this immensely popular romantic comedy tells the love story of a heterosexual couple, the women of the film take true reign. In “Crazy Rich Asians,” adapted from the series of novels written by Kevin Kwan, a young woman named Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, must reject the disdain and disapproval from her fiance's excessively wealthy family in order to find out she really wants to be. The majority of the Rachel’s strength, cunningness (and spoiler alert, mahjong skills) comes from her mother and the support of her dearest friends. While many rightfully praised the film for breaking down barriers around casting Asian-Americans in Hollywood, it was also a very healthy reminder of the power entire generations of Asia-descendant women possess.
This bio drama re-introduced audiences to the work of real-life superheroes Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three genius African-American women who were responsible for helping NASA launch the first man into orbit. It is hard to imagine the time, effort, and brain power that had to go into astrophysics before modern age technology, but the brains implanted in these major black women, as well as countless others who went unsung throughout history, were some of the best computers of that time. The film’s celebration of women in STEM fields is truly inspiring, even to vastly incompetent mathematicians like myself.
A story centered around a strained mother-daughter relationship that was actually written, directed, and produced by women? Yes, please! This perfect little coming-of-age film, helmed by multi-hyphenate artist Greta Gerwig, follows a turbulent teenager self-identifying as ‘Lady Bird’ who takes after her mother a little too much for either of their likings. The two constantly bicker, Lady Bird even goes as far as launching herself out of a moving car to avoid arguing with her mother, but share undeniable, impenetrable, and fiercely loving bond.
“Set It Off”
What’s better than a movie starring four women who rob banks in Los Angeles to get back at abusive bosses and a crooked capitalist system? Those women being played by cinematic legends Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise, of course! “Set It Off” is a certified classic and one of the first films I ever saw that positioned a band of female characters as the gun-slinging, money-grabbing criminals we actually want to root for. As audience members, we all know their actions are wrong, but oh do we so want them to win!
“Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants”
It is impossible to imagine that any woman made it through the early 2000s without seeing this movie, but on the off-chance you did, there is no better time to take in this effortlessly sweet tale. The film’s message of sisterhood still resonates with audiences today. Fresh-faced America Ferrera, Blake Lively, Alexis Biedel, and Amber Tamblyn star in the film and their undeniable chemistry will easily make you want to call up your real-life girls! You may want to skip out the fiercely flared denim though...just a hunch.
This Year’s Top Films With Strong Female Leads
Marvel’s highly anticipated film “Captain Marvel” features one of the most powerful characters in the fictional universe’s canon. In the original comic books, Captain Marvel is a military officer, technology developer, and all-around badass. The titular role, portrayed by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson, is a beast to play, but one that is sure to empower generations of badass women to come. To make matters even more inspiring, you can catch the film in theatres in March, aka Women’s History Month.
“Clemency,” the prison drama written and directed by Nigerian-American artist Chinonye Chukwu, is already achieving massive critical acclaim and award-show anticipation. The film screened for the very first time at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, which Chukwu walked away from as the first black woman to win the Grand Jury prize. The story follows a prison warden, played by living legend Alfre Woodard, who holds shop regularly on death row. When an execution goes wrong however, she starts to question the true nature of her work. According to Chukwu, creating this film was a multi-year process as she had to delve deep into bodies of research surrounding the prison industrial complex, prison reform, and death row policy. Although it sounds like an extremely heavy watch, I am so excited to see the truth Chukwu will no doubt illuminate onto our screens!
It is pretty shocking that it even took this long to get a female-led mob movie with Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss, but boy am I glad the world is getting this treat. Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Andrea Berloff writes and directs the project, which focuses on a crew of mob-wives that have to take over the family business when their husbands fall short. If the primary cast is any indication, this is bound to be the only mobster-crime movie that elicits as much laughter as it does fear.
“West Side Story”
The classic Bernstein and Sondheim musical “West Side Story” is hitting movie theatres again with the help of multi-award winning director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner. Although the production and creative teams behind the film are majority male, the New York City-set story has always been a beacon of female strength, especially for Latina communities. If you are not already familiar, “West Side Story” takes a modern day riff on the war-locked world of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In this version, two feuding New York City street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, are forced to comes to terms with one another when key members of both groups fall in love. This brand new production stars Broadway powerhouse Ariana DeBose as fiery Anita and 17-year-old newcomer (yes, I did just write 17) Rachel Zegler as the lovestricken Maria. We certainly can’t wait to see what these women and this new production bring to the table!
“What Men Want”
What if women could actually hear what men were thinking? Then...we would be just like Taraji P. Henson’s character in the new movie “What Men Want.” This raunchy comedy drops viewers into the world of sports agent Ali Davis, a hardworking lady trying to make it in an industry stocked to the brim with over-assertive men. After seeing a therapist played by Erykah Badu (a woman who should be cast in every film ever from here on out), Davis acquires the ability to hear what men think. What ensues, as you can imagine dear reader, is comedy at its best.
What’s The Future For Films With Strong Female Leads?
As transparent as Hollywood has started to become, a lot of important decisions surrounding the shows and films we see are still made behind tightly closed doors. Audiences, however, must remember this plain and simple truth: We are the ones in control! Any film, television show, or even commercial that comes across the screen was created with women in mind. So, it is important to continue showing them what we want: More women in control.