March is known as International Women’s Month, and what better way to celebrate than to watch some of the best films and shows focused on women and created by women?
The following selections highlight various women’s experiences that general audiences, no matter what background, can find a connection to.
1. “Booksmart” directed by Olivia Wilde
In Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are straight-A honor students who may seem like the average overachiever. However, on the night before graduation, the best friends have an epitome. Because of their intense focus on school, they feel as if they missed out on many special moments high schoolers experience. They agree to make up for the lost time and cram four years of the fun they missed out on into one wild night.
With Dever and Feldstein as its stars, the film is a fresh take on a female-focused coming-of-age comedy. It is fast-paced, as the plot calls for, and unbelievably charming. The chaotic events will keep you hooked from beginning to end and make you feel as though you experienced everything yourself.
Wilde’s next project is a psychological thriller called “Don’t Worry Darling,” starring Harry Styles and Florence Pugh, set to release this September.
2. “Little Women” directed by Greta Gerwig
If you are a fan of period films, this next pick is for you.
Greta Gerwig’s adaption of “Little Women” (by Louisa May Alcott) tells the story of the March sisters growing up and eventually growing apart to find their place in the world. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen, the intimate and deep love between the sisters is perfectly captured by these leading women.
Gerwig’s careful yet experimental direction executes a well-told story with compelling character arcs that will have you holding the March sisters close to your own heart.
Prior to “Little Women,” Gerwig also wrote and directed “Lady Bird,” a directional debut that landed her her first two Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Gerwig’s next project, “Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie, is currently in the works.
3. “The Farewell” directed by Lulu Wang
“The Farewell” is a comedy-drama film based on an actual lie as the opening title card reads. Billi, played by Awkwafina, is a strong-willed Chinese-American woman whose family reunites in China after her beloved grandmother becomes diagnosed with terminal cancer. During their trip, Billi faces a major struggle to keep her grandmother in the dark about the truth while the family stages an impromptu wedding to spend the matriarch’s final days together.
“The Farewell” is the epitome of bittersweet. With its small joyous family moments and its heart-rending conflicts, the film is well balanced and deeply sincere. Lulu Wang showcases her direction by composing a thoughtful and touching depiction of the complicated family dynamics that children brought up in a cross-cultural environment face. Despite Chinese culture being at the center of the film’s many themes, it manages to capture a universally relatable experience that audiences of any background can find comfort in.
Wang received the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film in 2020 for “The Farewell.”
4. “Lingua Franca” directed by Isabel Sandoval
Written, directed, edited, produced by and starring Isabel Sandoval, “Lingua Franca” is a portrait of a transgender Filipino woman seeking legal status in the United States.
From its tender and gritty storytelling to its intimate composition, Sandoval commands emotion without demanding it. Even in today’s culture, mainstream films are not at a point where proper representation is as common as it should be, but this film is a breath of fresh air as it takes a genuine, intersectional approach to its story while accurately representing both transgender and Filipino communities.
In 2019, Sandoval became the first transgender woman of color to compete at the Venice Film Festival with her feature “Lingua Franca.” She is one of the directors of her latest project “Under the Banner of Heaven” alongside David Mackenzie. The limited series stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Andrew Garfield and will premiere on Hulu on April 28.
5. “Nomadland” directed by Chloé Zhao
Based on a novel by the same name, “Nomadland” details the life of Fern, a nomad who embarks on a journey through the western United States after losing everything in the Great Recession.
Its striking cinematography illustrates the vastness of nomad life. Although the captivating landscapes may evoke a sense of loneliness, there is an emphasis on the nomadic community and how no matter how much distance is traveled, they are bound to find one of their own on the way to their next destination. The film stars three-time Academy award-winning actor Frances McDormand and is available to stream on Hulu.
Director Chloé Zhao made history last year by winning the Academy Award for Best Director, making her the second woman to win in this category and the first woman of color to take home the Oscar. “Nomadland” also received the awards for Best Picture and Best Actress in a Leading Role. Zhao went on to direct Marvel Studio’s “Eternals” and is currently working on a Sci-Fi Western take of “Dracula” for Universal.
6. “Pen15” created by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle
The Hulu Original “Pen15” follows best friends Maya Ishii-Peters (Maya Erskine) and Anna Kone (Anna Konkle) and the awkwardness that comes with being a seventh grader, a time when most young girls straddle the line between childhood and womanhood.
It features sights and sounds of ‘90s and 2000s pop culture that evoke an immense sense of nostalgia. This comedic series does an excellent job of balancing the cringey and endearing moments that follow the two girls as they come of age. It is even more heartwarming to know the show’s stars and creators are best friends in real life.
Erskine and Konkle took many of their experiences from their time in middle school to nurture most of the series’ narratives. Their openness to share these personal moments for viewers to laugh and cry truly paid off.
7. “The Sex Lives of College Girls” created by Mindy Kaling
“The Sex Lives of College Girls” is a comedy series about four first-year roommates: Bela (Amrit Kaur), Leighton (Reneé Rapp), Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott). Each woman navigates the challenges that come with forming a post-high school identity and being away from their parents and on their own for the first time. Among the many trials that come with adjusting to the college lifestyle, exploring their sexuality reigns supreme.
Each character brings a different kind of comedic appeal stemming from their contrasting backgrounds, but whenever they are all on the screen together, the significance of female friendships is truly palpable. The show is streaming on HBO Max and has been renewed for a second season.
8. “Abbott Elementary” created by Quinta Brunson
“Abbott Elementary” takes viewers into the lives of a group of teachers brought together in one of the worst public schools in the country. Their love of teaching helps them triumph over any obstacle that comes their way, whether it be insufficient school supplies or broken air conditioning.
The show’s creator, Quinta Brunson, stars as Janine Teagues, a young and optimistic teacher who is on a personal mission to inspire her students the way her own teachers inspired her.
This hit comedy mockumentary series is really brought together by its outstanding ensemble cast. While it is certainly comedy gold, “Abbott Elementary” offers a real look into the struggles teachers at underfunded schools face every day. Viewers can walk away with a greater appreciation for the immense efforts teachers show to guarantee their students’ success. The show returns to ABC and Hulu on March 22 and has been renewed for a second season.
9. “I May Destroy You” written by Michaela Coel
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
In “I May Destroy You,” Arabella (Michaela Coel) is a self-assured and carefree writer living in London with her best mates. While cramming to meet a deadline with publishers for her latest project, Arabella struggles to push forward after she is drugged and raped.
Coel, the show’s creator and star, explores the trauma that comes with sexual assault in the most radically honest ways. We follow Arabella’s journey with a group of beautiful yet deeply flawed characters. The show skillfully showcases a powerfully nuanced take on sexual assault and tackles the issue without holding back.
“I May Destroy You” manages to be mod and trendy while being relentlessly raw and honest. It offers no easy answers and leaves many troubling questions. Coel being able to take her own experience is cathartic and empowering. She became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series for the show and dedicated the award to every single survivor of sexual assault.
As the years go on, women from all backgrounds are breaking down barriers in the film and TV industry for other women to cross into someday. As more doors are opened, more young women will be represented and able to see themselves on the big and small screens. These selections are only the beginning of the growth in women’s storytelling.