It’s no surprise that being a film director is a male-dominated field, but Hollywood has slowly been making progress. As we begin to see more female directed films dominating mainstream cinema, it’s important that we celebrate these strides in order to keep moving in this direction. I spoke in my last blog post about how the Academy Awards have continually failed to recognize women compared to men even somewhat equally in the non-acting categories. This doesn’t just come from a lack of women being recognized. It happens because of the lack of directing jobs even being offered to women. When women are hired onto a film as the director, it can actually work as a gateway for having more women hired behind the camera on set.
We have seen a slight increase in the amount of female directors in Hollywood, but it’s important that this keeps moving upward. We have even seen some big budget action movies being directed by women, including Black Widow (2021), Eternals (2021), Birds of Prey (2020), and Wonder Woman (2017). One thing you may notice about these films is that they all have predominantly female casts. I hope that in the future, we will continue to see women directing more of these big-budget superhero films, even the ones that don’t feature mainly women.
In this post, I want to highlight some of my favourite films directed by women that I consider underrated. It’s important that we continue to support work created by women to ensure that it continues to be made.
The first film that I want to highlight is The Farewell (2019), written and directed by Lulu Wang. This film tells the story of a family who learns that their grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), only has a short time left to live after receiving a terminal diagnosis. For their grandmother’s sake, the family decides to withhold this information of her diagnosis from her. In order to all gather for one last reunion before they lose their grandmother, they decide to hold an impromptu wedding in China. The protagonist of the film, Billi (Awkwafina), lives in New York City away from the rest of her family. She struggles with her family’s decision to not tell their grandmother about her illness. Her parents don’t trust that she will be able to keep this secret from her grandmother and they tell her to stay in New York City but she disobeys. She promises not to tell her grandmother about her diagnosis, but having to keep this secret leads to tensions rising within the family. While this film is very emotional, it is also uplifting. The humour that is scattered throughout the story creates a perfect balance of comedy and drama. It explores themes of familial love, cultural and generational differences, and the difficulty of learning to move on. The Farewell is actually based on Lulu Wang’s own experience with her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis, which makes it all the more important that she was the one who directed it. It is crucial that female storytellers get the chance to tell their own stories in ways that give them creative control.
The next film that I want to highlight is one of my all-time favourites. It is Booksmart (2019), directed by Olivia Wilde along with a full team of female writers, including Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman. The film follows two high-schoolers, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), right before graduation. As they reach their final days of high school, they feel proud of their academic accomplishments because their hard work resulted in them getting into their dream universities. Even though they may have neglected their social lives for studying, they felt that it was worth it. This all comes crashing down when they learn that their peers who spent every weekend partying also got into prestigious universities. This makes them realize that they could have managed to find a balance between socialization and studying, so they decide to try and make up for this on the night before graduation. They decide that they’re finally going to go to a highschool party and try to make up for all of their missed opportunities. This film is pure fun at every moment. The charming and intelligent comedy woven throughout makes this a film that I find myself constantly returning to. I think it is such an important movie for young girls to watch because the story of these two girls is so universal. Even if you are not in their situation, it is likely that some part of their story will resonate with you.
The third film I want to recognize is Shiva Baby (2020), written and directed by Emma Seligman. The film follows Danielle (Rachel Sennott) who is in her final year of university and unsure of what her future looks like. Her life is a bit of a disaster because she has no idea what she wants to do post-graduation and she is also in a relationship with a sugar daddy who she later finds out is married and has a child. She attends a Shiva with her parents where she is questioned by everyone about her disorganized life. She spends the day being compared to her ex-girlfriend, Maya (Molly Gordon), who everyone adores because she is successful and heading to law school. As if the constant questioning and comparisons weren’t adding enough stress onto her life, her sugar daddy ends up being at the shiva as well and he is actually a former colleague of Danielle’s father. Her dad introduces her to him in hopes of getting her a job within his company and she has to fight to convince her very persistent dad that she isn’t interested, while also pretending that she has never met this man before. This is also when she finds out that he is married, adding even more stress onto her day. Every event throughout the day makes Danielle feel even more lost in life, leading to rising tensions and chaos ensuing.
The next film I want to bring attention to is But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), written and directed by Jamie Babbit. It tells the story of high-schooler, Megan (Natasha Lyonne), who is sent to a conversion therapy camp after her family and friends suspect that she is a lesbian. This is a two-month long program where the participants are forced to confront their sexuality, participate in activities that reinforce gender stereotypes, and attempt to identify with heterosexuality. They are essentially trying to “cure” their homosexuality, but of course this isn’t possible and causes many of the campers to rebel against authority. This film initially received negative feedback from critics but it has since become a cult classic. The LGBTQ+ representation in the film is done very well, especially considering that it came out over 20 years ago. While it covers heavy topics, it does it in a way that is comedic without taking away from the important and serious messages. One of the standout performances in the film is RuPaul’s role of Mike, who is an “ex-gay” working at the camp. His character is hilarious and helps to lighten up the heavy topic.
The final film I am highlighting which is the most recent release on this list is Aftersun (2022), written and directed by Charlotte Wells. This film follows a young father, Calum (Paul Mescal), and his eleven-year-old daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio) on their summer holiday in Turkey. Sophie records most of the holiday on her video camera and we see footage of this throughout the film. Sophie enjoys her holiday and she befriends other kids and teenagers at the resort. We find out throughout the film that Calum is struggling with depression due to his financial and occupational struggles, but he tries his best to hide this from Sophie. In his alone time during the trip he reads self-help books and practices Tai chi in an attempt to cope with his depression. Aftersun does an incredible job at portraying depression and grief on screen. Its subtlety in exploring its major themes is its strength. No spoilers here but I can assure you that after watching this film that “Under Pressure” by Queen will never be the same. This was one of my favourite films released last year and I am eagerly waiting to see Charlotte Wells’ future work.
I hope that through this list you have found a film that piques your interest. I would highly recommend these films to everyone because their stories and themes are so universal. I hope that all of these directors I have chosen to highlight have long careers ahead of them because I already can’t get enough of their work.
Hi! I'm Megan and I'm a fourth year English major. This is my first year writing for WEW and I'm really excited about it! Some of my favourite things to do in my free time are watching movies, reading, and baking. My favourite movies are La La Land (2016) and Little Women (2019) and my favourite book is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I'm looking forward to sharing my ideas with everyone and also learning about new topics from the other writers!