Started in 1909, International Women’s Day has become a date both to celebrate the ongoing achievements of women and to look forward to the struggle ahead. On March 8, people around the world will promote the campaign #BalanceForBetter as a tool to build a gender-balanced world. To join in, we’re saluting women directors from around the world whose recent work has shone a light on the lives and achievements of real women as well as brought a refreshing new take on established genres and traditional stories. We’ll soon be adding director Kasi Lemmons—who previously directed Talk To Me—to our list of outstanding female filmmakers. Her upcoming film Harrietbrings to the screen the life of the legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman (played by Cynthia Erivo).
From a story of two queens rising above the fray to maintain power in male-dominated 16th-century England and Scotland to a future Supreme Court Justice changing the meaning of equality in the 20th century, here are remarkable stories told by very talented women.
Josie Rourke | Mary Queen of Scots
When Josie Rourke took over the reins of Artistic Director of Donmar Warehouse in 2011, she became the first woman to hold such a position of leadership at a major London theater. In moving from stage to screen, Rourke wanted to make an equally impactful statement. In directing Mary Queen of Scots, she got the opportunity to provide “new accounts of historical figures that tell better emotional, historical and political truths about women’s lives.” In the film, Mary (Saoirse Ronan) battles Scotland’s male-dominated clans to take control of the realm, as well as contends with her cousin to the south, Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). For The Playlist, this “gleefully feminist” period drama demonstrates that “not only are Mary and Elizabeth capable of ruling and capable of (gasp!) going to war, they’re largely better at it than their male counterparts.”
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre | The Mustang
In her debut feature The Mustang—in select theaters March 15—French filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre captures the gritty, often violent world of prisoners training horses in the American West. In so doing, de Clermont-Tonnerre examines the roots of—and a possible remedy for—the toxic masculinity that has destroyed so many lives. In the film, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts), an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center serving an eleven-year sentence for domestic violence, finds in another animal a different way of relating to the world. Before production, de Clermont-Tonnerre spent years researching wild horse training programs, talking directly, as she recalls, “to men with domestic violence issues to learn what triggers their anger and physical violence” and learning firsthand the transformative power of the empathy she captures so poignantly in her film.
Mimi Leder | On the Basis of Sex
For veteran filmmaker Mimi Leder, making On the Basis of Sex was personal. In exploring the future Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early life, Leder immediately felt a connection to her. “I wanted to tell her story,” explains Leder, “because I, too, have felt adversity and discrimination and have fought hard for jobs that lesser men have gotten.” In the story, Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones), even after graduating at the top of her Harvard Law School class, was rarely taken seriously in the male-dominated world of law. When her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) hands her a gender-discrimination case that violated the rights of a man, however, the young lawyer lands upon an ingenious way to make her case for women’s equality. “Here’s the story of a woman who not only shaped the journey of women in the second half of the 20th century, but whose life embodied that journey,” extolls The San Francisco Chronicle.
Julia Ducournau | Raw
In Raw, French filmmaker Julia Ducournau turns the horror genre inside out by inviting her audience to rethink their revulsion to our most sacred taboo. When Justine (Garance Marillier), an unassuming vegan entering her first year of veterinary school, is forced to eat meat during a hazing ritual, a strange hunger opens up inside her. While her sudden desire for human flesh is a bit hard to stomach, Ducournau’s sly explorations of female sexuality, the coming-of-age experience, and oppressive body norms make Raw, according to Rolling Stone, “a modern horror masterpiece.” For AV Club, “Ducournau’s vision is distinctive and refreshingly female in its gaze, embodying the contradictions of grotesque and beautiful, clinical and subjective, and composed and immediate all at once."