The theme of this year’s National Women’s History Month is “celebrating women who tell our stories,” according to the National Women’s History Alliance. From ancient storytellers to current cutting-edge media makers, artists have given voice to the lives and dreams of women, including this remarkable new wave of female filmmakers.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are showcasing five recent directors whose work has expanded the art of cinema to capture the poignant experience of modern women.
From a moving portrait of an African American mother in Harlem to a hilarious martial arts mashup in London to an Academy Award®-winning takedown of toxic masculinity, these films definitively demonstrate that the future of filmmaking is female.
March 31, 2023
Promising Young Woman
In writing her Academy Award®-winning film Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell wanted to turn Hollywood comedies, in which seemingly nice guys made it a sport to sleep with women by any means possible, upside down. Fennell recounted to NPR, “When I was growing up, in movies, getting women drunk to sleep with them…was just comedy fodder.” To counter that narrative, Fennell crafted a story that would “make an audience feel that they're in familiar territory when they're not." A barista by day, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) spends her evenings contriving ingenious plots to beat abusive men at their own game. Told in neon colors with snappy pop tunes, the film appears, as Mulligan suggested to Variety, like “a beautifully wrapped candy, and when you eat it you realize it’s poisonous.” Despite its sweet appearance, Fennell’s film was packed with real emotions. “There is molten fury running through the hot-pink veins of Emerald Fennell’s debut feature and, deeper down, grief for women who have lost so much and stand to lose even more,” wrote Empire.
A Thousand and One
A.V. Rockwell’s debut feature A Thousand and One (in theaters March 31) won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival for what the jury described as “work that is real, full of pain, and fearless in its rigorous commitment to emotional truth born of oppressive circumstances.” Rockwell explained to IndieWire the crisis that inspired her film: “I felt like the experiences of Black women in society were overlooked—not only within society, though, but even within our own communities and families.” Rockwell dramatizes the experiences of Inez (Teyana Taylor), a fiercely loyal mother who kidnaps her son, Terry, from the foster care system and tries to carve out a future for him in the ever-changing economic and political landscape of New York City. Rockwell’s unique cinematic style captures both intimate details of a woman raising a family and the historical conditions that frame her choices. Variety writes, “Rockwell uses the full range of cinematic expressivity to turn a small, often tragic story of raw deals and rash decisions into an admiring portrait of survivorship, determination and resourcefulness.”
Buy tickets for A Thousand and One now!
In her feature debut Polite Society (in theaters April 28), writer-director Nida Manzoor makes a merry mash-up of genres and cinematic styles to tell the story of Ria Khan (Priya Kansara), a martial artist-in-training, who believes she must save her older sister, Lena (Ritu Arya), from her impending marriage. The film garnered rave reviews after it was screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. “Nida Manzoor fills the screen with action-packed female fight scenes, inventive camerawork, a fantastic soundtrack, and adrenaline-fueled storytelling that is both exciting and empowering,” wrote Bust. For Manzoor, delivering a fun-filled film was a priority. “We’re just wanting to give entertainment to the audience,” Manzoor explained to the Los Angeles Times. “And if there’s a cool message there, that’s a bonus.”
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
In her debut feature Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul., Adamma Ebo uses a mockumentary format to chronicle the concerted efforts of a southern megachurch’s pastor, Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown), and first lady, Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), to rebuild their congregation following a scandal. While her film is a comedy, Ebo conveys enough rich detail and psychological insights to convey the reality beneath the laughs. “We wanted to explore Black womanhood in particular in relation to marriage, and how it looks different from generation to generation," producer Adanne Ebo explains. NPR notes, “While Adamma Ebo certainly pokes fun at her protagonists, she never denies them their humanity.”
Watch Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. now on iTunes or Amazon!
The Silent Twins
In her first English-language feature, Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska brings her distinctive visual style of storytelling to The Silent Twins. The film recounts the true story of June (Letitia Wright) and Jennifer Gibbons (Tamara Lawrance), identical twins who retreated into their own world of silence and imagination in England in the 1970s. Empathizing with the sisters’ use of imagination as a social defense, Smoczyńska felt a deep connection to their story. “I wanted to pay tribute to June and Jennifer and their struggle as two Black girls growing up in Wales during this time,” the director explains in an interview with Focus Features. “It is such a complex story and it resonated with me on so many levels.” Using stop-motion animation and an expressionistic cinematic style, Smoczyńska creates a moving portrait of the twins’ inner world. In so doing, The San Francisco Chronicle notes, “Smoczynska, Wright and Lawrance find the humanity and empathy in their story, if not the complex psychological reasons behind their unique lives.”
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