Nisha Ganatra’s comedy The High Note offers a lively look at the ways women navigate the challenges of succeeding in today’s music industry. While working as the personal assistant to the legendary performer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), Maggie (Dakota Johnson) strives to realize her dream of becoming a music producer. Davis may be a hit performer, but that doesn’t mean she gets to call the shots in her own career. Fighting the good fight in a male-dominated industry, these two women ultimately realize that the path to their dreams lies in helping each other.
To celebrate The High Note coming out, we’re re-watching other remarkable films about the challenges faced—and successes attained—by working women, from a future Supreme Court Justice to a couple of friends just trying to make rent.
Downton Abbey | Taking over the reins
Set in 1927, Michael Engler’s film Downton Abbey chronicles a major change in the status of women in the first part of the 20th century. When we first meet the Crawleys in 1912, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) gets a hard lesson about how little control she actually has over her fate and property. When her prospective fiancé goes down on the Titanic, so too does Mary's claim to inheriting Downton. As an entailed estate, Downton must go to a male heir. Fifteen years later, everything has changed. “Mary’s really running Downton now, more than her father,” explains screenwriter and show creator Julian Fellowes. Mary was not alone in reclaiming a role for herself professionally. Once the odd girl out, Edith (Laura Carmichael) comes into her own working as a writer and then taking over a publishing company. Even the quiet Daisy (Sophie McShera) steps out from behind her aprons to educate herself, espousing her own radical political views. Downton Abbey, as Refinery 29 points out, “is centered around the rise of women, finally carving out a place for themselves in a world that wasn’t designed for them.”
On The Basis of Sex | Creating a future for women
On the Basis of Sex, Mimi Leder’s biographical drama about the early life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), goes right to the heart of the challenges facing working women in America. As a brilliant law student, Ginsburg experienced firsthand the subtle and not so subtle ways women experience discrimination. Even though she graduated at the top of her class, not a single New York law firm offered her a job. As a professor of law, Ginsburg sought to remedy sexual discrimination by making her students aware of the problem. In 1970, Ginsburg got the chance to take the fight to the courts when she joined her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) to argue a complex tax case that helped overturn years of discriminatory judicial decisions. “It’s not only engrossing legal drama, but a historic look at how one woman helped explode the myth that female subservience is part of the natural order,” acclaims Rolling Stone.
For a Good Time, Call… | How to succeed in business...
In Jamie Travis’ For a Good Time, Call…, two women redefine themselves and their ambitions by establishing a business together. Desperate for a new place to live, Lauren (Lauren Miller) begrudgingly moves in with her college frenemy Katie (Ari Graynor), whom she is shocked to discover makes money working a phone sex line. Lauren’s dismay, however, is not about the nature of her job, but rather about how poorly she’s handling the business. With better marketing and accounting, the two find out just how profitable their partnership can become. Both an outrageous sex comedy and touching tale of friendship, For a Good Time, Call… also acknowledges the financial reality of women just starting out. “For those of us living in a post-collegiate delirium,” notes MTV, the film has “nailed the difficulty of discovering one's calling, and the complicated nature of female relationships.”