Film & Television

Streaming Options: Celebrating Our (Feminist) Roots

Lately, if you’ve kept up with social media (or even watched the evening news), you’ve probably heard people complaining about their hair. “I need a haircut!” posters declare as people protest local lockdowns. “Hair salons are essential businesses!” claim others. And a funny, if bittersweet, series of memes depicts great works of art that are overdue for a trim or color. Just imagine the Mona Lisa coyly smiling with her gray roots showing.

Most women (and many men) agree that stay-at-home orders are doing a number on our coifs.

Bad hair days aside, we do have it better than our ancestors did in the flu pandemic of 1918. For example, we have access to an unprecedented volume of home entertainment. There’s a lot of junk, certainly. But there are also options that celebrate the rich history of women. 

Here are a baker’s dozen of worthwhile choices:

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
With an engaging combination of archival images and dramatization, this 2014 documentary links the birth of the modern women’s rights movement to the challenges women still face today. From the founding of NOW (the National Organization for Women) to current battles over reproductive rights, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry makes a case for continued activism. (Amazon Prime)

This dramatic film centers around fictitious laundry worker and “accidental activist” Maud Watts, surrounded by historic figures like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison. Set in 1913, Suffragette demonstrates just how brave these pioneering women were — and the sheer brutality of the system they fought against. The excellent cast includes Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, and Helena Bonham-Carter. (Netflix)

Equal Means Equal 
Actress and director Kamala Lopez spent seven years investigating all the ways that women’s fundamental lack of equal rights under the Constitution affects their lives and livelihoods. “What if we added it up and sued the government for back pay?” Lopez muses at one point, “It would be trillions of dollars!” Meticulously researched and well crafted, Equal Means Equal may make you squirm. That’s the point. (Amazon Prime)

Anita: Speaking Truth to Power 
A bookish and conservative lawyer, Anita Hill was an unlikely celebrity in 1991 when she was asked to testify against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. As millions watched, she became a divisive figure and the poster woman for workplace sexual harassment. Academy Award-winning director Freida Mock’s gripping and insightful feature documentary tells Hill’s inspiring story. (Amazon Prime, Tubi TV)

Miss Representation
Jennifer Siebel Newsom frames her documentary about women in the media around her anxieties about the world her baby daughter is going to grow up to face. After talking about the pressure she felt as a young girl to be completely perfect — athletic, smart, and beautiful — she unleashes a barrage of images from American media, showing how pervasive this limited vision of women has become. (Netflix)

Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed 
In 1972, African-American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm made a historic run for President of the United States. Although she didn’t win the Democratic nomination, she was able to unite an unusually diverse community of supporters for a platform that included progressive issues — like health care, education, poverty, and housing — that still resonate today. Chisholm ’72 won the Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. (Amazon Prime)

Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the documentary RBG is a thoughtful and loving portrait of the diminutive, 85-year old justice who, after a long career of shattering glass ceilings — for herself and her clients — has become the Supreme Court’s most emphatic and eloquent dissenter. As Gloria Steinem asserts in the film, “When you come right down to it, the closest thing to a superhero I know.” (Hulu)

Makers: Women Who Make America 
Groundbreaking documentary series Makers, which originally aired on PBS, focuses on women’s contributions to comedy, Hollywood, space, war, business, and politics. Narrated by Meryl Streep, the series includes profiles of phenomenal women such as Lily Tomlin, Shonda Rhimes, Valerie Plame Wilson, Susan Brownmiller, Lilly Ledbetter, Sandra Cisneros, and Sheryl Sandberg, among many others. (Amazon Prime)

The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things  
This high-energy documentary follows a crew of all-female filmmakers as they drive across America to encourage, empower, and inspire a new generation of strong women to go after their career ambitions. The film spotlights eight positive and powerful women across a variety of industries, and challenges the audience to ask themselves, “What would you do if you knew you would succeed?” (IMDb TV, Tubi TV)

Good Girls Revolt 
In 1970, Newsweek ran a cover story on the women’s movement entitled “Women Revolt.” That same week, the magazine was sued for gender discrimination by 46 of its female employees. This original — and highly entertaining — dramatic series is inspired by that groundbreaking workplace equality lawsuit. The talented young cast includes Grace Gummer (Streep’s real-life daughter) as Nora Ephron. (Amazon) 

Remarkable Women of the 20th Century 
This fast-paced 45-minute documentary provides a good overview of one hundred years of accomplishments made by an international selection of “remarkable women” — from Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth II, and Hillary Clinton, to Rosa Parks, Edith Piaf, Katharine Hepburn, and Amelia Earhart. Narrated by Carol Baxter. (Amazon)

Mrs. America
In 1972, the ERA was on track to become the 27th Amendment to the Constitution — until an outspoken conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly made it her mission to defeat it. This new original series stars Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, along with Rose Byrne, Sarah Paulson, Margot Martindale, Elizabeth Banks, Tracey Ullman, and Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba. It’s nothing short of fascinating. (Hulu)

And finally, I feel compelled to include a classic movie that has introduced the word “suffragette” to children for the past half a century. . .

Mary Poppins 
Setting aside all the magical scenes of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, it’s the marvelous Glynis Johns, surrounded by enduring character actresses Reta Shaw, Hermione Baddeley, and Elsa Lanchester, singing the rousing anthem “Sister Suffragette,” that steals the show. “Our daughters’ daughters will adore us / And they’ll sing in grateful chorus / ‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!'”


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