Five Underrated Films Directed by Women

WOMEN IN CINEMA: White, male, and heteronormative. Perhaps confrontational but accurate descriptors of the current face of the film industry. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that women, particularly black women, are an underrepresented class in the director’s chair. Despite the recent vocal acknowledgement of the problem, things do not appear to be getting any more equitable. It falls to us in the pop culture media to point out good work when we see it. Here are five movies directed by women that you may not have considered.

girlhood_imageGirlhood, Céline Sciamma, 2014

It feels like a sick kismet that in the same year a film about a white, middle-class boy was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and touted for originality of story that an unusual, innovative French film about a black, lower-class girl would go almost unnoticed. Girlhood places us in the suburban slums of Paris where youth must face a world without options or hope of advancement. Though the film is crystal clear on its political stance, it is in a five minute sequence that plays out to Rihanna’s Diamonds that we get one of the most nuanced, unique and utterly breath-taking depictions of the life of a 16-year old girl.

parisisburningParis Is Burning, Jennie Livingston, 1990

This canonical documentary lives in the decidedly fringe world of the New York ballroom community, populated almost exclusively by ethnically diverse LGBT persons. Jennie Livingston captures the end of the movement and outlines the socio-political context that caused it to be. Though it has been cited as an exploitative spectacle, I see it as a fly on the wall depiction of how some, forced to the margins, found a way to exist as the center of attention. There is a subtle admiration for the people that inhabit this world and a profound celebration of the other.  

justwrightJust Wright, Sanaa Hamri, 2010

Queen Latifah stars as a quiet but talented physical therapist that falls for her gorgeous, wealthy and skilled patient. It reads like a standard rom-com in which the ugly duckling takes off her glasses, releases her hair from that hideous scrunchy and, suddenly, stands as the most beautiful person in the room. The subversion happens when you consider Queen Latifah’s race, size and age, none of which seem to have been considerations for her happy ending. It is rare to see a women that looks like her win the day without having to change herself completely,

weneedtotalkaboutkevinWe Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, 2011

It is a lonely existence for Eva, the mother of the shooter in a school massacre. The film is forthright  with its conviction that Kevin is the product of a society that ignores the emotional well being of men and boys and doles out blame and derision to women unable to live up to the June Cleaver model. Eva is held solely responsible for her son’s deadly turn and is ostracized for her part in the formation of a monster. Lynne Ramsay creates a complex and layered space that examines the moments and attitudes that lead to the creation of someone violent and disconnected.

leviathan_documentaryLeviathan, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2012

Leviathan is a work of cinematic non-fiction about the struggles of a commercial fishing boat in New England. It isn’t the easiest film to watch but worth it for those that make it to the end. There are few conclusions drawn and no narrative to speak of yet Leviathan produces one of the most fully realized and immersive realms in film today. It is a documentary free of the social, political and supposedly fact based pressures of the genre.  

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