History is a funny thing. By virtue, it archives the journey and experiences of our predecessors. This, in turn, reinforces our understanding of how things used to be, and how things can be if we make certain changes. History reflects our through the gift of hindsight, culling together different perspectives that inform the bigger picture.
History has been egregiously lopsided, and on occasion, wholly inaccurate. Oftentimes, key players (and women in particular) are relegated to nothing more than a footnote or on the cutting floor altogether. In fact, Coretta Scott King once remarked: “Not enough attention has been focused on the roles played by women in the struggle. By and large, men have formed the leadership but… women have been the backbone.” It is hard to dispute the contributions made to society by many great and powerful men – but very little attention has been paid to chronicling the contributions of women. This, friends, is a grave injustice.
As such, in this historic year of 2017 and at a time where literally being a woman is possibly considered to be a pre-existing condition, we thought it would be appropriate to highlight the cinematic stories of some truly impressive female ‘footnotes’. Based on true events, these must-see films explore issues pertinent to women who boldly challenged the patriarchy.
Changeling is a 2008 mystery thriller that explores child endangerment, female disempowerment, political corruption, mistreatment of mental health patients, and the repercussions of violence. Partly based on real-life events (namely the 1928 “Wineville Chicken Coop” kidnapping and murder case in Mira Loma, California), this film stars Oscar winner Angelina Jolie as a woman supposedly reunited with a boy she immediately realizes is not her missing son. When she tries to demonstrate this to the police and city authorities, she is vilified as a delusional and unfit mother.
Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts in an Academy Award-winning turn) is a sassy, unemployed single mother searching for a job. She coerces attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney) into hiring her at his firm as compensation for a failed lawsuit. Sexy work attire and a fresh mouth earn Erin few friends but she is unfazed and soon finds herself investigating a suspicious real estate case involving multi-billion dollar corporation Pacific Gas & Electric Company and some damning medical records. Erin discovers a PG&E cover up involving contaminated water in the small town of Hinkley which is causing devastating illnesses among its residents and leads Erin and her law firm to one of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history.
Confirmation is a 2016 made-for-TV political thriller film. Starring Kerry Washington in an Emmy nominated turn as Anita Hill, the story is about Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination hearings, and the controversy that unfolded when Anita, a young African American woman alleged that she was sexually harassed by Thomas.
Three brilliant African American women employed at NASA – Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson in a gorgeously vulnerable performance), Dorothy Vaughn (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (played with spunk and sass by Janelle Monáe) serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in both US and global history: launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Not only did these women restore the nation’s confidence in NASA, they also caused a huge upset in the Space Race against Russia with their amazing achievement.
Oscar nominee Salma Hayek plays the acclaimed, larger-than-life painter Frida Kahlo. The story begins just before a traumatic accident Frida suffered at 18 when she is impaled by a metal pole, causing injuries that would plague her for the rest of her life. To aid in her rehabilitation, her father brings her a canvas upon which to start painting and thus begins Kahlo’s artistic journey. A tempestuous love affair with muralist Diego Rivera, a case study of infidelity with male and female lovers and landmark journeys to America round out this colorful biopic about one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century.
Aung San Suu Kyi was two years old when her father Aung San led Burma to independence in 1947. Soon afterwards however, he, along with a group of colleagues, are assassinated by a group of uniformed armed men. As an adult, Suu Kyi (played with haunting sensitivity by Michelle Yeoh) goes to England, finds a loving husband, and has a happy family life. But her mother’s poor health forces her to return to Burma in 1988. During a hospital visit, Suu Kyi meets many people wounded during the 8888 Uprising and realizes that political change in Burma is needed. Picking up her father’s mantle, she devotes herself to supporting the goals of greater political freedom, founding a political party for the 1990 elections against a brutally relentless Burmese military. This French-British biographical film depicts the story of the first woman in Asia to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, demonstrating what it takes to lead a nation.