While I, personally, vehemently protest against using a separate term to denote the women directors in Hollywood, I have gradually come to realise that perhaps a separate grouping is the only way to make the female voice be heard. Representation is still a myth and if this uncomfortable reality is not aligned with your views of Hollywood, then you have probably forgotten to take off your misogyny-coloured glasses.
Take Netflix, for instance. Look up Quentin Tarantino, you shall be served his films as gloriously as a Nobu restaurant would serve sushi. However, there are many female directors whose genius goes unnoticed and under-represented by the platform. Add to that a toppling amount of vicious comments and lecherous stares from the pervading megalomania in Hollywood. Women face a lot of discrimination even now despite the flowery picture of diversity and representation that is being painted by the cinematic industry.
Brilliant female directors have provided us with films that are heartwarming and beautiful. There is something extremely poetic about these films, something that cannot be explained in words. One of the most glorious examples of such a mellow and beautiful film would be Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire where the director explored the female gaze in a unique and heart-touching manner by employing the trope of a lesbian relationship in 1770s France.
While Netflix has definitely improved its collection by including more works by female directors, mainly Sofia Coppola, we would love it if Greta Gerwig was not introduced as Noah Baumbach’s wife. Do you see what I am getting at here?
With international Women’s Day around the corner, we decided to look at the seven best films directed by female directors that are streaming on Netflix.
7 best female-directed films on Netflix:
Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017)
Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, Mudbound is a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking film that resonates with the hearts of the audience long after credits roll out. It is a neatly crafted film that shows two poverty-stricken farmer families white and black) residing adjacently in Mississippi. The sons of the respective families, both war veterans, return and strike an unusual friendship based on common experiences, transcending racial limitations imposed on them. The film ends on a horrifying note as it constantly reminds the audience of the racism prevalent in the United States even today.
Shot on an intimate scale, the film is deliberately slow-paced. The trauma due to the war followed by the rigid racial hierarchy evokes rage and pity. The actors deliver spectacular performances in this brutal and cruel period drama. Menacing and scary, the antagonists’ reek of corruption and white privilege. Rees does an outstanding job at maintaining his composure while projecting an exploitative narrative with high shock-value. With a focus on the horrors of racism and the misery that follows, the film also gives a delicate insight into love, family, friendships and relationships. Rachel Morrison, as the cinematographer, blends in the rich texture of the earth, mud and soil, forming everlasting images in the minds of the viewers. Morrison, for her wonderful contribution, was the first woman to be nominated at the 90th Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, while Dee Rees was the first Black woman to have been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
“That mule made me a share tenant, not a sharecropper. And had me dreaming about having my own piece of land. Maybe that’s where the problem started.”
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
Sofia Coppola’s film brings about a fuzzy feeling in your heart while breaking it at the same time. The main characters share a “romantic melancholy” that permeates through the screen. A middle-aged American actor Bob Harris, having faced marital problems and the anxieties of being at the waning phase of his career, goes to Tokyo to promote Suntory whiskey. Charlotte, a Yale University graduate, accompanies her photographer husband to Japan. While her husband pursues his dreams, Charlotte grows more disillusioned, till she stumbles upon Bob, and together, they form a beautiful bond of poetic conversations and shared sadness.
The title of the film is apt and sets a melancholy mood. The shared whisper at the end of the film is not discernible; somehow, it is reflective of the hushed and intimate affair the two hapless souls shared. The juxtaposition of their crises which work in tandem due to shared loneliness and disillusionment is quite interesting as they are quite similar yet different.
“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.”
13th ( Ava DuVernay, 2016)
This 2016 documentary sheds informative light on the suffrage and constant fear African Americans have faced. Elaborating on the American history of Black struggle talks about what it means to be black in America. The corrupt judicial and prison system targets people of colour; systematic racism is embedded in society. Racial oppression has never ceased to exist as dehumanisation still continues via police brutality, lynching, disenfranchisement etc. The film is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery and put an end to involuntary coercion to work, except as a criminal punishment. However, the Thirteenth Amendment has paved a path fo mass incarceration which has indirectly helped the oppressive corporations mint money.
The documentary is essential to understanding the historical timeline as well as the socio-economic impact. A fierce and thought-provoking documentary, DuVernay’s rage is apt and understandable. With magnificent interviewees sharing their thoughts and stories, the film is powerful enough to confront the public with unavoidable questions, inspiring change. The images are vivid and striking; from slave Gordon’s back being mercilessly whipped to nameless Black men being persecuted, from open caste funerals to strong Black mothers bidding farewell to their gunned-down sons. The sense of urgency in the film is a ferocious warning to take immediate action. From white conservatives who live in denial and are appreciative of the corrupt, oppressive system to children of colour who are not aware of their rights, this documentary is an eye-opener for all as it challenges preconceived notions, while reflecting on a past, the dirt of which is still looming large over today’s society. In the wake of the violence meted out to innocent black civilians like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more, as well as the #BlackLivesMatter movement, this documentary must be viewed to be aware of the kind of racial injustice prevalent in today’s society.
“When I think of systems of oppression historically and in this country, they’re durable. They tend to reinvent themselves, and they do it right under your nose.”
Tallulah (Sian Heder, 2016)
After her boyfriend Nico breaks up with her and moves to New York City, the indignant Tallulah pursues him and meets his mother Margo. She is mistaken to be a babysitter and has to take care of a young child named Maddy whose irresponsible mother Carolyn does not care about the child. Tallulah takes Maddy into protective custody and elopes, identifying herself to the public as Maddy’s mother. As the police begin pursuing her, she forges a bond with Margo as well as Maddy.
The wonderful and innovative plot was inspired by Heder’s personal experiences as a baby-sitter in Los Angeles. With terrific performances from the rest of the ensemble, Elliot Page as the free-spirited Tallulah stands out. The audience undergoes a full cyclical journey with the character who transforms from being a desperate individual fixated on something particular to a more easy-going and carefree well-rounded character. It is a pleasure to see Allison Janney, who plays Margo, reunite with Elliot after their lovely chemistry on Juno.
“Your plan depended on other people. People suck, and they’ll disappoint you every time.”
Advantageous (Jennifer Phang, 2015)
In a futuristic dystopia, Gwen lives with her daughter Jules amidst economic hardship. Gwen is fired from her job as a spokeswoman for a biotech company as she is neither a man nor too young and marketable. The film revolves around Gwen’s pursuit and sacrifices to ensure Jules’ future, as she volunteers to be the test subject for a new procedure to transfer one’s consciousness to another body.
A battle between cynicism and hope, the film spirals into despair. Terrorist attacks, child prostitution and dysfunction plague society. Gwen loses the job because of underlying problems in society, subtle sexism, a standard for marketable beauty and more. The deep bonding shared by the mother and daughter holds the film together. An attempt on the part of the company to gain body and mind control is terrifying because that is what the near future comprises as well. The growing disconnect between Gwen and her daughter, at the end of the procedure, is heartbreaking, as Gwen tries to retain the memories she has of the latter. Phang’s sense of colour and music enhances the cinematic experience and adds a touch of melancholy to the already gloomy atmosphere.
“I don’t really know why I’m alive.”
“Doesn’t matter. Whatever you do will be wonderful and worthwhile.”
First They Killed My Father (Angelina Jolie, 2017)
The film is set in Cambodia during the time of the Vietnam War where violence had induced the Cambodian Civil War. Young Loung Ung and her family are forced into hiding as they might all be killed if their father Pa’s identity as a government official is discovered. One by one, her family keeps depleting and soon her father is taken away for the impending doom. Urged by her mother, she flees with her two siblings and under the pretext of being a child orphan is empanelled as a child soldier which leads her to set bombs and other such traps.
Grappled by violence and war, the film views the impact on the lives of civilians with compassion and empathy. It laments the lives lost and the families torn apart by war. A heartfelt commentary on war and childhood as well as the trauma and devastation it wreaks on young minds is splendidly captured in the film. As a director, Jolie is successful in evoking the correct magnitude of emotions which help the audience connect more with the characters.
“I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it.”
Atlantics (Mati Diop, 2019)
A supernatural story embedded in social realism, the film sees a group of construction workers who have not received payment, embarking on a journey towards Spain for a better future. However, it is later understood that they have all perished. Among these workers was a young Souleiman who loved Ada, a girl who was engaged to the wealthy Omar. After Omar’s mysterious death as well as other supernatural events, the detective assigned to the case realises that there is more than meets the eye and perhaps he himself has a lot to contribute to the strange occurrences.
It is very difficult to fit Atlantics in a specific genre. It exposes the dark reality of belonging to economically under-privileged backgrounds and is a political commentary on the hierarchical oppression which often pushes the marginalised to the fringes, compelling them to take steps that might eventually be detrimental for them. It is also the story of undying love showing how a man wants to be with his beloved even beyond death. It is a rebellion of the suppressed that transcends the barriers of life and death. The revenge is nearly sweet and Diop’s shying away from steeping the film too deep into magic realism is what makes the film special. The overall aura of the film is teasing and seductive. It is an extremely poetic story of love, longing, loss, revenge and oppression and themes that are delicate yet powerful.
“I knew you’d be back. It could only be you.”