Since November 2016, there has been this swirling pit of rage that permanently resides in the center of my heart, nestled just below the aortic arch. Sometimes it is quiet, like the beach at low tide in the middle of the night, gently ebbing and licking the sand. On days like today, when a sexual abuser is appointed to the highest level of justice, it is an electric maelstrom. More inflamed and unyielding than the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Stay out of my way; I’m out for blood.
But many other women have written more eloquently about this topic than I could ever hope to, so I will let cinema speak for me. Here are seven films of varying genres (most written or directed by women) that deftly provoke rage against our broken system while simultaneously inspiring that passion for a better world for women and survivors, many of whom overlap.
1. Shut Up and Sing (2006) dir. Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
After Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made this offhand statement at a 2003 concert in London, the vehement backlash from the American country music community nearly ended the trio’s career. Kopple and Peck’s intimate documentary chronicles the aftermath of the incident, including the conception of their 2006 comeback song, “Not Ready To Make Nice.” Their country ballad demonstrated their daring refusal to apologize, denounced the death threats these women received for critiquing their government, and found success as a three-time Grammy award-winning bop!
2. Thelma & Louise (1991) dir. Ridley Scott, writ. Callie Khouri
“That guy was hurting me. If you hadn’t come out when you did, he would’ve hurt me a lot worse. And probably nothing would’ve happened to him ’cause everybody did see me dancin’ with him all night. They would’ve made out like I’d asked for it. My life would’ve been ruined a whole lot worse than it is now. At least now I’m havin’ some fun. And I’m not sorry that son of a bitch is dead. I’m just sorry it was you that did it and not me.”
I know, I know, you’ve probably already seen this one, but the story of two women liberating themselves from the sexual violence perpetrated by chauvinistic men is definitely worth revisiting today. Packed with both brutal honesty and meticulously layered subtext, Khouri’s Academy Award-winning original script also marks the first solo victory for a woman in this category since Frances Marion’s win in 1930.
3. Hard Candy (2005) dir. David Slade, writ. Brian Nelson
“I am every little girl you ever watched, touched, hurt, screwed, killed.”
This is the one exception to my “directed/written by women” rule. Centering on a teenage girl (Ellen Page) enacting brutal, calculated revenge on a pedophile (Patrick Wilson), Hard Candy is a cathartic experience for survivors of all genders. Nelson’s script is wickedly sharp; a particularly relevant line comes when Wilson’s character laments that the exposure of his crimes will ruin his life and career, and Page’s character replies, “Well, didn’t Roman Polanski just win an Oscar?”
4. 9 to 5 (1980) dir. Colin Higgins, writ. Patricia Resnik
“You’re a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
Unfortunately just as timely but fortunately just as funny as it was almost 40 years ago, 9 to 5 sharply articulates that frustration with the stagnation of being a woman in the workplace. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton passing a joint around while they fantasize in vivid detail about killing their misogynistic boss remains one of the greatest scenes in feminist cinema.
5. The Punk Singer (2013) dir. Sini Anderson
“I just think there’s this certain assumption that when a man tells the truth, it’s the truth. And when, as a woman, I go to tell the truth, I feel like I have to negotiate the way I’ll be perceived. Like I feel like there’s always the suspicion around a woman’s truth. The idea that you’re exaggerating.”
If I could go back in time to any era of music, I would no doubt pick the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna racked up a devoted female fan base by being an angry, unapologetic feminist who refused to be smothered by the male-dominated punk scene. By encouraging them to the front and boys to the back at her concerts, Hanna ignited a fuse in the hearts of punk girls that had been aching to explode in a fireworks display of fun and fury.
6. Ginger Snaps (2000) dir. John Fawcett, writ. Karen Walton
“I get this ache… And I, I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.”
After a strange creature bites teenage Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) on the night of her first period, she begins a gruesome transformation into a blood-and-sex-thirsty werewolf. One part body horror and one part candid metaphor for puberty, Ginger Snaps is reminiscent of 2016’s Raw — both even share a focus on the bonds of sisterhood. As Ginger’s sister Brigette struggles to cure her lycanthropy, the film builds to a roaring climax that cements the lengths we go to protect our fellow women.
7. Possibly in Michigan (1983) dir. & writ. Cecelia Condt
“I bite at the hand that feeds me.”
A 12-minute avant-garde opera about two women cannibals who shop for perfume and prey on predatory men, filmed in the style of an Adult Swim infomercial. Pour yourself a drink or spark up a bowl (you deserve it!), then watch it here.