If the first months of the year are any indication of what the future of cinema holds in 2020, then we can be assured that it’s going to be a great year for films directed by women and/or female-centered stories. Considering the variety of interesting films released so far and thinking ahead in what’s to come when movie theaters finally reopen, it would be safe to say that this is an important moment that could be called as “the renaissance of female-driven films”. From super-hero blockbusters to come (BLACK WIDOW and WONDER WOMAN 1984, both by female directors) to studio films and independent features already released, it seems that women would dominate in 2020. And that is just the beginning of great things to come!
The term “woman’s film” was commonly used to describe well respected female-centered narratives about women who faced domestic problems or romantic tragedies, as a kind of movie that reaches its commercial and critical peak between the 1930s and 1940s. Those movies were distinguished for being starred in by the best and most lauded actresses of all time (Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Joanne Crawford, among them) and helmed with care and interest by prestigious filmmakers (William Wyler, George Cukor, Josef von Sternberg to name a few) without disdain for not representing more “masculine” cinema. The apparently “domestic” or melodramatic movies that seemed destined to female audiences were as relevant and profitable as any other movie of the era in terms of critical acclaim, audience enthusiasm, and award accolades (Academy Awards winners or nominated entries for Best Pictures like JEZEBEL (1938), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), REBECCA (1940) or MILDRED PIERCE (1945), proved that female-driven films were as respected as any western or war film of the era). Eventually, muscular and male-centric stories ended up becoming the default option for prestige cinema– and teenagers boys were the main target for commercially appealing blockbusters, even if the enjoyment of movies should have transcended any gender bias. The problem is that movies considered as “by” or “for women” have been maligned through the use of the heinous term “chick flick”—a sad qualifier light-years away of the rich tradition behind woman‘s film. Add to that how mistreated and diminished have been the power and impact of woman filmmakers over the years. For a woman who wanted to become a director (or a producer, or a screenwriter) the race has been uphill and full of obstacles compared to the male career of the movie industry.
This is why 2020 brings a valuable opportunity to appoint that things has been changing for better when it comes to equality and representation on screen and behind the cameras. Now we are experiencing a timely balance in the industry, so films directed by women has been released more often and we can appreciate a renewed interest in stories about complex female characters with due attention, not only reflecting the original spirit of woman’s film but a total freedom to create female-driven films no matter genres or incursions in narratives usually considered as men’s territory. Among the movies already watched and released this year, we can highlight a list of films that confirm 2020 as a special year for female-driven pictures:.
BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) (dir. Cathy Yan): Margot Robbie comes back to incarnate the iconic comic-book character that we already met in SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), in what may be labeled as a stand-alone spin-off. This Harley Quinn lives her own misadventures without The Joker. It’s a risky decision that finally pays off because she was the most interesting part of the previous movie. Quinn is no longer defined by her romantic attachment with her ex-boyfriend, even if he is the greater villain in Gotham City’s history. Now she’s in charge of herself as a criminal. Yan delivers a fresh female gaze in superhero films (or super-villains this time) sympathized with her protagonist and the other female characters that teamed accidentally to reclaim her emancipation in man’s world.
THE ASSISTANT (dir. Kitty Green): A recent Sundance sensation, this film focused on a young assistant working for a film production company to transform a tense and stressful work office experience in a subtle but chilling nightmare. This is the first official film about Harvey Weinstein after the sexual abuse cases against him, though his name is never mentioned. Julia Garner stands out with a stoic performance that gradually reveals how she has been affected by a sick work environment.
ORDINARY LOVE (dirs. Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leybur): More akin to the essence of classic woman’s film, Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson deliver award-worthy performances as a married couple affected by a cancer diagnosis. The film is not an easy tearjerker despite the subject– though beautifully moving on its vivid portrayal of a couple facing one day at a time and putting their committed love into a test. A love story above all that finds the epic in the mundane.
THE INVISIBLE MAN (dir. Leigh Wannell): This one was directed by a man, however his interest in rethinking an old premise adapted so many times from the viewpoint of a female character makes it feel immediately urgent. Taking into consideration the title of the film, this classic story which is usually about a brilliant mad-man who invents a mechanism to become invisible now becomes instead a story about the victim who endures his abuse. Elisabeth Moss (in one her best performances to date) is the ex-girlfriend of a disturbed man running away from their damaged relationship to find later that he will continue to torment her even when he is not present. Stories about women gaslighted by men are a formal template in many female-centered films, but never has it deeply collided with the story of this classic monster creating an excellent combination of thriller and horror.
EMMA (dir. Autumn de Wilde): Jane Austen’s novels are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for movies. Every generation there’s always a new approach upon her literary work and Emma is one of her most beloved books, also a staple where many romantic comedies have been founded. Emma (Anya Taylor-Hoy) is an anti-heroine that fails to solve the romantic lives of others and her own in spite of her good intentions. Other adaptations have been successful in the past, but this one gives enough authentic pleasures to stands by itself.
THE HUNT (dir. Craig Zobel): Since the postponement of the original release last year due to inflated political controversies, and later officially released few weeks before theaters close their doors due to COVID-19 pandemic you can almost feel this is a cursed film. THE HUNT has created many headlines but just a few focused on its artistic merits. What deserves to be mentioned is that this is a sickening and entertaining black comedy horror film with strong, flawed, and unforgettable female characters (delicious performances by Betty Gilpin and Hillary Swank) that overcome the inconsistencies of the material.