You can always tell when something has been written by a woman. The female characters have a certain authenticity that is otherwise lacking. In the movie industry, male-made fantasies often trump female realities, and so we get Femme Fatales and Manic Pixie Dream Girls instead of fully formed female characters. We’ve grown increasingly tired of seeing popular movies fail the Bechdel Test, which measures a movie’s female visibility by asking three painfully simple questions: 1. does it have at least two women, 2. who actually have names, 3. who engage in a conversation with each other about something other than a man. It’s a pretty low bar, but surprisingly most films fail anyway. Demand for realistic representations of women on screen is vast and growing. The fact is there are many talented female directors and writers in the entertainment industry, writing about real issues facing women, but they rarely garner the recognition given to their male counterparts. So here are three current works for women, written and directed by women, that should be on your radar. A girl can be behind the lens as well as in front of it, after all.
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Obvious Child (Romantic Comedy, Film)
Hailing from NYC, Gillian Robespierre initially created ‘Obvious Child’ as a short film in 2009, co-writing with Karen Maine. The short has been adapted into what is now Robespierre’s feature film debut. It’s a strange and humorous feat trying to describe the film festival favourite, ‘Obvious Child’. “Rom-Com” and “Abortion” don’t really go together in a tagline, but here is a film that not only succeeds in creating a fresh take on romantic comedies (both indie and mainstream), but also manages to bring normalcy and exposure to a “taboo” topic. The film centres around 27 year old aspiring comedian, Donna (played by Jenny Slate) who after a drunken one night stand, finds out she’s pregnant and decides to have an abortion. Approaching such a difficult subject through a comedic lens allows for a refreshing and genuine look at a modern day dilemma for women. You’re laughing along with Donna one minute and blinking back tears the next. Jenny Slate’s sincere portrayal shows us a character we can relate to: Donna is messy, vulnerable and struggling, but she is trying her best. We love her not in spite of her flaws but because of them. Her conversations with her mother, Nancy (Polly Draper) and best friend Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) about her abortion are honest and reassuring, a significant turn away from the regularly portrayed condemnation of abortion by family and friends. It’s a joy to see women supporting each other in the trying times as well as the good. The success of ‘Obvious Child’ is due to two things: realness and honesty. Its poignancy is found in nothing outlandish, just the witty writing, charming characters and outspoken bravery. We wait longingly for what Gillian Robespierre comes out with next.
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Strolling (A Documentary Series)
Cecile Emeke is a writer, director and cinematographer based in London. Her ‘Strolling’ series was born out of a need to instigate conversation about the black feminist experience in the UK. She has created a variety of shorts and her latest short film ‘Ackee and Saltfish’ will be premiering in London this September.
Cecile Emeke has quickly taken the blogosphere by storm with her deeply insightful short documentary film series “Strolling”. In a loose format, half documentary half art project, Emeke talks with young black Londoners (predominantly female) about their experiences living in UK. They have grown increasingly aware of their race and gender and the hardships that come along with that. Each episode runs at around 10-15 minutes and bounces from topic to topic: tampons and typecasting, reparations to Africa and rape culture. Emeke melds together shots of the subject talking with shots of them strolling and engaging with the busy city landscape. She remains behind the lens and whilst her voice is not physically heard, off camera she prompts the subject with questions to evoke a thoughtful response. The result is a feeling of you being there yourself, walking along with these women as you would your own friends, whilst you contemplate life’s big questions. The responses are hard hitting and astute as Emeke sheds light on the topic of the Black British experience, which can often be overshadowed by the African-American. The series is directed in a way that is thought provoking yet accessible, the issues discussed are very much universal. Cecile Emeke is definitely paving the way for other woman of colour both in the UK and abroad, who are eager to have their experiences, and that of their peers, showcased. As she focuses more on fictional work, Emeke may easily make the transition to UK mainstream cinema, the voice of an unheard generation.
Strolling episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnUYUczAhAM
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Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
Broad City (Comedy, Television)
Meeting each other in an improv team in 2007, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are the creators and stars of ‘Broad City’. Initially launched as a web series in 2010, the show was picked up as a TV show and currently runs on Comedy Central with Parks & Recreation’s Amy Poehler as executive producer.
‘Broad City’ tells a kind of love story between hapless but happy best friends, Ilana and Abbi, as they muddle their way through their twenties. Both girls have far from ideal jobs and no practical life goals but what they lack in a career they make up for in sheer vivacity. Seemingly mundane daily events turn into a ridiculous series of high jinks, as the girls find various ways to brighten their days. The show portrays hilarious scenarios that whilst weird and wonderful, aren’t that removed from reality. Cleaning a guy’s house with your best friend in your underwear just to get money for a concert, for example, is probably not something you’ve ever considered but you’re thinking about it now, right? Times are tough for 20somethings but that shouldn’t bring you down – as long as you have your best gal pal by your side. Ilana and Abbi call each other “dude”, they pick up guys in bars, and they don’t wait for life to happen to them, they happen to it. ‘Broad City’ is unabashed, unapologetic and most of all, understanding. Of what it’s really like to be a wandering young adult who’s not looking to the future but looking have a good time. It has frequently been compared to HBO’s ‘Girls’ but where ‘Girls’ offers narcissistic, pseudo-intellectuals whose motives are almost always selfish and spiteful, ‘Broad City’ gives us two girls who love each other so purely and genuinely, it makes you want to call up your best friend and convince her to go to a Lil Wayne concert with you, just because. It’s this celebration of female friendship that really is the heart of the show. They are a supportive constant in one another’s lives, always wanting the best for each other and doing anything to make that happen. What’s not to love?
Broad City clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jqCqvGuutQ
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Look out for part two of our ‘GIRLS ON FILM’ series, where we’ll bring you three more Must See Films & TV Shows Written and Directed by Women.