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Girls & Women

20 Incredible Films Directed by Women That You Should Be Watching

Wikimedia Commons / MiamiFilmFestival / Mariemaye / Sgt. Michael Connors

Today is International Women’s Day, a worldwide event celebrating the accomplishments of women and girls around the globe. 

On this day, we celebrate the women who have broken glass ceilings in politics, art, and music. But the film world has proven to have a ridiculously robust glass ceiling that still consistently holds women back.  

In the past decade, less than 5% of the one thousand highest grossing films were directed by women. That’s 44 out 1,000, to be exact. In the history of the Academy Awards, just four women have been nominated for best director, including zero in 2017. 

Take action: Tell World Leaders to Support the Global Action Plan to Get Girls in School

In 2016, one in three of the top 250 films did not have a single woman in a key behind-the-camera role (director, writer, cinematographer, producer, executive producer, editor). Female actors accounted for less than one in three protagonists. Just 5% of cinematographers were women.

Women directors generally work from their 30s to their 60s, while white males work from their 20s to their 80s, according to a USC-Annenberg study. 

Between 2007 and 2012, 26.2% of female actors in the top 500 films were shown partially naked, compared to 9.4% of men. Only 10% of all films in that time period were comprised of a cast that was at least half women. 

The most dismaying statistic of them all? Women represent 51% of moviegoers

Read more: In IMDb's New Movie Rating System, Getting an 'F' Is a Great Thing

Despite accounting for more than half of the $632 billion the entertainment industry is expected to rake in in 2017, women are vastly underrepresented. 

The benefits of having women behind the camera are clear: Including women as directors leads to more nuanced, and less sexualized, women characters, and often leads to films that confront issues that many blockbuster films tend to avoid, such as sexual assault, poverty, and child marriage. 

But despite these statistics, a number of pioneering women have made their indelible mark on the film industry. From history’s first female director — Alice Guy-Blaché, a Frenchwoman who directed and produced over 1,000 films in her life — to current directors like Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante, women have directed a huge diversity of films. 

Here’s are a few of our favorites and how to stream them: 

1. “The Secret Life of Bees” 

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Taking place during the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, this film considers a wide variety of themes, including domestic abuse, racial prejudice, and even environmentalism. 
Other films: “Love & Basketball,” “Beyond the Lights”

How to watch: HBO Now

2. “Selma”

Director: Ava DuVernay 

Directed by Ava DuVernay, one of today’s most prolific female directors, this film considers the 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Other films: “13th,” “Middle of Nowhere”

How to watch: Amazon Prime, Hulu

3. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” 

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

A film that does not stick to just one genre, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, is a part Western, part horror, part vampire flick. 

Other films: “The Bad Batch”

How to watch: Netflix

4. “Citizenfour”

Director: Laura Poitras 

Director Laura Poitras had been working on a film about the US surveillance state when she received a mysterious series of encrypted emails from a certain “citizen four.” The resulting docu-thriller is particularly engaging all because of how real it is. 

Other films: “Project X,” “Risk” 

How to watch: Google Play

5. “Lost in Translation”

Director: Sofia Coppola

Two lonely characters — an aging actor and a bored photographer — find their paths unexpectedly intertwined in a hotel in Tokyo. 

Other films: “Marie Antoinette,” “The Virgin Suicides,” “A Very Murray Christmas”

How to watch: Google Play

6. “Suffragette”  

Director: Sarah Gavron

Starring acclaimed actress Meryl Streep, “Suffragette” takes a look at the early pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. 

Other films: “Village at the End of the World,” “Brick Lane”

How to watch: HBO Now

7. “A United Kingdom” 

Director: Amma Asante

Still in theaters, “A United Kingdom” considers the interracial marriage of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana and Ruth Williams Khama, a white Londoner, in the early 1960s. 

Other films: “Belle,” “A Way of Life”

How to watch: In theaters 

8. “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” 

Director: Mira Nair

Based off the eponymous novel by Mohsin Hamid, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” tells the fictional story of Changez, a Pakistani man whose relationship to the United States changed irrevocably after September 11th, 2001. 

Other films: “Queen of Katwe,” “The Namesake,” “Salaam Bombay!”

How to watch: Netflix, Hulu

9. “The Hurt Locker” 

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

With this film Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman ever to win an Oscar for best director. It recounts the story of a brigade of soldiers in Iraq whose task it is to diffuse bombs. 

Other films: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Point Break”

How to watch: Showtime

10. “In a Better World”

Director: Susanne Bier

Danish director Susanne Bier creates a world of paradise and paradox in this drama that contrasts the daily struggles of a well-off Danish family with the world of an African refugee camp. 

Other films: “Love Is All You Need,” “Brothers,” “Serena”

How to watch: Amazon Prime

11. “Winter’s Bone” 

Director: Debra Granik

A drama about a broke family with a missing father and a house in risk of foreclosure, “Winter’s Bone” features strong-hearted Jennifer Lawrence in one of her first major cinematic roles. 

Other films: “Stray Dog,” “Down to the Bone”

How to watch: Fandango Now

12. “Mustang” 

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Taking place in northern Turkey, “Mustang” portrays five young girls as they struggle to find liberation amongst a backdrop of patriarchy and repression. 

Other films: “A Drop of Water” 
How to watch: Netflix

13. "Firaaq" 

Director: Nandita Das 

Taking place in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, the film recounts sectarian violence against the Muslim majority population during three days of rioting from multiple perspectives. 

How to watch: Netflix

14. "Cameraperson"

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Director Kirsten Johnson has traveled the world documenting certain populations and places. In this film, she turns the camera on herself, exploring the way in which her cinematography reveals greater images of the human condition.  

How to watch: Amazon Prime

15. “Pariah”

Director: Dee Rees 

Alike, pronounced “ah-lee-kay,” grapples with her lesbian identity and her blackness, as she grows up in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. 

Other films: “Bessie”

How to watch: Netflix

16. “Tiny Furniture” 

Director: Lena Dunham 

Written by, directed, and starring Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture” considers the fluidity and ambiguity of post-college life in New York City.  

Other films: “Girls” (series)

How to watch: Netflix

17. “American Honey” 

Director: Andrea Arnold

A stunningly beautiful portrayal of disaffected American youth, “American Honey” is a road-trip movie unlike any you’ve seen before. 

Other films: “Wuthering Heights,” “Fishtank”

How to watch: Amazon Prime

18. “Under the Shadow”

Director: Babak Anvari

Set in 1988 in Tehran, a young woman who was blacklisted from medical school for subversive activities and her daughter are left alone to face Djinn, a Middle Eastern spirit carried in the wind that turns their family home into a haunted house. 

Other films: “Two & Two,” “Solitary”

How to watch: Netflix

19. “The Piano” 

Director: Jane Campion

A mute Scottish woman is sold into an arranged marriage with a settler in New Zealand in the mid 19th century.  

Other films: “Bright Star,” “In the Cut”

How to watch: Google Play 

20. “Bend It Like Beckham”

Director: Gurinder Chadha

A soccer-obsessed Indian woman rebels against her ritualistic, traditional family in pursuit of her athletic dreams. 

Other films: “Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging,” “Paris, je t’aime”

How to watch: Google Play