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Your Feminist Movie Check List For 2015: 10 Films That Made Us Laugh, Cry, But Mostly Proud

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By Vaagisha Das for Cake

Following Emma Watson’s speech about feminism at the UN, 2015 seemed to kick off to a great start by redefining (and in many cases, introducing) the word to all aspects of popular culture, be it TV shows, movies, or even the actors themselves. Barring some, icons who claimed to be ‘humanists’ instead – here’s looking at you, Meryl Streep – changed their stance on the issue, and the media reflected this positive trend.

Girl power is not the only new kid on the block, though. 2015 also seemed to be the year when filmmakers finally decided to give the much underrepresented LGBT community their due share of attention, and the results were overwhelming. Here are some feminist, gender positive movies with their fair share of representation, and hopefully, paving the way for better, nuanced characters to come.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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This movie is refreshingly different from the typical action movies that relegate women to swooning sidekicks while the men save the day. It features a kickass female lead Furiosa, accompanied by Mad Max, who gets progressively less macho into the movie. The women play well thought out characters with substantial roles, Furiosa is anything but conventionally attractive, and even though the movie refers to sexual violence, there are no graphic Game of Thones-esque scenes, showing the movie’s firm refusal to pander to the male gaze.With gorgeous cinematography and never stopping action, what’s not to love?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

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Despite the original trilogy’s excellent character development of Princess Leia, it is still a male-dominated empire, with the other female characters speaking a mere total of 63 seconds throughout the three. The prequels were better, but surpassing them all is the new lightsaber wielding protagonist of the new Star Wars movie, Rey. At last, one has a female character that is every bit as heroic and flawless as Luke- and she is no one’s love interest. The movie also features the first female character on the Dark Side, along with others. Maybe this is the “Bechdel busting intergalactic hero” we needed all along.

Ex Machina

This movie about an AI, Ava, deemed to live or die based upon how ‘human’ she would look, spools out into an allegory about patriarchy itself. It unsurprisingly follows the trope of an AI who goes rogue, however, upon closer look, the movie explores the themes of female oppression and male entitlement in its unpredictable ending. Apart from addressing the literal objectification of women by building compliant sexbots, the movie focuses on male exertion of control over women- the Nice Guy Syndrome exhibited by the protagonist, contrasted yet so similar to the brutish AI owner- this movie sure makes for an interesting watch.

Spy

 In a world full of James Bonds and svelte femme fatales, this movie stands out as having none of the casual sexism and every bit of the badassery one associates with spy films. Starring Melissa McCarthy as the uber-competent desk agent who takes to the field after her colleague- Jude Law- dies unexpectedly, this movie is unassuming in its feminism. The spy, her boss and her best friend are all women- they just are, and the movie handles this theme of female friendships wonderfully. The spy is a foul-mouthed, gun-toting ‘cat lady’- and there are no jokes aimed at her size. For an entire movie that wagered 65 million on one woman’s talent alone, it is worth every penny.

 Angry Indian Goddesses

Being India’s first all-female centric film, this movie has garnered international accolades, having received the People’s Choice Award in Rome for its ‘progressive’ values. The movie showcases different women combating misogyny in varied situations, and steamrolls over the typical damsel in distress stereotype. Female-centric friendships are a highlight of the movie, as different women get together to celebrate a bachelorette party. At times the film seems to be trying to cram too many issues in too small a timeframe, however, the frank discussions on various topics- a rarity in Indian movies- make up for it.

Tangerine

Brilliantly talented and funny trans actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor play onscreen trans characters in this movie about a sex worker and her best friend who try to find a cheating boyfriend. Droll and at times bitterly honest about the struggles faced by trans people, the movie is one of a kind in its gritty representation. Interestingly, the entire movie was shot on an iPhone, which gives it a warm, intimate feel. The electric energy of the movie is highlighted by the casual absurdity of the heroine’s lives- aptly shown in a shampoo covered sexual encounter in a car wash- and it makes a difficult movie hilariously funny.

 Freeheld

Based on the real-life story of New Jersey Police Officer Laurel Hester’s battle to secure pension benefits for her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree, when Hester dies from cancer, Freeheldcouldn’t have come at a better time- shortly after the legalisation of same-sex marriage in all fifty states of the U.S. It is rare to see lesbian characters depicted onscreen, and Ellen Page’s own coming out story has contributed in part to the intrigue of the movie. Even after the rights have been won, the poignant acting reminds the viewers how fresh the fight still is.

Carol

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Described as ‘breathtakingly poise’ by Variety, actors Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett portray an achingly beautiful account of queer love in this movie adaptation of the lesbian pulp fiction novel, The Price of Salt. The odds against them are stacked- whether it is their ages, circumstances, social standing or the oppressive male dominion of the 1950s, yet they persist- showing the full reality of what it means to be a woman in love with another woman in the prevailing attitudes about being gay. The movie received an overwhelming response, and with its sensuous portrayal of the two women’s lives, it is easy to see why.

 Room

Another movie based on a novel of the same name, Room, written by the author Emma Donoghue, tells a story of confinement and hope from a five-year-old boy’s perspective. It is the story of a woman’s struggle to raise her son in captivity while she battles for survival and sanity. Brie Larson does an excellent job in showing the violence and disorientation that the audience seem to echo, and the unconventional theme of the movie is offset by the raw, powerful character of Ma as she explores a changing mother-son relationship while dealing with PTSD.  

Trainwreck

 

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Amy Schumer, with her witty take on issues like sexual harassment, birth control, and other has been in the spotlight as a major feminist icon, so a movie starring her is sure to make headlines. Trainwreck is a self-aware, feminist take on the rom-com narrative full of one-liners. Featuring a plus sized woman who is sexually active, the movie overturns slut shaming and body shaming- with no disparaging references to either of these at all. While it could have been more inclusive, the movie’s subverting of the traditional gendered roles in movies is a sure step in the right direction.

These are only ten of the amazing, female-centered and diverse movie that we got to see in 2015- here’s hoping the streak continues, and we get more such characters in the year to come!

This article was originally published here on Cake.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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