Earlier this month, girls rights charity Plan International released a study with the Geena Davis Institute, Rewrite HerStory, which analysed gender representation in 56 top-grossing films of 2018 in 20 countries. It found women and girls were four times more likely to wear skimpy clothing than men (in fact one in three had sexy clothes on). And twice as many women were shown nude than men (15% compared to 8%).
The box office films weren’t great at portraying positive role models either. Women in leadership positions were much more likely to be sexually objectified than men, with 15% having the camera focused on their body parts in slow motion compared to 4% of men.
Representation of women and girls in film is important. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? Young girls need to see role models, complex characters who develop and grow, learn from their mistakes, are in positions of power, and those who stand up for what they believe in. In fact, not just young girls, all of us need more of this on our screens.
Because our media should be a reflection of our society but what we’re currently seeing in this mirror is warped: it’s not really what women and girls are about. We’re more than sex objects, we don’t just exist for men’s gratification. We aren’t catty and one-dimensional. And believe it or not, when we have conversations with each other, we talk about things other than the men in our lives. We need to reframe our understanding of how we portray female characters. We need to see strong, emotional, caring, intricate, troubled, selfish, aspirational, daring girls – not merely archetypes repeated over and over again.
Full credit: SBS is one of the best in the business at showcasing brilliant films and TV series that break these tired old conventions and tell meaningful stories with female characters who are complicated, flawed, have many dimensions and personal challenges. So when our group of Plan International Australia youth activists got the chance to do a #GirlsTakeover with SBS On Demand and curate our very own list of films and shows that show kick arse women doing kick arse things, we were over the moon!
Please put some of these on your wish list. If it’s not usually your thing, we challenge you to reconsider! In the spirit of International Day of the Girl, why not just give it a go and get to know a different kind of female character than the vapid nonsense Tinsel Town trots out year after year. These films we have chosen are a start, they feature diverse female voices that speak with authenticity. Dive in, head first, challenge your expectations, and think critically about girls on screen.
Click to watch each film at SBS On Demand.
Draw inspiration from the defiant spirit and enterprising nature of the five young stars of Jafar Panahi's celebrated film. With warmth and humour, Offside documents their attempts to watch the 2006 Iranian World Cup qualifier when they - and all females - are banned from doing so. The film was shot during the actual match, FYI, and in a positive footnote, the 38 year-ban has now been lifted. Offside is widely celebrated and won a Jury Prize at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.
The first film to be entirely shot in Saudi Arabia and by a female director - Haifaa al-Mansour - comes this tale of 10-year-old Wadjda who eagerly saves money for her very own bicycle.
A story of resilience and hope beyond trauma, Kim Nguyen's Oscar-nominated War Witch is the story of 12-year-old Komona's attempt to flee her life as a child soldier.
A runaway is left alone after her boyfriend disappears. By accident, she gets to know a trans woman named Jane. She joins Jane and her group of misfit runaways, who provide the sense of family for which she yearns. A terrific Korean film that handles themes of isolation and loneliness with great sensitivity.
The classic story comes to life in this story of the young Swiss orphan and her adventures in the Swiss Alps.
Mary and Max
Oscar-winner Adam Elliot's debut feature is a story of outsiders connecting across the seas. Toni Collette voices the story of eight-year-old Melbourne girl Mary, who becomes pen-pals with 44-year-old New Yorker Max, a lonely man with Aspergers, grappling with life in the Big Apple. Their treasured relationship spans decades.
Read review of Mary and Max
Joan of Arc
Milla Jovovich brings to life the legendary French heroine and warrior of the 15th century.
A film for dreamers everywhere, Amelie is challenged to overcome her shyness to bring joy to the lonely hearts of Paris. With a standout central performance by Audrey Tautou.
Anori lays claim to being the first Greenlandic feature film that is directed, produced and written by a woman - Pipaluk K. Jørgensen. The epic takes you on a mythical journey from the wondrous northern landscapes to the crush of the streets of New York.
Cate Blanchett is a model of discretion as she embarks on a life-changing journey of self-discovery in Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith. Married socialite Carol will never be the same upon falling for a young woman in 1950s New York.
This touching adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel tells a relatable story of migration from the perspective of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman who embarks on a solo journey from Ireland to 1950s Brooklyn, NY. Her efforts to establish a future for herself force her to make painful decisions about her sense of identity.
Viola Davis won an Oscar for her scene-stealing performance in her co-star & director Denzel Washington's moving and powerful story of a couple struggling with poverty and racism as they raise a family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Davis' Oscar speech spoke to her desire to tell "the stories of the people who dream big, and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost".
Sally Hawkins shines in this biography of artist Maud Lewis who overcomes immense trauma to forge a life for herself. Ethan Hawke co-stars as her unlikely lover.
A Quiet Passion
Cynthia Nixon depicts brilliant American poet, Emily Dickinson, whose fascinating life was consumed by poetry and striving for creative integrity. Terence Davies brings the story to life with a stunningly vivid central performance by Nixon.
Andrea Arnold directs this adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic novel about the fiery love between Heathcliff and Cathy. Arnold's hallmark of pared back storytelling strips away the fussy bonnet drama cliche to emphasise the raw passion at the heart of the doomed love story.
This biography shines a light on Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay who played an integral role in ending slavery in England. Amma Assante (The Handmaid's Tale) directs.
Iranian master of the domestic drama, Asghar Farhadi, earned his first Oscar in 2012 for this story of a woman (Leila Hatami) seeking a divorce from her husband, whom she still loves, in order to flee Tehran and build a freer life for their daughter abroad.
Watch interview with director Asghar Farhadi
Leading a secret life in rural Tanzania, Pili is faced with increasingly difficult choices when she’s offered the chance to run her own market stall.
Frank and sex-positive observations of all aspects of female sexuality? Host Karley Sciortino challenges outdated notions of female sexuality, gender and love. Seasons 1 and 2 are at SBS On Demand.
Read interview with Slutever host, Karley Scortino
The Handmaid’s Tale
Based on Margaret Atwood’s book, this popular series depicts a dystopian future in which women are subjugated forced to live as concubines. Handmaid June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss), takes bold risks as she agitates for change in order to make life better for her daughters, and the women of Gilead. Season 3 is available as a box set at SBS On Demand.
Listen to Eyes On Gilead: A Handmaid's Tale podcast
Comedy with joy and body positivity, based on the Lindy West’s memoir. This six-part comedy drama series centres on Annie, a young journalist out to change her life without changing her body. Stars Aidy Bryant as Annie.
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