Healing Gaia

Movies that Foster Gender Equity, Part 2

Women have a wealth of knowledge and life experience. Telling their stories through movies is one way to help foster positive attitudes of gender equality.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published January 22, 2015

In my last article, I wrote about five wonderful films appropriate for young children, teens and adults.

Today, let's look at films teens and young adults can watch with their parents. Each movie portrays women in powerful roles - even if it it's a supporting role.

The Book of Negroes (2015) A CBC six part mini-series is based on Lawrence Hill's book of the same name. In 1756 eleven year old Aminata Diallo is brutally taken from her village in West Africa and shipped to South Carolina.

Her life journey will take her to Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and eventually to London, England where she'll address Parliament. A very strong woman who survived horrendous challenges.

This series opens the door to discussions about slavery; racism; patriarchal power and control; gender equity; marginalization of certain segments of society.

Selma (2015) The march that shook the world in 1965. The 54 mile march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery was to be a peaceful demonstration. The goal was to get the president to pass a bill giving African Americans the right to register to vote. The march started three times before it was successful.

The women in this film are strong and courageous. Corretta Scott King, Marie Foster, Amelia Boynton were peacefully protesting, marching and putting their lives on the line. Mahalia Jackson, renowned gospel singer and activist, makes a brief appearance in the film but she was instrumental in getting Dr. King to share his dream with the world.

The incredibly cruel and unwarranted violence portrayed in the film was disturbing and difficult to watch. But, it was real for all of the activists who lived and died fighting for equality before the law.

We need to make the oppression of women as repulsive and socially unacceptable as the oppression of African Americans has become.

Discussions could center around: the role women have historically played in changing political views; the 'Famous Five' who went to privy council in Britain to have Canadian women declared persons in 1929; ways Canadians can encourage the federal and provincial governments to launch an enquiry into our missing and murdered aboriginal women; and our obligation to speak up and be part of a movement that may not directly benefit us simply because it's the right thing to do.

Norma Rae (1979) Based on the true story of Krystal Lee Sutton. Norma Rae is a minimum-wage worker in a cotton mill. After hearing a speech by New York union organizer Reuben Warshowsky, Norma Rae decides to help unionize her shop. What follows are the struggles of a strong woman to make a better life and future for herself, her family, and co-workers.

Try opening up discussions about the role labour unions have played in helping women achieving pay equity and benefits in Canada; action plans to counter the federal government's undermining of the labour movement in an attempt to drive down wages and decimate benefits; establishing a living wage for all Canadians; the inequity of 1 percent owning more than 50 percent of the worldwide wealth.

Heaven on Earth (2008) When her family arranges her marriage, Chand is sent from India to Brampton, Ontario to live with a husband she has never met.

Chand's new life is very isolated, without privacy or pleasure. Her husband soon becomes violent. Work becomes her only haven. It's a tragic story with a good ending.

Discussions could focus on: women as chattel; the difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages; barriers faced by immigrant women especially when English is not their first language; cultural expectations of women; the role web sites like www.1infour.ca play in helping women escape abusive relationships.

The Hours (2002) The lives of three women, Virginia Woolf in 1920 England, Laura Brown a 1950's American housewife, and Clarissa Vaughan living in modern day New York City, intersect through Woolf's novel, "Mrs. Dalloway."

All three women have great difficulty finding meaning in their relationships and lives. The options available at their time in history means their journeys take vastly different routes.

The Hours provides the opportunity to discuss the suppression of women; how lifestyle choices available to women have changed over time; the importance of women establishing their careers before marrying or having children.

Women have a wealth of knowledge and life experience. Telling their stories through movies is one way to help foster positive attitudes of gender equality. Intergenerational discussions of these stories, and of our own stories as women, help youth and young adults realize that women's rights are human rights.

Please share your favourite movies that portray strong girls and women.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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By Selway (registered) | Posted January 24, 2015 at 01:22:27

Well, I'm afraid the women in them aren't especially strong or powerful, but a couple of films that might be good to watch with teens are "Me Without You" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

The first is an English effort written by Sandra Goldbacher. It follows two friends ( Anna Friel and Michelle Williams) from early adolescence through school, jobs and up to motherhood. When I was looking it up I thought the title was "No Me Without You", which is essentially the premise. The girls complete each other, but they are also rivals,and eventually one of the pair cruelly witholds some information from the other because she doesn't want to lose her importance in the other's life. Really interesting study of how the two enable each other to explore the world as they're young teenagers, but then one starts to keep the other back.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" is from 1971 or so? Also English, set in London. I don't like to approach works of art as sociology articles but this one really is both. Perfectly cast with Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch both trying to get more of Murray Head, a younger artist who finally solves his romantic problem by leaving for New York. The script by Penelope Gilliat is fantastic because it manages to deal with twenty-seven things at once, but the action takes place over only a week or so. I saw this in the seventies when the Delta was a repertory cinema,and liked it a lot, and then again last week at home and admired it even more. (HPL has the Criterion re-issue.)

Head is the young, bisexual, handsome and charming centre, who fends off responsibility by telling his lovers that his credo is 'we're free to do what we want'. Of course what they want ( quite foolishly) is some kind of minimal commitment from him. Very simple story, much beautiful texture. Jackson babysits the children of friends for a weekend, and so you see the elder girl among the kids watching the behaviour of the adults as well...Great scenes between Jackson and her mother, and Finch and a female relative who can't quite seem to figure out why he is such a long-term bachelor...The film is well on its way to being a period piece, but it sets out many aspects of the so-called "sexual revolution" that was occurring when it was made that have become muddier now.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted January 31, 2015 at 15:00:20

"The Colour Purple" has always been one of my favourite films that depicts the lives of many women around the World. It's not just a story about Southern Black women, or poor women, or even a period piece, since it moves into fairly modern times. It is a visually beautiful film, & it shows the triumph of the human spirit in what seems to be a 'no win' situation for many, many reasons. The women in this film are unfailingly strong, no matter how diverse they are in their life experiences & viewpoints.

"Hester Street" is an older film,(1975) with the wonderful Carol Kane. It is a story about the New York Jewish Ghetto in the late 1800's, & the experiences of a bride brought by her husband, (whom she has not seen in quite some time) from "The Old Country" to a new & confusing world of big city New York.

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2015-01-31 15:02:25

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