5 Essential Documentary Films for Anyone Who Cares About Women


When it comes to storytelling, film is a powerful medium. With visuals, we get pulled into the heart of a story; we take part at the same time that we learn. Skilled documentary filmmakers know the art of getting across a complex idea in a tangible way, one that’s not only informative but also touching. They can make us cry, they can make us laugh, most most importantly, hopefully they inspire us to take action.

If you care about women and women’s rights, there are some excellent documentaries out there, not only about women, but also directed and produced by women. That’s a good thing, because while the world of media is male dominated, with top grossing films often directed by and depicting men, the independent documentary world is more balanced, with women more likely to work on independent films and documentaries. In fact, 39 percent of directors working on independently produced documentaries in 2011-2012 were women.

Compare that with the dismal statistics of women and girls around the world: “Sixty-six million are currently out of school; 150 million are sexually assaulted each year; and in the past 30 seconds, about 13 were forced into arranged marriages,” as PureWow recently pointed out. We can’t have enough films about these topics. Films that addresses the state of women around the world are essentials to helping us pave the way forward.

The more films by and about women, the more we support women in general. Here are some excellent ones to start with.

1. Miss Representation

Why do we have certain images of women in the media? Miss Representation takes a look at that question, showing the link between gender inequality in power positions in media, and how that perpetuates stereotyped gender roles in our culture. Produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom – who we interviewed around the time the film cam out – it is a compelling look at the under representation of women from media to politics, and a call to action for those of us who want to make change.

2. Girl Rising

The format of Girl Rising is unique: it’s a film about the stories of nine girls from nine countries written by nine writers and performed by nine actresses. The equivalent of a short story collection, each segment features the real girl acting out an episode of her own life, giving us an intimate view of what girls around the world are up against.

3. To Educate a Girl

In 2000, 110 million children in the world were not in school—two thirds of them were girls. Moved by this statistic, two filmmakers Frederick Rendina and Oren Rudavsky traveled to Nepal and Uganda to find out what it actually takes to educate a girl. To Educate a Girl is a look at the lives of young women who are working hard to achieve their dreams despite living in situations of conflict and poverty.

4. Invisible War

Soldiers in the military are up against a lot, their everyday jobs often being physically and emotionally taxing. But for some it’s even worse than that. In fact, a female U.S. soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. Invisible War is an investigative documentary about the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the U.S. military, a difficult topic, but one that’s necessary to talk about.

5. Half the Sky Movement

Not a traditional big screen film, Half the Sky Movement is a four-hour PBS series that was shot in ten different countries to show women and girls living under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, yet fighting to change them. Inspired by the powerful book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the film isn’t just a film, it’s a call to arms to end the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

Want more? The National Organization for Women has an excellent extensive roundup of films about global women’s rights that are all well worth a watch.

Image courtesy of Miss Representation

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.