Films on Women’s Rights

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Films on Women’s Rights show the inequality of women, and how much they have gained in just a few generations — or not. These movies record the sacrificial efforts of the predecessors who ensured more freedom would be guaranteed to women today.

MAKERS: Women Who Make America

Documentary 2013. Documentary that tells the story of how women have shaped the United States over the last 50 years through political and personal empowerment. This tells the remarkable story of the most sweeping social revolution in American history, as women have asserted their rights to a full and fair share of political power, economic opportunity, and personal autonomy. It’s a revolution that has unfolded in public and private, in courts and Congress, in the boardroom and the bedroom, changing not only what the world expects from women, but what women expect from themselves. MAKERS brings this story to life with priceless archival treasures and poignant, often funny interviews with those who led the fight, those who opposed it, and those first generations to benefit from its success. Trailblazing women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey share their memories, as do countless women who challenged the status quo in industries from coal-mining to medicine. Makers captures with music, humor, and the voices of the women who lived through these turbulent times the dizzying joy, aching frustration and ultimate triumph of a movement that turned America upside-down. See Full Review

Half the Sky:
Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Documentary 2012 NR 2 Episodes. Filmed in 10 countries, this series introduces women who are struggling with some of the most difficult and oppressive circumstances imaginable.

The Invisible War

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 37m. The Invisible War exposes a rape epidemic in the armed forces, investigating the institutions that perpetuate it as well as its personal consequences. See Full Review

Miss Representation

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 30m. Explore how the mainstream media’s often disparaging portrayals of women contribute to the under-representation of females in positions of leadership. We all know that there is sexism in the media, but this movie explains and highlights it through experts, victims, and stone-cold facts, with an interesting and engaging format. I knew that women had it hard media-wise, but I had no idea how bad it was. Although the basic idea is not news to me, this film provides valuable concrete proof of that in an interesting way. The film presents startling facts and gives you information that you may have known on some level, but that also needs to be brought to the forefront for anything to change. The vast interview footage of well-respected individuals keeps the film fresh and not too repetitive.  The facts that you learn from this documentary are surprising and shocking — enough to move you to tears. At its best, Miss Representation uncovers the real reason behind the negative portrayal of women in media — money. Corporations perpetuate the blonde, blue-eyed, big-breasted, skinny, sexy, submissive stereotype of a woman (for decades now) so that women buy endless products to become that unachievable image.  The fact that women bear the burden of discrimination for the sake of the business interests of organizations run and owned by men is made painfully clear. Rarely does a film provide such insight and depth into an issue that we as both a society and individuals have become immune to. Men have treated women as inferiors to men throughout human history, and violence towards women certainly predates the onset of modern media. Television and magazine ads merely perpetuate and exploit what has been the relationship between the sexes since time eternal. It’s convenient when the whole of history backs up the misogynistic rhetoric that these groups spew out upon the public. Like class warfare, the people with the power – men – always fight to maintain the status quo. Treated as second-class citizens are the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the children, the people of color, and the women. Until human rights are a focused global priority, women’s rights will simply languish in the weird twilight between mere placation and true equality. However, the film never asks why are women complicit in their own degradation? Why do women dress scantily in rap videos, etc.? Are there women who think that their objectification is smart business? Think Brittany Spears — she has little singing talent, so that won’t bring in the bucks, but she becomes a sex symbol and makes millions. Also not addressed in the film is the developing parental obsession that overtakes a woman after she has children, which is one of the silent killers of her progress in a given field. By the time ‘bringing up baby’ is no longer the consuming job it once was, it is often too late to recapture the career moment. So I do agree that — yes, as usual — women themselves aren’t called to task for any of this in the film. Did the media and politics create the Kardashians, or did the Kardashians create the Kardashians? The most distasteful display in the movie for me was not the “reality” TV stars calling each other bitches, but the “news” anchors and talking heads saying insulting things about powerful women. However, I would overwhelmingly recommend this documentary. This is an excellent film — a must-watch. Touches so many aspects of how woman are portrayed in the media and popular culture: fashion, entertainment, and politics. It’s meant to get people thinking and talking about this extremely important issue. And it does just that.  Please watch this film. Many, many, women are still in the dark when it comes to the oppression of women. This film gives so much insight into the negative influence that media has on the public. If you are a woman in America, you need to watch this film. Women can do so much better than this. Women should watch this film to help empower themselves. My only concern is that it may appear to be a film made for women only and push away the potential male viewer that should be required to watch this film. Men should see this film to help realize how ingrained sexism is in our society and how to change it. Everyone should see this film to understand how to treat people (especially women) with the respect they deserve. This is a documentary that is appropriate for all age groups. A must-see for your young daughters and sons. I believe schools should show revealing documentaries like this as a mandatory curriculum. This is a good film, a crash course in gender and media studies. This is a must-see film. I am so happy that someone made a documentary about this. I think if people start to pay attention to how incredibly damaging the media’s portrayal of women is to both men, women, and children, then things just might change. I can’t express enough how much I wish there were more films like this in the mass media. I personally do not watch TV because of the degrading programs being shoved down our throats. At least with Netflix I get to choose what I watch. And this film was put together by a young, blonde, attractive woman. For me, that only adds to the credibility. The small amount of the filmmaker’s personal stake in this topic provided just enough of a connecting thread throughout the film without getting too self-indulgent. See, Girls? Still room for a brain.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Documentary National Film Board of Canada (NFB) 2011 NR 1hr 37m. In showing the real story of breast cancer, this film explores who really benefits from the pink ribbon campaigns: the cause or the company. It documents how some companies use pink-ribbon-related marketing to increase sales while contributing only a small fraction of proceeds to the cause. Some companies manufacturing products that may be cancer-producing (carcinogenic) use Pink Ribbons to improve their public image. The pink-ribbon movement thus far has done more for marketing than for medicine. See Full Review

It Was a Wonderful Life

Documentary 1993 NR 84 minutes. A growing number of middle-class women are forced to live out of their cars following a divorce, job loss or a long illness. They’re clean, educated, articulate, and rarely receive public assistance, as they struggle to survive one day at a time. This film chronicles the hardships and infrequent triumphs of six homeless women.  I expected to see a documentary about bag ladies who talk to themselves, etc., but this is all about people just like myself. It introduces us to a new sub-genre of unfortunates, “The Invisible Homeless,” so-called because most of their acquaintances do not realize they are homeless. Looking at them at work you’d never know they were homeless. See Full Review

I Am Slave

Docudrama 2010 NR 1hr 20m. This drama inspired by true events follows a Sudanese girl who learns to fight her oppressors after being kidnapped and sold into slavery, first in Khartoum Sudan and then in London. Today, as absurd as it may intellectually seem, slavery still exists. Breaks my heart to know this is happening all over the world to thousands of people. How can anyone believe they truly own another human being? Simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant. A powerful story of modern day slavery that will touch you to the core. It brings tears to my eyes knowing that people not only in African but in parts of Asia and in the Middle East are still forced and sold into slavery every day. Really shows how things must of been in USA not too long ago, when the laws where horrifically outrageous, beyond stupid, the racism mind-boggling. I am now going to look for ways I can get involved to help.  This is the best movie I have seen in a very long time. And I didn’t even have to read subtitles. Thank you to the producers, writers, and actors for making it. The postscripts after the movie estimate that there are 5,000 women living as slaves today in London, and that 20,000 people have been enslaved in Sudan. See Full Review

It’s A Girl

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr3m. This grave documentary spotlights the cultural traditions that surround widespread female “gendercide”, female infanticide, and violence toward women in India and China. It tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.

Blind Mountain
(Mang Shan)

Drama 2007 NR 95 minutes. The promise of a good-paying job lures a young Chinese woman into a horrifying predicament in this drama. College student Bai Xuemei (Lu Huang) awakens in a remote village to find she’s been sold into a marriage to the repulsive “husband” that is slavery in disguise. Her resistance only results in being raped by her “husband” and continued beatings at the hands of her husband, her husbands’ parents and the villagers. Trapped in the fiercely traditional town, the young woman finds that her avenues of escape are all blocked. As she searches for allies, including a young boy, a school teacher and a mailman. With hope running out, Bai undertakes one final dramatic stand against her oppressors. See Full Review

The Magdalene Sisters

Docudrama 2002 R 120 minutes. While women’s liberation sweeps the globe, in 1960s Ireland four “fallen” women are stripped of their liberty and dignity and condemned to indefinite servitude in the Magdalene Laundries, where they’ll work to atone for their “sins.” The Magdalene Sisters” tells the story of four young women’s experiences from 1964-1969 in Ireland’s Magdalene Asylums where Catholic girls accused of “moral crimes” (anything from getting pregnant, to being too attractive, to accusing a man of rape) were sent to work in laundries to make amends for their sins. The girls were subjected to all manner of abuse and some spent their entire lives behind the asylum’s walls forced to do labor under sweat-shop conditions. Finally these virtual prisons closed their doors in 1996, but not without a condemnation of the facilities and the nuns and priests who ran them. Be sure to view the DVD special feature which includes interviews of actual women who were confined to a Magdalene Asylum in a narrative entitled “Sex In A Cold Climate.” This is a powerful film with amazing performances about an unrelentingly bleak topic. As a man, I am well accustomed to seeing movies about the awful ways men have (and still do) treat women. What is shocking about The Magdalene Sisters is that it shows abuse is not about sex. Rather, it is about power and who wields it, regardless of their gender. This brilliantly crafted film depicts the cruelties inflicted on some 30,000 women in Ireland who were imprisoned into forced servitude in the Magdalene laundries of the Catholic Church. The common sins used as the pretexts of this self-righteous abuse (and exploitation) of these unfortunate women were those of their own loving acts – not violence. This film also depicts men in a sad, cowardly, subordinate role to this female-driven evil, which further reinforces the simple concept that power is about control – not gender. For these reasons, this film is a must-see for teenage boys and girls and they should see it together, and with their families.

The Loving Story
(Long Way Home: The Loving Story)

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 17M. This documentary profiles Mildred and Richard Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for breaking Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. This couple fought for what they believed in and as a result a change spread across the nation. Her spirit was so intelligent and motherly and calm. His demeanor was so tough and honest and protective. This story is simply beautiful. A captivating look at the lives of the couple who reluctantly and inadvertently caused the eventual setting aside of the blatant racist laws in 16 states against interracial marriage. The last miscegenation laws was repealed in 2000 in Alabama. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Loving. I would have been proud to be their neighbor, proud have known them. This is a real love story, one man and one woman set the example for the rest to follow. I guess they’re true American heroes we never got to hear about. Amazing story. I do not think I have ever seen a better documentary, one that has better caught and held my interest.  See Full Review

Afghanistan: A Cry for Help
Living in a Patriarchy

Documentary Frontline / World 2008. Photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair has been documenting the plight of women in Afghanistan since 2003. Social and domestic abuse and the tradition among Afghan men to take child brides has caused increasing numbers of women to take their own lives. Most resort to self-immolation and those who survive suffer horrific injuries. These are some of their stories.


Docudrama 2007 R 120 minutes. Based on a New York Times Magazine story, this crime drama starring Kevin Kline delves into a sordid world of international sex trafficking that leads from Mexico City to a New Jersey stash house. In a bid to save kidnapped 13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) before she’s sold into sexual slavery, her desperate brother (Cesar Ramos) teams with a Texas cop (Kline). Can they find her before she vanishes into a hellish underworld?

Sex Slaves (2007)

Documentary MSNBC Undercover 2007 NR 4 episodes. Human rights advocates estimate that every year, nearly a million women worldwide are illegally bought and sold as sex slaves, many of whom end up in the United States. MSNBC goes inside the human trafficking and underground prostitution scene.

Sex Slaves (2006)

Documentary Frontline 2006. An estimated half-million women are trafficked annually for the purpose of sexual slavery. The women are kidnapped — or lured by traffickers who prey on their dreams of employment abroad — then they are “exported” to Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere, where they are sold to pimps, drugged, terrorized, locked in brothels, and raped repeatedly. In Eastern Europe, since the fall of communism, sex trafficking has become the fastest growing form of organized crime, with Moldova and Ukraine widely seen as the centers of the global trade in women and girls. On Feb. 7, Frontline presents a unique hidden camera look at this world of sexual slavery, talking with traffickers and their victims, and exposing the government indifference that allows the abuses to continue virtually unchecked. Sex Slaves also follows the remarkable journey of one man determined to find his trafficked wife by posing as a trafficker himself to buy back her freedom.

Lilya 4-Ever

Drama 2003 R 109 minutes. In director Lukas Moodysson’s gut-wrenching drama, Oksana Akinshina stars as the 16-year-old title character who’s left to fend for herself in a blighted Estonian suburb when her mother (Lyubov Agapova) abandons her to move to America. Eager to escape her grim surroundings and seek a bright future, she falls victim to the promises of the charming Andrei (Pavel Ponomaryov), only to find a new life in Sweden worse than the one she left behind.

Russia: Moscow’s Sex and the City
The New Reality for Russian Women

Documentary Frontline / World 2007. Moscow’s version of Sex and the City explores what it means to be a young, single woman in modern-day Russia. Traveling to Moscow, filmmaker and Frontline/World reporter Victoria Gamburg introduces us to the fictional characters and the stars of Russia’s popular TV series, Balzac Age, and reveals how the show compares with the real-life experiences of single women making a life for themselves in Moscow.

India: The Missing Girls
A Society Out of Balance

Documentary Frontline / World 2007. In 2006, when my wife and I traveled to India to live and work, the one issue that kept grabbing our attention was northern India’s deep cultural preference for sons over daughters. The desire for sons can be so great, that some families, after having a girl or two, will abort female fetuses until they bear a son. The practice is called female feticide or sex selection.

China’s Lost Girls

Documentary National Geographic 2005 NR 43 minutes. Accompanied by her team from her travel show, “National Geographic’s Ultimate Explorer,” reporter Lisa Ling (“The View”) flies off to China with American parents set to adopt baby girls, the casualties of the country’s long-standing one-child policy. In hewing to this strict rule, families wind up aborting, abandoning or hiding their daughters, many of whom end up in the United States, brought by couples longing for children.

The Women’s Kingdom
In China, How Free Can a Woman Be?

Documentary Frontline / World 2005. On Rough Cut this week, you’ll meet Lamu and several extraordinary Mosuo women as we travel to “The Women’s Kingdom” in southwest China, not far from the Tibetan Buddhist city the Chinese have renamed Shangri-La. Reporter Xiaoli Zhou, who comes from Shanghai, told us she had always wanted to visit the Mosuo region to see for herself how much freedom a woman might enjoy in China.

Kyrgyzstan: The Kidnapped Bride
The Resurgence of a Banned Custom

Documentary Frontline / World 2004. Frontline/World reporter Petr Lom travels to Kyrgyzstan, where an ancient tradition of bride kidnapping, banned by the Soviets, is resurgent. Lom gets inside families to talk with kidnapped brides — those who have managed to escape from their captors as well as those who are making homes with their new husbands.

Nigeria: The Road North
What the Miss World Riots Reveal about a Divided Country

Documentary Frontline / World 2003. Frontline/World reporter and producer Alexis Bloom and co-producer Cassandra Herrman land in Nigeria just as the Miss World contest gets under way. A riot breaks out, hundreds die and the beauty contestants flee. In the aftermath, the plight of Amina Lawal, a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery, seems all the more telling.

The Century of the Self

Documentary series 2002.   Adam Curtis’ acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.  To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? “Century of the Self” tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?  The Freud dynasty is at the heart of this compelling social history. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis; Edward Bernays, who invented public relations; Anna Freud, Sigmund’s devoted daughter; and present-day PR guru and Sigmund’s great grandson, Matthew Freud.  Sigmund Freud’s work into the bubbling and murky world of the subconscious changed the world. By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man’s ultimate goal.

Episode One: Happiness Machines,  Season 1 Episode 1,  58 min.

The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He called it “engineering consent”.  He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticizing the motorcar. His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.  It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.  Since propaganda was helpful in wartime, he believed similar mass persuasion could also be used in peacetime for different purposes.  But the Germans in WWI had given the term “propaganda” a bad name, so Bernays came up with an new term for propaganda: “public relations”.  One of his first clients was the tobacco industry, and his first achievement was a campaign that overcame the taboo against women smoking, and persuaded women to smoke cigarettes in public.  He asked one of the new psychoanalysts what cigarettes mean to women, who said that cigarettes are a symbol of the penis and male sexual power, and if he could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke, because then they would have their own penis (as unbelievable as that sounds).  So he arranged for debutantes to smoke during the Easter Parade in NYC, creating scandalous publicity, claiming they were suffragettes lighting up what he called “torches of freedom”.

Children Underground

Documentary 2001 NR 104 minutes. This Oscar-nominated documentary explores the tragic policy decision by Romanian dictator Nicolei Ceaucescu to outlaw the use of contraceptives and encourage his impoverished populace to have more children. Thousands of children were born to broken or dysfunctional families in a nation mired in political and economic instability, resulting in a large and rapidly growing population of homeless children in the city of Bucharest.


Docudrama 2007 NR 104 minutes. Inspired by a true story, this powerful drama tells the tale of an ordinary woman who helps spark a revolution in Poland. Single mother Agnieszka (Katharina Thalbach) works as a shipyard welder. Concerned about dangerous working conditions, she speaks up — to no avail. But after an accident kills several employees, and their families are denied pension benefits, she steps up her activities, laying the foundation for the Solidarity movement.

North Country

Docudrama 2005 R 126 minutes. Based on an inspiring real-life event that took place in the 1970s, North Country stars Charlize Theron in another low-glamour but high-impact role as Josey Aimes, one of only a handful of women working in the Minnesota iron mines. Forced to labor under sexist conditions, she and her female colleagues decide to stand up against the unrelenting harassment from their male counterparts. Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson co-star.

Mona Lisa Smile

Drama 2003 PG-13 119 minutes. At Wellesley College in 1953, the all-female student population constitutes the best and the brightest, yet they’re still measured by how well they marry until the arrival of professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) threatens to tip the status quo. Watson’s teaching not only raises the ire of many administrators but also a few of the students (including Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal) she dares to inspire.

A League of Their Own

Comedy 1992 PG 128 minutes. Two small-town sisters join an all-female baseball league formed when World War II brings professional baseball to a standstill. As their team hits the road with its drunken coach, the siblings find troubles and triumphs on and off the field. Taking it’s cue from the real life events surrounding the 1943 formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, the film is endearing and enjoyable as perhaps one of the best fictionalized baseball movies of all time. The entire cast is good; full of colorful supporting characters – with especially good performances from Hanks and Davis whose natural chemistry might be the heart of the movie. The plot itself is full of light humor and sentimental resolutions sure to appeal to wide audiences. A must watch for baseball fans, but heartily recommended for just about everyone else.

Link to see photos of the real story this is based on.

Not Without My Daughter

Docudrama 1991 PG-13 1hr 55m. In this fact-based thriller, Sally Field plays an American housewife who finds herself virtually trapped in Tehran when she accompanies her Iranian husband on a vacation to his native country — and he decides to relocate the family to his homeland.See Full Review

Raise the Red Lantern

Drama 1991 PG 125 minutes. After her father’s death, 19-year-old Songlian (Li Gong) marries the much older Chen Zuoqian (Jingwu Ma), becoming the latest concubine in Chen’s burgeoning harem and finding herself at the bottom of an oppressive hierarchy. Set in the 1920s during China’s Warlord era, director Zhang Yimou’s lushly filmed drama earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and won a BAFTA Award in the same category.

A Matter of Sex
(The Willmar 8)

Docudrama 1984 TV-14 1hr36m. After watching male workers pad their salaries with high-paying promotions, disgruntled female bank tellers stage a protest for union rights. A Matter of Sex is a labor-management drama that demonstrates the blinkered sexism and routine chauvinism in a small-town Minnesota bank in the late 1970s. It is so sad that women, just 30 years ago, were met with such discrimination in the workplace. This should be a must see movie for all.  See Full Review

The Taming of the Shrew

Drama 1967 NR 122 minutes. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton seem to be channeling the legendary dramas of their marriage in this boisterous and bawdy adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic comedy, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. A younger sister cannot wed until her older, shrewish sister Katharina (Taylor) marries first. Petruchio (Burton) is brought in to trick Katharina into wedlock, but the two fall in love despite their passionate bickering.

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