Last October Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women in an audio recording with TV presenter Billy Bush. The following month he won the Presidential election to become the 45th President of the United States. His administration has since tried to weaken birth control rights for women and ban the transgender community from serving in the army. More recently the Harvey Weinstein can of worms burst open with hundreds of high profile women working in Hollywood coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse, thereby revealing what has clearly been an open secret in Hollywood for years. Weeks later Kevin Spacey was accused of assaulting a 14-year old minor, which he tried to deflect by equating homosexuality with paedophilia.
Suffice to say it has been a difficult year for gender equality and the wider LGBTQ community. And yet, while it feels like all odds are stacked against us, movies this year have given us a glimmer of hope with a clear attempt to take a stand and fight back. Author Margaret Atwood’s famed war-cry in The Handmaid’s Tale : “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum“ translates to ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’, and cinema in 2017 has done just that, rising up against these atrocities in the form of an unprecedented number of stories centered around and made by women and the LGBTQ community.
2017 is the year wherein the highest grossing movie was not a superhero movie, but a fairy-tale adaptation in Beauty And The Beast. Not only did it feature a female lead (Emma Watson) but also became the first Disney film to feature a gay romance between two of its supporting characters. 2017 was the year when a near 50-year-old actress broke ground playing the villain in one of the year’s biggest blockbusters Thor Ragnarok without succumbing to the stereotypes of the quintessential female villain. 2017 is also the year which saw a female director (Patty Jenkins) give Hollywood one of its biggest box office grossers in Wonder Woman. The critically acclaimed big screen adaptation of the famed female superhero went on to break box office records and surpass its fellow DC titles Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman has since gone on to become something of a cultural phenomenon and is undoubtedly one of the most significant films of this decade, doing much to change perceptions at a time where superhero movies are largely testosterone-charged affairs. Both Wonder Woman and Beauty And The Beast dared to stand apart and proved that movies with a female lead, targeted towards a female audience could do as well or even better than their male counterparts.
Concurrently, the small screen has been lauded for being leaps and bounds ahead of the movies in celebrating diversity in terms of the kinds of stories being told, which was ever evident at this year’s Emmy Awards. The Handmaid’s Tale – the harrowing story of a dystopian world where women are meant only for giving birth – won the top prize and Big Little Lies – a show made by women and with a near all-woman cast which touched upon issues of domestic abuse and rape – won Best Miniseries. The fact that both shows were the big winners which stole the night is in itself a strong statement.
With the Hollywood award season fast approaching, it is interesting to note the gender breakdown of the films in the Award season this year. More than half of the front-runners for Best Picture for Oscars 2018 are stories about women and, out of the 92 submissions for Best Foreign Language film, a record 25 come from women directors. In a year like this, it is heartening to see how films about women or those directed by women are spearheading the awards season.
Taking a closer look at the films making waves this award season and it’s clear these are hopeful times. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water which won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival centers on a lonely, mute woman who forms an unlikely connection a mysterious creature in a government laboratory. Margot Robbie-starrer I, Tonya serves as an inside look at the controversial life of ice skater Tonya Harding.
Mudbound, which won the Audience award at Middlebrough Film Festival is directed by Dee Rees, a gay African American woman. Sofia Copolla became only the 2nd female director to win Best Director at Cannes for her work in The Beguiled which also has an all-female cast. Actress Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut in the highly acclaimed Ladybird is about a teenage girl’s turbulent relationship with her mother.
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is about a 5-year old girl’s colourful outlook on life in contrast with her mother’s struggle with the brink of poverty. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a mother’s quest to find her daughter’s killers.
Not only feminist movies, but films based on and around LGBTQ community have also generated much buzz in the Oscars 2018 race led by Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, a gay romance and one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films. Battle Of The Sexes, another big award contender, stars Emma Stone and explores the iconic rivalry between queer tennis superstar Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The Best Foreign Language Film category, in particular, is brimming with queer stories. From France, Cannes Grand Prix-winner Beats Per Minute is a story about the AIDS epidemic among the gay community in 1980’s Paris. From Chile, A Fantastic Woman tells of a transgender individual’s quest to prove herself innocent of murder. Norway’s submission Thelma is a thriller centred on a lesbian while South Africa’s The Wound is a gay boy’s journey to manhood. Even Taiwan, where the narrative around gay rights are far from the mainstream has a lesbian character in its foreign language submission, Small Talk.
Movies this year have been a welcome role model in their depiction of diversity. They have allowed us to root for female superheroes, be swept away by gay romances and feel a transgender’s pain. They have sought to confront gender stereotypes, challenge audiences and celebrate what it means to be human. It is said that films mirror society and if this year is any indication, all is not lost yet.