By Teisha Struik-Kothe 

As a celebration of Women’s History Month, each week a Hope College professor or student will recommend their favorite books or films dealing with issues facing women today and throughout history. This week is dedicated to movies and films and is written by Dr. Teisha Struik-Kothe, an Assistant Professor of Instruction. As a former teacher and administrator, Dr. Struik-Kothe understands the difference equal representation makes for women in our world today.

As a former K-12 English language arts teacher and administrator, in honor of National Reading Month every March, I planned creative themes, books, speakers, and activities to engage students in literacy and spark a lifelong love of books. It was the annual March-Mission. Throughout the first official month of spring, in a nod to Dr. Seuss, I was busy enticing children to read upside down or read in bed with a flashlight or read to a dog!

This spring, I greatly enjoyed a twisting deep dive into movies list-worthy of Women’s History Month, which is officially celebrated on March 8. Why not spend the month of March (and beyond) engaged in reading and in viewing movies?

Countless films lift up and celebrate women’s brilliance and beauty. Friends, family, and my book club all had favorite nominations. (My significant other felt strongly that The Iron Lady (2011), a biographical film on the life of Margaret Thatcher, should make the list. He was disappointed it did not make the final five!) After considering everyone’s recommendations, and spending several nights with a blanket and a bowl of popcorn, below are the movies that made my Official-Unofficial Women’s History Month Movie List. They comprise an eclectic variety of movies featuring women who are brave, bold, bright, and beyond inspiring. Oh, the places you will go with these films!

Hidden Figures (2016)-The intelligence and determination of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, three black women who were employed by NASA in Langley, Virginia in the 60’s, transcended the prejudice of their colleagues. They made significant contributions to the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, and they made significant contributions to the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shutterly, the performances of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are remarkable. Their visual storytelling is outstanding as an ensemble, and the history (or herstory) lesson is inspiring. Available on Disney Plus, Prime Video, Apple TV, and other sources. Rated PG.

Homecoming (2019)-Beyonce’s documentary and its overarching theme is one of education and hard work. In 2018, she was the first black woman to headline the Coachella music festival, which debuted in 1999. The documentary captures both weekend performances. Montages spliced into the concert highlight the mega-star’s year-long preparation for the show after she gave birth to her twins. Fans are given an intimate look into the intense rehearsals in which Beyonce carefully plans every detail of the concert, balances family time with her husband and three children, and fervently pushes her own work ethic beyond its limits. She is the one and only Beyonce, and she is both the creator and performer of Homecoming. 

During the documentary, the audience is educated in black culture and in the importance of preserving and encouraging a legacy of historically black colleges and universities. (Beyonce’s father attended Fisk University.) Words of Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, W.E.B. DuBois, and Toni Morrison dot “Homecoming” with inspiration. 

Homecoming morphs from “concept to cultural movement” and is best represented by Beyonce’s description: “It’s hard to believe that after all these years I was the first African-American woman to headline Coachella,” she said. “It was important to me that everyone that felt they had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us.” It is 140 minutes of proof that Beyonce is the hardest-working person in show business, and is a creative, talented, God-loving genius. Available on Netflix and Prime Video. Rated PG-13.

Joy Luck Club (1993)-Based on the best-selling novel by Amy Tan, this movie shares the story of four women who were born in China and immigrated to America. Their daughter’s stories are also central to the piece. The “Joy Luck Club” is made up of the four older Chinese women who meet once a week to play mah jong, and while they play, they compare stories of their families. All of the women have lived to see loss, heartache, and indescribable grief. Their secrets and stories play out in the film, one that moves effortlessly between past and present.

The delicate intricacies between mother-daughter relationships and interracial marriages are intimately examined, and every viewer with a family can relate to the hopes and prayers one generation will have for the next. This story illustrates compassion, empathy, and unconditional love, uniting threads of all cultures. Available on Prime Video, Apple TV, Redbox, and other sources. Rated R.

On the Basis of Sex (2018)-Long live RBG! Felicity Jones delivered an incredible performance as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this film. The well-crafted biography covers her life from schoolgirl to the Supreme Court. Did you know Ruth attended all of her law school classes and her husband’s classes when he fell ill with cancer? Did you know that no law firm would hire her despite Harvard Law and Columbia Law (first in her class) on her resume?

If you are in need of motivation and inspiration, watch this movie. Ruth and her husband fought one case together—a tax case that could be argued on the basis of sex—and that case changed everything. If there is “must see tv,” then this is a “must see movie.” Available on Prime, Apple TV, Redbox, and other sources. Rated PG-13.

Venus and Serena (2013)-Seeing footage from when these phenomenal female athletes were only ten years old gave me a whole new appreciation for the struggles Venus and Serena faced during their tennis careers. The girls grew up playing in Compton, California on broken courts. Their father-coach pleaded with country clubs to donate throw-away tennis balls so his girls could practice. At times, the young athletes were taunted with racist catcalls from the stands and unfairly criticized by opponents for every look, comment, or outfit. The documentary shows every obstacle they overcame.

The determination and resiliency of Venus and Serena in the face of criticism, injuries, illnesses, family challenges, and other obstacles will leave viewers in awe. This documentary provides a private view into the world of the Olympic stars’ lives. Players, tennis fans, and those with very little hand-eye coordination will enjoy this movie. (I’m among the latter and I loved it.) Available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other sources. Rated PG-13.

Women Talking (2022)-While all five of the films above are incredible in their own way, in the end, one movie really stuck with me. If you only have time to watch one film this spring, I recommend Women Talking (2022), directed by Sarah Polley. It is based on the novel Women Talking (2018) by Miriam Toews, which is loosely based on a real story, one that is horrifying. 

Between 2005-2009, 150 women and young girls were drugged and then raped by men in their secluded Mennonite community. The movie captures the women’s response while they meet in a barn to discuss their options: 1) Do nothing. 2) Stay and fight. 3) Leave the community.

None of the women can read or write, so the ballot they use to vote is drawn in pictures. Each woman makes a single mark to signify her vote. The debate to break a tie after the votes are tallied is raw, layered, nuanced, and ultimately gut-wrenching. The talented actresses drive the storyline and convey the heavy emotions as “women talking.” Oh, the places you will go during this film. What do they decide and why? Watch. It is a movie I cannot stop thinking about. If I had an Oscar to give, Women Talking would win. Available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and other sources. Rated PG-13.

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