May 16th, 2020

Words by Nicole Stunwyck · Artwork by Camila Paz Alarcón Ferreira

When I feel down, fully immersing myself in a movie heals me. It’s usually due to the women that appear on screen that I’m able to experience joy and inspiration again. Old Hollywood starlets and rebellious teenage girl characters tend to have a strong effect on me: I end up losing myself in the act of admiring them, sharing their dreams or just madly relating to them. But the truth is, it can be tricky to find films where female characters are part of the central narrative and form part of memorable, respectful and bold storylines. This list includes various films that creatively highlight the struggles of different types of women, ranging from nuns to femme fatales. My hope is that they’ll provide you with guidance, inspiration, or just one hell of a good time.


1. A Real Young Girl 

Despite its sugary teen pop score and the hazy backdrop of a 1970s summer, “A Real Young Girl” provides us with a raw account of a 14-year-old girl exploring her sexuality. Through diary entries and surreal sadomasochistic fantasies, we join the protagonist on her never-ending search for solutions to her domestic boredom (Note: This might provide you with some helpful tips to combat the loneliness of quarantine). As a result of its controversial content, it’s not a particularly well-known film. That’s no surprise considering the novel it was based on was banned for minors, despite the fact that writer and director Catherine Breillat finished writing it at the age of only 17. 

2. Sadie McKee 

In the hope of leaving behind her low-paying job, Sadie, the daughter of a kitchen maid, decides to head to New York. This “woman’s picture” was strategically conceived to save Joan Crawford’s career after a series of box-office failures, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is beautifully moving and sincere. Plus, seeing the iconic movie star in a role where she is equal parts humble heroine and glamour goddess inevitably makes for a delightful experience. 

3. Don Juan Or If Don Juan Were A Woman 

Brigitte Bardot's role as the feminine incarnation of the 19th century Spanish seducer "Don Juan" almost makes up for the fact that throughout her career, the French actress appeared pouty and Lolita-like in almost every one of her films. Bursting with tastefully shot scenes of BB strolling around her lavishly furnished submarine in a gorgeous pink tulle gown, “Don Juan Or If Don Juan Were A Woman” is a tale of destruction, sin and threatened masculinity. The film, which was the last one Bardot ever starred in, presents her as the powerful, mature and mysteriously divine entity that she's always appeared to be, and for these reasons is one of my favorites of all time. 

4. Boom! 

Adapted from a Tennessee Williams play, “Boom!” plays out like a glamorous spectacle of highly decadent camp, starring the eccentric Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Richard Burton (epically named “The Angel of Death”). With its kitsch décor and ultra-drag costumes, this movie remains a complete enigma to this day due to its over-the-top aesthetic and confusing storyline. Personally, I can’t help but love anything that gives off such weird vibes. It’s also worth noting that filmmaker and king of filth John Waters, who directed “Pink Flamingos” and is known for his advice to “have faith in your own bad taste”, has publicly stated that he loves this film.


5. The Nun’s Story 

Set in the late 1920s, this movie follows Audrey Hepburn’s inner-journey from novitiate to nun. The character’s dilemma to live up to the demands of her diligent religious role is depicted in a sophisticated and minimalist manner, making “The Nun’s Story” an immensely absorbing viewing experience. This is a timeless, high-quality movie that unfortunately hasn’t been paid enough attention in the last few decades, despite it consisting of Audrey Hepburn’s finest performance. 

6. Bad Girls Go To Hell 

This movie is the perfect introduction to the filmography of Doris Wishman, queen of grindhouse cinema. Her work is characterized by being absolutely cuckoo bananas, and “Bad Girls Go to Hell” is no exception. It plays out like a wild fever dream about a young girl’s encounters with all kinds of male lunatics upon arriving to a big city, which makes the act of analyzing it through a lesbian- feminist lens particularly exciting. Proceed with caution though: the contents of this movie are not family-friendly. 

7. Dance, Girl, Dance

There is nothing I find more satisfying than watching a classic Hollywood movie that follows an explicitly feminist agenda, especially if its main character is a ballerina who happens to be rivals with comedy-queen Lucille Ball. In her unconventional 1940s film, director Dorothy Arzner addresses feminist issues that still prevail in today’s society, such as catcalling and the implicit pressure to utilize one’s own sexuality when navigating the job market as a woman. I adore the frankness and fabulosity of the movie as well as how ahead of its time it feels. It’s also pretty accessible if you’re not too used to watching films from this period! 


8. Out Of The Blue 

“Out Of The Blue” is a devastating character study of a troubled teenage runaway who utilizes rebellion as a means of escaping from family trauma. I love this movie wholeheartedly because it manages to haunt the viewer for a long time after the first watch and also because its soundtrack, mise-en-scene and underlying critique of society feel true to punk rock. 


9. Showgirls 

From the moment it was released in 1995, “Showgirls” has earned nothing but a pretty wacky reputation. Is it a satire, a cautionary tale, or a serious erotic thriller? Plot-wise, it’s a complex melodrama about the sleazy underbelly of Las Vegas and the women who hustle for stardom there. While the movie might not be everyone’s favorite - it’s over the top and includes a lot of sexual content - watching it is just a must. There is nothing as madly entertaining, cathartic and one-of-its-kind as this crazy and beautiful product of its time. 


10. Yentl 

Barbra Streisand’s directorial debut follows the story of a Jewish woman who’s passionate about studying the Talmud in a world where knowledge is reserved exclusively for men. She pretends to be a boy in order to receive an education, which transforms “Yentl” into a passionate, larger-than-life movie about perseverance in the face of oppressive gender roles. The musical numbers and valuable life lessons the film has to offer are fascinating, so consider giving this feminist masterpiece a try the next time you’re wondering what to watch. It might just change your life. 

Nicole Stunwyck is a writer and director from Peru. Inspired by classic Hollywood cinema, she explores feminist subjects in her movies while intending to create cathartic visual experiences for women moviegoers. You can find her work @nn.icole

Camila Paz Alarcón Ferreira lives in Chile. She likes to draw, and is passionate about dogs.