Lights up on accurate female representation in cinema

Ava Razavi

I watch a lot of movies — like an obscene amount. Yet, in all of my years of watching films, I can’t say that I’ve encountered many accurate portrayals of what it means to be a woman in modern-day society. Typically in movies, female characters exist only to fulfill a love story. Rarely are films about women centered around a career or an action-packed plotline. Yet, every once in a while, I come across a movie that depicts modern gender struggles creatively and accurately. Since these moments are rare, I savor them deeply. Therefore, I thought it was important to share these recommendations with you. 

Portraying marriage expectations poetically, The 2019 remake of “Little Women” is a great movie to watch. (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Little Women” (2019 film): 

The female-directed (Greta Gerwig) remake of the book “Little Women” is the perfect illustration of the expectations of women regarding marriage and motherhood. It tells the story of four sisters during the Civil War and covers aspects of their life as they grow, marry, work or have children. Though seemingly archaic, the belief that women exist only to marry and bear children for their husbands remains prevalent in current parts of our society. Many characters in “Little Women” struggle with this ideology, either choosing to defy the norm or engage in it. Meg March (Emma Watson), one of the sisters, gladly becomes a homemaker and mother; meanwhile, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) longs to become a writer and have a career absent of children. “Little Women” is a story of two successes; Jo navigates her journey to pursue a career successfully, while her sisters decide to have children. It shows what we already know: women are equally capable in either role or both at once. There is a level of empowerment derived from this movie, stressing that we, as women, are in control of our own stories and fates. 

Defying her cultural norms, Jess from “Bend It Like Beckham” is a powerhouse of a woman. (Image courtesy of Allstar)

“Bend it Like Beckham”:

“Bend it Like Beckham” is the story of Jess, an Indian soccer player, who is invited to play in an amateur league. However, her parents disapprove of her sport as they want to protect her from the racism they experienced when they were younger. Jess secretly keeps playing until she gets caught and is forced to quit by her mother. The movie comedically shows the fight between culture and womanhood. Jess yearns to be in control of her own life and to prove she is strong enough to fight against injustices as she sees her Indian male counterparts do. She finds the strength to break the mold of being an obedient daughter and shows that she can handle herself. This movie was my shit when I was growing up! It was the first time I realized that you could appreciate your culture and family while still standing up for yourself. 

Ranking as the ultimate teenage angst movie, “Ladybird” is an almost perfect image of being a teenage girl. (Image courtesy of A24)

Ladybird:

“Ladybird” is a classic teen angst movie. This movie follows Ladybird (Saoirse Ronan) through the trials and tribulations of being an insecure teenager at a Catholic school, waiting for the day she can escape her small town. Ladybird is all of us — misunderstood, lost and rushing to grow up. Ronan portrays a flawless interpretation of a young woman: confused about why she doesn’t look like the bodies she sees in her tabloid magazines, lusting for her first sexual experience, and constantly working towards earning her mother’s love. She ideally captures how confusing it is to look at the media and see a figure and personality that is simply unattainable, yet is still an ideal we, as women, will always try to reach. It’s so validating to see a female character acknowledge the pressures of being a teen and the hurdles she must face to move past them. 

Interweaving sexism in relationships, the filmmakers portray toxic relationships beautifully in “500 Days of Summer.” (Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

500 Days of Summer:

This film may be the most controversial movie on the list, but in my opinion, is one of the most important. The movie is a failed love story between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) told from the perspective of Tom in a series of flashbacks. Summer repeatedly states that she isn’t searching for a serious relationship and wants to date casually. However, Tom falls madly in love with her and calls her “his” when talking to his friends. When she breaks up with him, he resents her and then forms a hatred when he later finds out she got married. It’s almost as if Tom is scolding Summer for merely changing her mind. What struck me about this film is how accepted the dislike for Summer becomes among viewers — almost as if her changing her mind was a form of emotional cheating. It boils down to the fact that Summer chose to marry her husband despite telling Tom she doesn’t want something serious, making Summer the “antagonist.” I loved seeing the depth that Summer’s character was given — she wasn’t simply a passive character in a love story, but a woman with agency.  This movie represents heterosexual relationships accurately beyond belief as Summer is constantly vilified for simply wanting her side-piece to back off; it shows how modern relationships always make women out to be the villain and men the hero.

Representing hypersexuality and objectification, “Fleabag” is the perfect show to watch to explore themes of women’s insecurity. (Image courtesy of Two Brother Pictures)

Fleabag: 

“Fleabag” is the first and only TV show I will mention, solely because I think it is the only one that shows realistic women consistently. This show follows the protagonist, who is only known by the name Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), as she attempts to rectify her familial relationships and work through the grief of her mother and best friend by hypersexualizing herself. Fleabag sees everyone in a sexual matter no matter the context of their interaction and has many sexual encounters throughout the first season as a way to deal with trauma. Later in the show, she gets sexually assaulted by her sister’s husband. However, because of her past sexual endeavors, her assault is dismissed, and the sisters distance themselves from one another. In a particularly emotional monologue, Fleabag questions something that almost every woman has feared: would anyone want us if our bodies weren’t the way they are? Will anyone love us if we have smaller boobs? More fat on our thighs? If our cheeks aren’t a rosy red? Fleabag perfectly shows how hard it is to detach oneself from the objectification women see in media and everyday life.