Best Feminist Films of 1995

by Linda Lopez McAlister

on The Women's Show' WMNF-FM (88.5), Tampa, FL December 30, 1995
It's that time again--to look back over the past year and take stock of the best feminist films I've seen during the past year. Since reviewing films is only a sideline for me, and I only can see about one a week, I may have missed some along the way, but of the ones I did catch, here (in alphabetical order) are those I thought were the best from this feminist's perspective. Many of them will be in your local video store by now, so enjoy!.

BEYOND RANGOON. This is a very compelling political action/adventure movie with a woman star (Patricia Arquette) set in civil-war torn Burma of the 1980's and one that pays great homage to the heroic Burmese woman leader of the opposition, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sung San Chi.

BOYS ON THE SIDE. I'm a sucker for women-bonding films and that's Director Herbert Ross's stock in trade. Whoopi Goldberg is a lesbian club singer who hooks up with two seemingly straight white women (Drew Barrymore and Mary-Louise Parker) for a cross country trip that comes to a halt in the Southwest where the love amongst the three of them develops in fine, tear-jerking, fashion.

CARRINGTON. I'm not sure this ought to be called a feminist film--it certainly is not the feminist film it could have been if the screenwriters had based it on available books about Carrington and her diaries and letters instead of solely on Michael Holroyd's biography of Lytton Strachey. (Such a film would have included her female as well as her male lovers, presumably). Nonetheless, it is a good film about a very interesting woman and to fully appreciate the range and artistry of Emma Thompson you need to see this along with her other triumph of the year (see below).

THE INCREDIBLY TRUE STORY OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE. This is an upbeat and goodnatured film about first love between two high school girls, one a white baby dyke from the wrong side of the tracks and the other a wealthy and privileged college-bound black. Their love is bound to end, but they'll have a sweet first experience to look back on.

MURIEL'S WEDDING. From Australia a pretty over the top comedy about the ugly duckling who obsesses about marrying Mr. Right, yet when she does (for the wrong reasons) she regroups and ends up all right after all, and with the right person.

NERIA. This is a feminist film from Zimbabwe that I saw in a festival so it may be hard to get hold of. Nonetheless, it did my feminist heart good to see this hard-hitting film intent on teaching Zimbabweian women what their legal rights of inheritance are and that they do not have to submit to traditional practices that leave them at the mercy of male relatives should their husbands die.

ONCE WERE WARRIORS. This film, by and about urban Maori in New Zealand, also is a story about a woman's finding her way out of an abusive relationship. Though it contains brutal graphic scenes of violence against women as well as the rape of a young girl, if you can stand to sit through that part, the overall message of the film is a woman- and life-enhancing one.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. It's not clear who was the most productive woman in Hollywood this year--Emma Thompson or Jane Austen (whose novels provided the plot lines for three films). In this wonderful filming of Austen's novel of the same name, Emma Thompson turns in smashing performances as both screenwriter/adapter and as Miss Dashwood, the elder of two sisters out to get their men--because there was virtually no other way they could survive in the England of 1811.

WAITING TO EXHALE. Black women have been holding their breath forever waiting for a Hollywood film on the topic of Black women's friendships. At long last there is one, directed by Forrest Whittaker from a script Terry McMillan adapted from her novel of the same name. Aside from a disturbing touch of homophobia, it's a film that's great fun and packing em into the theaters.

WHEN NIGHT IS FALLING. This film marks the return of Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema ("I've Heard the Mermaids Singing") to American theaters. This story of a professor at a Protestant seminary who finds herself falling in love with a beautiful woman circus performer doesn't have the charm or humor of Rozema's earlier film--nor is it intended to--but it's a well-crafted drama with overtones of Bergman, Fellini, and Laura Mulvey.

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