Labor Day for me has always symbolized the importance of elevating the fight for gender equality in the work place, and also behind the camera. Here is a list of our top 25 films that show that, and where to watch them. I’ve included some of Cinema Femme’s coverage of these films along with women and non-binary voices from Letterboxd and various film reviews. See our full list on Letterboxd here.
This feature was originally shared on August 31, 2022. We are bringing it back for Labor Day 2023.
#25 The Glorias (2020) – Julie Taymor
“There’s a scene where we see a group of Indian women sitting on a train with the younger Gloria Steinem (Alicia Vikander). The women see that she is about to be conned into paying more for food than the retail price, because she is American. The Indian woman next to her tells her not to pay that amount, and pays on her behalf. It’s moments like this in the film that reveal no matter where we are in the world, there is that common thread of womanhood that unites us.”
#24 Holler (2020) – Nicole Riegel
“In a forgotten pocket of Southern Ohio where American manufacturing and opportunity are drying up, a determined young woman finds a ticket out when she is accepted to college. Alongside her older brother, Ruth Avery (Jessica Barden) joins a dangerous scrap metal crew in order to pay her way. Together, they spend one brutal winter working the scrap yards during the day and stealing valuable metal from the once thriving factories by night. With her goal in sight, Ruth finds that the ultimate cost of an education for a girl like her may be more than she bargained for, and she soon finds herself torn between a promising future and the family she would leave behind.” Summary provided by IFC Films
#23 Two Days, One Night (2014) – Dardenne Brothers
“Two Days, One Night takes life matter-of-factly. There are no magical solutions here, no fantasy of a world where everyone gets along and is happy in the end. Sacrifices are made, but bonds are also forged, and it’s the realistic and simple approach that makes them stand out.”
#22 Clockwatchers (1998) – Jill Sprecher
“Dissatisfaction captured in cold, fluorescent lighting, cubicle framing, empty hallways, and dead machinery; drudgery defeated (delayed) by camaraderie, reignited by betrayal. This is what Office Space should have been: empathetic, intelligent, discomfiting to look at. The corporate purgatory that these women work in ignores them and consumes them, and it warps their priorities such that pieces of plastic becomes more important than their own rights and each other. The film understands that their dreams of escape aren’t any better—marriage, stardom, promotion, it all ends up feeding the same machine that is eating away at their souls. It’s in the smaller moments, outside of work, at their homes, where they connect, these smaller moments are where they are human again, where the living is done.”
#21 A Thousand Cuts (2020) – Ramona S. Diaz
“In the documentary we follow Filipino journalist Maria Ressa as she fights for freedom of speech against the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Pre-election it really shows what it could have been if Donald Trump remained in power, and how “FAKE NEWS” can manipulate and exist in a terrifying way.”
#20 A League of Their Own (1992) – Penny Marshall
“In “A League of Their Own” (1992), those double standards are everywhere. Women were not even allowed to come and try out unless Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) decided they looked attractive enough. Once they had been deemed attractive enough to play baseball and they made it through the tryouts, they were then shown their new uniform—a dress—and told that in order to play in the league, they would have to attend charm school. The list of double standards is ever growing, and the women haven’t even played their first game.”
#19 Coded Bias (2020) – Shalini Kantayya
“‘Coded Bias’ follows Joy Buolamwini through her investigation of implicit bias in face recognition technology. Joy has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab and has pioneered techniques that are now leading to increased transparency in the use of facial analysis technology globally. Through her journey and research, we connect with different experts in the field, such as Cathy O’Neil, who wrote Weapons of Math Destruction, a book that sounds the alarm on the danger of the math behind algorithms that are widening the inequality gap and undermining democracy. We also become acquainted with Silkie Carlo, the UK director of Big Brother Watch, which is monitoring the trial use of facial recognition technology by the UK police.”
#18 She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) – Mary Dore
“so thankful for a discussion on second wave feminism that doesn’t focus entirely on white, middle class women’s experiences 🙂 many other documentaries i’ve watched about feminism in the 60’s and 70’s completely ignore intersectional aspects of the movement and i was so relieved to see that this one actually challenged white feminism a bit.”
#17 Made in Bangladesh (2019) – Rubaiyat Hossain
“The film is about women supporting each other unconditionally. It is about unity, pluralism, and women coming together. Women raising their voices when there is no light of hope and being determined to get what they want.
The film portrays how deep women can love, how intensely women care, how much women value friendship and to what extent women can go to achieve their goal. The cast and crew wanted to deliver a message. And they sure delivered it at best.
‘Made in Bangladesh’ is not a movie only for the women in Bangladesh. It is not a movie just for female workers. It is a movie for every woman in the world.”
#16 Iron Jawed Angels (2004) – Katja von Garnier
“Don’t you just cry when you watch stories about women fighting for other women?
I particularly loved how this recognized the racism within the suffrage movement. It was a small scene but a relevant one.
Frances O’Connor as Lucy Burns and Julia Ormond as Inez Milholland are some of the best casting choices I’ve seen in a biopic. Vera Farmiga as Ruza Wenclawska was so underused but every single shot of her face was a blessing.”
#15 Orlando (1992) – Sally Potter
“Same person. No difference at all…just a different sex.”
Orlando is so incredibly smart and ahead of its time. It picks apart societal roles and questions what is viewed as a “real” woman and what is viewed as a “real” man. It’s a beautiful, poetic, and oftentimes fantastical story about a soul struggling to pursue their own agency in a society riddled with conventions in regards to gender and sexuality. A soul no longer wanting to be trapped by a destiny that was penned for them at birth. Woolf’s depiction of Orlando in all their fluidity proves to be a very modern story that details the liberatory erosion of binary gender. Absolutely genius.”
#14 Equity (2016) – Meera Menon
“When I initially watched this movie, I think I was too focused on what it isn’t — a Wolf Of Wall Street style dark comedy, or a drama with an approachable and human lead fighting for her rights. Looking back on it, I see it more for what it is — a tangled, overcrowded, but strikingly ambitious thriller about women in the workplace, and how navigating corporate politics and Wall Street manipulations is hard enough without fighting the gender wars at the same time. This is one of those “movies for grownups” critics are always saying they want — a complicated drama full of unlikeable characters (and hooray for those!), a lot of nuanced layers, and no adolescent wish-fulfillment or shallow action-drama. But the problem with grownup movies is that they take a lot of careful, thoughtful unpacking, and this is a movie that has to be analyzed past its sometimes-silly surface level to have real meaning.”
Watch on Showtime, stream on Hulu with Showtime subscription
#13 The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) – Connie Field
“As an ex-punch press operator during World War II, I say ‘hooray’ for The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, a movie that really shows the way we were. In only 65 minutes, Connie Field has miraculously compressed and examined the wartime experience of women workers with all its excitement, accomplishments, irritations, humor, sadness and bigotry overcome in a common purpose.”
Judy Stone, The San Francisco Chronicle
#12 His Girl Friday (1940) – Howard Hawks
“Goddamn, this is the best. Funny, touching, empathic, and a little scathing, it hits every button in its endless dialogue. Cary Grant is an editor trying to win back his ex-wife/best reporter, played by Rosalind Russell in fine form as an elegant but hard-boiled reporter. Grant veers between his usual charm and the occasional Groucho-esque zingers.
But the best part is when they delve into the corruption and justice involved with a man on death row. While maintaining their screwball romcom tone, they still manage to navigate the subject with sensitivity and empathy. An incredibly dark moment is neither played for laughs nor used to alter the full tone of the film, but rather, used to give it depth (I won’t reveal the full details to avoid spoilers, much as I hate the concept). It’s remarkable and turns this from a fun, funny movie into a great one.”
#11 I Blame Society (2020) – Gillian Wallace Horvat
“I Blame Society,” which examines what would happen if a filmmaker who struggles in her professional and personal life becomes a murderer to have satisfaction in both. It’s a brilliant premise and it plays out beautifully (in the most unsettling sense).
#10 Mrs. America (2020) – Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Amma Asante, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, and Janicza Bravo
“GOD THIS SHOW IS SO RELEVANT AND ICONIC!
Please watch and educate yourselves on these amazing women they rarely teach you about in school.
What an ensemble of incredible performances, lead by the Queen of Qweens. Cate’s powerless scenes are the most thrilling to watch. Damn.”
#9 Born in Flames (1983) – Lizzie Borden
“You could just scroll a feminist call to revolutionary action across a blank screen with no soundtrack at all, and I think I’d give it 5 stars. It gets me pumped. It makes me happy to know someone made a film about this. It makes me feel not so alone and powerless to see so much effort put into something like this. But on top of being a fierce, powerful message, it’s also well thought out. It’s illustrative. It’s interesting.”
#8 Support the Girls (2018) – Andrew Bujalski
“EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE OKAY!”
there is something so so special about a film that you connect with so well on such a personal level that it begins to feel like you’re living it. there is also something so very special about the final minutes where the girls just cathartically scream and it immediately cuts to black.
regina hall is such a strong force, every word she said i believed. haley lu richardson is a sweet bubbly angel fairy princess who deserves to be protected at all costs 💕💕💕💕 i’d definitely check this out if you love all female ensembles and indie comedies; it also reminded me a bit of sean baker’s directorial style.”
#7 Norma Rae (1979) – Martin Ritt
“The VHS case of Norma Rae, the 1979 film for which Sally Field won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress, caught my eye in the local Blockbuster more than once in high school. I often picked it up, turned it over, scanned the text on the back of the box. The main attraction was that the photo of Field on the cover—clad in blue jeans and a maroon t-shirt, her dark hair loosely tucked behind her ears—looked so similar to photos of my mom in the ‘70s that I did a full double take the first time I saw it. The fact that the film involved textile mill workers only deepened the effect; my mother grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina—once a major textile production center—as the child and grandchild of Cone Mills employees.
But what most compelled me were the sweat stains on Field’s shirt. Granted, they were dainty ones, not huge wet ovals spreading down her shirt (as I, an unfortunately sweaty teen, often experienced), but still purposefully displayed by her arms-aloft pose. This seemed so bizarre, somehow transgressive—a beautiful Hollywood actress, in a mainstream film, with visibly damp underarms. I didn’t know enough about movies then to understand why this might have been possible in the late-‘70s, but it was unthinkable to me in the highly polished era of Armageddon and Titanic.”
Michelle Crouch, Letterboxd, “The Sweat Stains of Sally Field”
Available only on DVD
#6 Silkwood (1983) – Mike Nichols
“It’s clear they’re getting scared. As acceptance of the idea of socialism is coming back, especially among younger people, the media is slowly and subtly pushing anti-communist narratives back to the fore. Right now, a show on HBO about Chernobyl distorts the truth in key places to demonize the Soviets. It’s an opportunistic take on a real tragedy, and so much of the working class solidarity that alleviated the horror of the tragedy is hidden from view. Meanwhile, stories like Silkwood are almost forgotten here.”
Available only on DVD
#5 North Country (2005) – Niki Caro
“For every woman who has been grabbed and groped against her wishes, hounded and worse, told to shut up and smile, told to shut up and take it like a man, told to shut up if you know what’s good for you, the new film “North Country” will induce a shiver of recognition and maybe a blast of rage.”
#4 9 to 5 (1980) – Colin Higgins
“Before #MeToo there was “9 to 5.” It wasn’t a hashtag, but it was a movement nonetheless. Dolly Parton wrote the song “9 to 5”, which shared the same title of the film, and it opened the movie. The song has become an anthem for feminism over the years. Although Parton does not associate herself politically, this song has followed some of the leading women running for office, like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, on their campaign trails. I feel the film, along with #MeToo, shows that sexual harassment and sexist behaviors can bring together women who will fight against their oppressors, and fight even louder for the oppressed.”
#3 Writing with Fire (2021) – Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas
“The fact that this was the first Indian documentary feature to be nominated became just such big news. It was everywhere,” Thomas tells Deadline. “A billion people sort of erupted in joy because we’re a film-loving nation. We produce a lot of films in the year, but for a documentary — nobody remembers when was the last time the whole country got so excited… The next two days [after the nomination announcement] the phone sort of melted, with in-boxes imploding and everyone wanting a bite, and it was just crazy.” – Rintu Thomas
*This film would have made our top 50 films from 2021, but it was completed before we had time to see it, we highly recommend!
#2 Hidden Figures (2016) – Theodore Melfi
“This is such a conventional, mainstream, progressive-history-by-the-numbers movie.
It’s also so incredibly satisfying. Almost the textbook definition of a feel-good movie. And it got me over and over again, with just the simplest mechanic of denying some charismatic, deserving people the very reasonable things they wanted, then eventually giving them those things, over the objection of some shallow, petty, boo-able assholes.”
#1 Harlan County, USA (1976) – Barbara Kopple
“Barbara Kopple’s Academy Award–winning Harlan County USA unflinchingly documents a grueling coal miners’ strike in a small Kentucky town. With unprecedented access, Kopple and her crew captured the miners’ sometimes violent struggles with strikebreakers, local police, and company thugs. Featuring a haunting soundtrack—with legendary country and bluegrass artists Hazel Dickens, Merle Travis, Sarah Gunning, and Florence Reece—the film is a heartbreaking record of the thirteen-month struggle between a community fighting to survive and a corporation dedicated to the bottom line.”