The summer movie season is not renowned for thoughtful explorations by and about women. It’s typically a good year if a single female-led gross-out comedy makes it to the screen, but this summer offers a solid slate of films directed by and/or about women including narrative features, documentaries, indie projects, and even a pair of really promising popcorn flicks with women in action roles.
From Wonder Woman to Sofia Coppola's feminist reworking of the 1971 film The Beguiled to Tilda Swinton reading the letters of adventurer Gertrude Bell in Letters to Baghdad, the summer of 2017 has a surprising number of female-centric, empowering movies to offer. Here are 12 films that promise to defy Hollywood’s penchant for testosterone-laden big-screen releases in one way or another.
In a film that's experimental, raw, and pushing the boundaries of class and gender, Cate Blanchett (Carol) once again proves she may be the actress of her generation, inhabiting 13 characters to deliver manifestoes about art from thinkers ranging from Marx and Engels to filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. Director Julian Rosefeldt originally conceived of the project as an art installation; Manifesto as an art installation had its world premiere in Australia in 2015 before moving to the Park Avenue Armory in New York City last fall.
Boasting a primarily female cast, Urban Hymn is set against the backdrop of the U.K. riots in 2011 that were set into motion by the fatal police shooting of a black man. The film tells the coming-of-age story of Jamie (Letitia Wright), a troubled teen girl gifted with a spectacular voice. In a not entirely new narrative, a deeply invested social worker, played by Shirley Henderson (Happy Valley, the Bridget Jones movies), helps Jamie to literally and figuratively find and use her voice.
Paint It Black
Actress Amber Tamblyn (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Inside Amy Schumer) makes her directorial debut with this psychological pas de deux between a mother grieving for her son who committed suicide, played by the excellent Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs, Tumbleweeds), and his girlfriend, played by Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Search Party). The film is based on the novel from White Oleander writer Janet Fitch.
Letters From Baghdad
Often referred to as the female Lawrence of Arabia, adventurer Gertrude Bell is the subject of this documentary from Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum. Bell's thrilling, gender-defying adventures as an archaeologist and explorer in Iraq are told in her own words with Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton reading Bell's letters over archival film and photos that appear on the screen. While Bell has never been offered the acclaim her contemporary, Lawrence of Arabia subject T.E. Lawrence, has received, Letters From Baghdad will help put her on the map.
Much ado has been made about whether or not Patty Jenkins’s (Monster) big-screen version of the famous Amazonian Diana Prince is feminist. And while that remains to be seen until it’s been screened, it certainly has promise. Wonder Woman is not only the first superhero film starring a female superhero in more than a decade; it’s the first-ever superhero film directed by a woman. Gal Gadot, who debuted the character in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, dons Wonder Woman’s bracelets of submission to lead a cast that includes Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, and Lisa Loven Kongsli (Force Majeure) as the women who advise young Diana on existing in the world of men in this origin story.
Beatriz at Dinner
One of the first films to examine the rise of Donald Trump and his particular brand of me-first politics of privilege, Salma Hayek stars as Beatriz, a healer and masseuse whose car troubles land her at an unlikely dinner at the home of one of her clients, where a Trumptonian figure (played with perfect horrifying smarminess by John Lithgow) and the bourgeois sycophants who encourage his bad behavior are the guests. Hayek’s Beatriz is wildly disarming in her straightforward evisceration of Lithgow’s Doug in the film from director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) and writer Mike White (Chuck and Buck and Enlightened). Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Chloë Sevigny, and David Warshofsky round out the horrible dinner party guests.
From Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite comes the true story of Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), whose close bond with Rex, a military combat dog with bomb-sniffing capabilities, helped save lives while they were deployed in Iraq. Leavey and Rex both received Purple Hearts after being wounded in an explosion, and Leavey eventually adopted him.
Hearing Is Believing
Music prodigy Rachel Flowers is the subject of this documentary from director Lorenzo DeStefano. Flowers is a consummate performer whose musical ability has flourished even though she went blind at an early age. She was raised by a single mom who supported Flowers every step of the way; the film follows the family for two years.
Auteur Sofia Coppola directs the eerie feminist reboot of a 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle that was helmed by Don Siegel. Colin Farrell plays a wounded Irish soldier adrift in the South during the Civil War until Nicole Kidman’s Martha, the head of a school for girls, offers him shelter. Psychosexual games and torture ensue in the deliciously twisted flick that costars Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, and Oona Laurence.
The Obvious Child duo of director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate reunite for a second film, this time about sisters Dana (Slate) and Ali (Abby Quinn) who bond over the suspicion that their father (John Turturro) is stepping out on their mother, played by Edie Falco. A whip-smart comedy with a New York sensibility, the movie takes on modern family dysfunction.
Mad Max: Fury Road cemented Charlize Theron’s credibility as an action star, and now she’s back as the unapologetic MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton, who battles and brawls with the best of them and definitely takes no prisoners. It remains to be seen just how feminist the film, from prolific stuntman David Leitch, is, but it promises to be a wild ride that flips the script on the Mission Impossible oeuvre. Sofia Boutella costars as a French operative who catches Lorraine’s eye/attention, while James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Eddie Marsan round out the cast.
In this powerful documentary, directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis examine the aftermath of the police shooting of the unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., that sparked outrage and activism in the form of peaceful protest that the city met with police in full riot gear. The film is as prescient and important as it gets.