Singletons, cynics and feminists unite! The 14th of February, as we all know, signifies the annual commercialisation of romantic love. As Marxist feminists, we at OTWQ see Valentine’s Day as a homage to the bourgeois nuclear family — pah! Of course, we couldn’t let it pass without criticism. With that in mind, we have ten loosely feminist Valentine’s Day movie recommendations for you.
1. Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s 1979 cult classic brought us Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, a Warrant Officer serving aboard the spacecraft USCSS Nostromo. The character of Ripley was originally written with a male lead in mind but was given a metaphorical sex change by director Ridley Scott. Throughout Alien, male shipmates repeatedly ignore Ripley’s sound advice and all end up suffering gruesome deaths as a result — prompting us to ask the age-old question: does life imitate art? Ripley and her cat both survive alien onslaught, resulting in a joyous ending for feminists everywhere.
2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Jodie Foster set lesbian hearts aflutter with her iconic portrayal of Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 psychological horror classic. Starling, a determined young student at the FBI Academy, is sent to interview cannibalistic serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter to help her solve a high profile case. Starling uses Lecter’s psychological insights to hunt down Buffalo Bill — a serial killer who kidnaps and mutilates his female victims in order to create himself a ‘woman coat’ (made from his victims’ skin). Today, a film like Silence of the Lambs would likely never see the light of day due to its ‘problematic’ portrayal of transvestitism as a common paraphilia amongst serial killers, but back in 1991 we were yet to be plagued by gender ideology as we are now. Bliss!
3. The Colour Purple (1985)
Based on the Pultizer-prize winning novel by Alice Walker, The Colour Purple follows the life of Celie, a young black girl growing up in the United States during the 1900s. The film showcases the enormous acting talent of both Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, as it illustrates the brutality of the period and the harsh social conditions of racism and misogyny black women faced. The defiant heart-wrenching lines, “Everything you done to me already done to you… I’m poor, I’m black, I may be ugly, but dear god, I’m here!” encapsulate the films portrayal of black women’s struggle for dignity in a society set against them.
4. Ex Machina (2014)
Alex Garland’s Ex Machina presents us with a (perhaps inadvertent) feminist critique of man’s often sinister obsession with technology — and the likely consequences of transhumanism and posthumanism for women. Ex Machina follows the story of one billionaire inventor’s plan to create an artificial woman (an eery foreshadowing of the mass sale of sex dolls and sex robots which has transpired in the years since the film’s release). The inventor imprisons his ‘creations’, whilst another man he lured into his glass experimental prison tries to save them. Both male predation and protection are on display as opposing and complementary forces — the dual, symbiotic sides of patriarchy. The artificial women make the right decision and ditch both.
5. The Invisible Man (2020)
Elizabeth Moss (Top of the Lake, The Handmaid’s Tale) plays a woman trapped in a physically violent relationship with a rich and powerful man. Presenting another example of male technological advancement aiding the abuse of women, Moss’ supposedly deceased ex partner uses an invisibility suit to punish her for daring to escape him. Moss’ character represents every woman who has ever suffered coercive control — driven mad by gaslighting as those around her deny her reality and look away. The ending brings a satisfactory resolution, however, as our heroine is vindicated and her abuser is unmasked.
6. Women Without Men (2009)
Set amongst the backdrop of Iran’s 1953 American-backed coup that returned the Shah to power, Women Without Men exhibits women across different social classes dealing with male control within their lives. From prostituted women to wealthy women, each struggle with male mediation of their existence — rapists in the form of punters; brothers attempting to marry them off. Beautifully shot, the film depicts both how each woman lives and also their rich fantasy lives as they dream of living more freely. Their lack of freedom is contrasted with the political freedoms men in their country are allowed to openly fight for on the streets.
7. Beloved (1998)
Beloved, based on Toni Morison’s novel of the same name, is a deeply unsettling tale of black, female oppression and motherhood. Beloved is set shortly after the American civil war ends (1865). The plot centres on former slave, Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), as she deals with a poltergeist within her own home. The ghost is that of her daughter, Beloved (played by Thandie Newton), who Sethe killed rather than allow her to be taken into slavery. As the film progresses difficulties ensue and eventually an exorcism takes place, sending Beloved away. Sethe is hurt by her absence, saying there is no point in living now her “best thing has gone”. In response, Sethe is told that she is her own “best thing”, a message all women everywhere could do to hear.
8. Rafiki (2018)
Rafiki is the heartlfelt story of two Kenyan girls who fall in love. This wonderful depiction of young adult lesbian love is even more surprising if we consider the woman director, filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, is not a lesbian herself. We won’t drop any major spoilers in this review because it is a genuinely loving portrayal to enjoy this Valentine’s Day, should you wish to participate in the conventional manner. Clichés are deftly avoided throughout and the happy ending defies the usual lesbian plotline of death or division breaking two women in love apart.
9. Go Fish (1994)
Independent Lo Fi film, Go Fish, shows how much more alive lesbian culture was in the not-so-long-ago past. Filmed in Chicago during the 1990s, we follow a few lesbian characters as they muse about their lives at lesbian bookstores (those things that no longer exist) and flirt on landline telephones (also things that barely today exist). A kick in the lesbian millennial guts to see a world now gone, but a sweet, entertaining film nevertheless. The film manages the difficult task of depicting sex tastefully and is a model of how to show lesbian love, and sexuality generally, without dehumanising or objectifying the women involved.
10. A Question of Silence (1982)
In 1982’s Dutch film De Stilte Round (English title A Question of Silence), three women who do not know one another, each separated by social context, are put on trial for spontaneously murdering a man in a shop. The film subtly exhibits the degraded conditions that have driven these women to suddenly snap. The psychologist interviewing each woman is forced to decipher their motives — with one refusing to utter a word, another talking too much and mainly nonsense, and the third engaging in reasonable debate with her. These women, despite their different forms of speech and approaches to the trial, receive exactly the same sentence, and laugh in unison at their predicaments absurdity as they head off to prison.