SWIP's List of Suggested Films to Use for Teaching Feminist Philosophy


From: "Carolyn Dipalma (WOS)" cdipalma@luna.cas.usf.edu

You might consider getting a copy of a Barbara Walters television special featuring many issues around new reproductive technologies, titled something like: "The Perfect Baby."

dhani dhani@email.msn.com

Lizzie Borden Hash and Rehash Reviews: "The film is an original yet accessible work that will not only delight its viewers but teach them about several important humanities themes." - Jean -Christophe Agnew, Prof., American Studies, Yale University "A superb teaching tool." - Frances Maher, Chair, Dept. of A film by Immy Humes Education., Wheaton College

"Why has the image of Lizzie Borden captured the imaginations of so many generations of women? Each generation remakes the myth, fitting it to the changing anxieties and awareness of the times. Today's women cast Lizzie as a feminist heroine, overthrowing patriarchy with her forty whacks. In this sardonic and original film an assortment of people, from a forensic scientist to a rock star, find vastly different meaning in the infamous case. Was Lizzie perhaps an incest victim fighting back? Was she a lesbian? What does the case tell us about class, gender and family in industrial America? As well as providing a lively retelling of the ever-popular story of Lizzie Borden, this film also raises complex deeper issues relating to social history, women's studies, and popular culture." Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, 1995

(This review was at the site mentioned below)

You can find various women's film reviews at:
Guide To The Total Women's Collection Independent and Foreign Films.

Carmela Epright ceprigh@orion.it.luc.edu

The ABC, John Stoessel special is called "Boys and Girls ARE Different," I also use it in class, mostly because it is filled with contradictions, ridiculous arguments and mythology about gender differences.

I have also used "Killing Us Softly" and "Still Killing Us Softly" which are getting a little dated now, but are still really useful for stirring discussion about images of women in advertising.

There is also a film produced by Canadian TV on women and body image. It talks about advertising, eating disorders, the fitness craze and the cosmetics industry. Its probably about 8 years old. I can't remember what it is called but it is excellent... if anyone knows the film that I am referring to (from my vague ramblings...) and remembers the title, please let me know.

Elizabeth Reilly ereilly@intergate.bc.ca

I recently saw a film made in Victoria B.C. called "Becoming Barbie" - this may be the one you have in mind.

Dawn Dietrich dietrich@fozzie.cc.wwu.edu

I would like to recommend Trinh T. Minh-Ha's "personal" or "ethonographic" documentary films, which defy masculinist definitions of documentary filmmaking, while articulating and problematizing a feminist politics of "looking" and "participation." The filmmaker is conscious of her own position in the problem of film, and she theorizes this position both in her films and in her theoretical works. I recommend reading Framer Framed before or after viewing her films, as she articulates the whole problem of creating a narrative that somewhow represents a culture or an experience. Leslie Devereaux's new book, Visual Fields, also presents a feminist/anthropological critique of visual media, which is excellent (read her introduction, if nothing else). For Trinh T. Minh-Ha, I recommend beginning with Naked Spaces: Living is Round, Reassemblage, or Sur Name Viet, Given Name Nam. I teach her films on both the undergraduate and graduate level, although they are challenging to both groups of students for different reasons. My preference is to teach her within the context of her own theorizing, and I find that including her written works in the discussion helps students to get a grasp of what she is doing. The students often remember her films long after a class is over because they have had to learn to do something different as film viewers. Her films radically point up the masculinist traditions tied to film, and particularly, documentary filmmaking, and they open the door to a dicussion of feminist politics and aesthetics.

Jan Boxill jmboxill@email.unc.edu

I show two other videos both ABC Specials: John Stoessel's "Men/Women and Gender Differences" and "A Class Divided". The latter one is the blue-eye/brown-eye experiment done in a third grade class in Iowa by Jane Elliot.

Fiction Films, Dramas, Hollywood, Etc.

Dhani dhani@msn.com

Antonia's Line - a Film by Patricia Rozema I think it won the 96 Cannes Film Festival Award in the category of Independent films. You can find a review of this film at: Review.

Karen Jones kfj1@cornell.edu

In response to Charlotte's query about films to show in a feminist ethics class: I use Gorris' "A Question of Silence," in the context of both Sara Hoagland's *Lesbian Ethics* and Susan Babbitt's *Impossible Dreams*.

I've found it fascinating to use -- it gets very different responses from students, some of whom (mistakenly) think it constitutes a straightforward endorsement of random violence.

Kristin Switala kswitala@cecasun.utc.edu

There is a great film out of India called "Bandit Queen," which is based on a true story of a woman who leaves her arranged marriage to becomethe leader of a bandit group in India. They call her (she's still alive) "The Goddess of the Flowers" and it's a great movie. Watch out, though, there are two tortuous rape sequences to sit through.

There is a wonderful film by the Tunisian filmmaker (female) Tlatli called "Les Silences du palais" which is about a mother and daughter living as servants in a beg's home in Tunisia. Lots of political and ethical undertones and beautifully filmed. My local Blockbuster video store has it, if you can believe it.

You might also want to try "Smilla's Sense of Snow," although it's more of a murder mystery than an ethics film.

I just remembered another great foreign feminist film: "Antonia's Line." I think it's Danish, although I'm not sure. It's about four generations of women living in post-WWII Denmark (I think) and it is a wonderful look at feminism in everyday life.

theresa jc norman norman@panam1.panam.edu

a film that raises lots of nice, juicy ethical issues is "Bound," a fairly recent film noir. "


If you're interested in distopian ethics/theory, try The Handmaid's Tale.

theresa jc norman norman@panam1.panam.edu

another good film is, i believe, a canadian production called "working girls," about a lesbian who works as a prostitute in a "nice" brothel. makes TERRIFIC contrast to that dream-on piece of stereotypic, role-enforcing propaganda, "pretty woman." not that it bothers me.

(From Linda McAlister): Just an addition to Te Norman's suggestion of "Working Girls" I don't believe it's Canadian, but the filmmaker is Lizzie Borden.

oh, the bandit queen's name is phoolan, and she is also called "phoolan devi" which means something like "the goddess-incarnation as phoolan." i think ms. magazine had her picture on their anniversary cover collage. good film.

some older films, still great, are barbra streistand's "nuts" and "yentl."

Nina Rosenstand rosensta@mail.sdsu.edu

My impression was that you wanted suggestions for fictional movies, not documentaries. Here are a few suggestions--I often use films in my classes, with interesting results!

"Antonia's Line" is Dutch, I believe (not Danish), and I hear it is a marvelous film. But if you want to use a Danish film, try "Babette's Feast", based on a novelette by a Danish woman author (Karen Blixen alias Isak Dinesen), about three women living most of their lives in a small, deeply religious community. The underlying theme is to love (and bear) one's destiny.

I just showed "Like Water For Chocolate" in my course, Philosophy of Women in World Cultures, and asked my students to identify whether there were feminist elements in the film at all. Opinions were divided, all depending on the definition of feminism used, so it was a useful discussion tool.

Other films (from the past decade) to consider would be: "Thelma and Louise" and "Something to Talk about" (both screenplays written by Callie Khouri, I believe); "Boys On the Side"; "A Handmaid's Tale" (the book is better); "Oleanna"; "Waiting to Exhale"; and "He Said She Said".

Older films: "A Doll's House" (Jane Fonda); "Adam's Rib" (Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), highly recommended; "Seven Women" (John Ford's last film); and "Masculine Feminine".

Margaret Crouch phi_crouch@ONLINE.EMICH.EDU

Another film for feminist themes: Ladybird, Ladybird, by Mike Leigh. Also, his Secrets and Lies.

Abby Wilkerson alw@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu

An interesting movie I plan to use next semester is All Over Me. The characters are teenagers (including Wilson Cruz, of My So-Called Life) dealing with coming out, dating violence, gaybashing, drug problems, and a parent's alcoholism. For about the first half of the movie it was hard for me not to see the protagonist as a victim, but she slowly comes across as finding ways to take care of herself and resist a lot of what's going on around her. (And it's not heavy-handed, despite my laundry list of "teen problems.") I recommend it.

Hildur Kalman Hildur.Kalman@philos.umu.se

As the topic of films to use in feminist classes has turned up, I want to take the opportunity to ask about a Canadian film that I and some colleagues of mine at the Centre for Women's Studies tried to locate some years ago, without success. We planned to use it in our courses on "Power and Gender", in the part dealing with "traditional patriarchy". The film is based on a novel titled "A Jury of Her Peers", but I am not sure whether that is the title of the film also.

I tried to locate the film with the help of "Guide To The Total Women's Collection Independent and Foreign Films", suggested in Dhani's posting on the 1st of December, but without success. Does anyone know where we could find it?

Diane Cano DHCano@aol.com

Has anyone suggested the Australian film, "My Brilliant Career"?

Suggested Articles, Books, Related Readings

Cynthia A. Freeland CFreeland@UH.edu

With regard to Charlotte Witt's question: There is A LOT of material written in feminist film theory that would probably also be of great interest to students/professors doing feminist ethics. In fact I'd almost venture to say that most feminist film theory is "ethical" in some way or another, or manifests a concern with certain feminist issues (whether ethical or social-political). That said, I'll immodestly plug a couple of my own pieces. I reviewed the Patricia Erens volume _Issues in Feminist Film Theory_ a few years ago for the Journal of Aesthetics (1995 maybe?); Erens' volume is large, varied, and useful, and contains a number of essays focusing on individual films and interpretations thereof, some of which might be interesting to consider. The Marleen Gorris film "A Question of Silence" is always very provocative, and the Erens book includes an essay about it. (In the film, three women who do not know one another commit murder together of the owner of a small dress shop. The movie traces the background of this unusual murder in the guise of a woman lawyer or psychiatrist investigating whether the women were sane or not. Ironically, the lawyer figure ends up thinking that, given the context of their lives, which is basically the context of patriarchy, they WERE sane to do what they did at the time. The film is really very provocative, and the murder scene in it is not gory.)

Let me also mention the anthology Philosphy and Film (Routledge 1995) which I co-edited with Tom Wartenberg. There are various essays in there about specific films that you might find interesting to show and discuss with your class. My own essay "Realist Horror" is a feminist essay about the politics or ideology of a movie you may NOT want to show, because it is strong stuff, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." I also have an essay called "Feminist Frameworks for Horror Films" in the recent volume _Post-Theory_ ed. by David Bordwell and Noel Carroll (Wisconsin, 1996). My essay includes somewhat brief readings/discussions of three examples: "The Fly," "Jurassic Park," and Roman Polanski's "Repulsion," which I personally think would be an excellent choice to show and discuss in a feminist ethics class. (But don't do it without reading my essay, ha ha!)

In the _Philosophy and Film_ book, Tom Wartenberg's essay is about the depiction of social class and romance in "White Palace" which he relates to earlier movies such as "Some Like it Hot." And Kelly Oliver has a very interesting essay about "Persona" which addresses (inadequate) views of mothering in French psychoanalytic theory. Tom has a forthcoming book about a genre he calls the "unlikely couple" film and many of his essays and films he discusses would probably be of interest. He is discussing the Hollywood depiction of romance and authenticity as (alleged) ways to break down barriers of race, social class, etc. He talks about many specific films such as "The Crying Game," "Desert Hearts," "Tootsie," "Mississipi Masala," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," etc. Tom's e-mail address is twartenb@mtholyoke.edu.

There is an enormous amount of literature out there on melodrama, much of it feminist. Some focuses on the old classics by Sirk et al. and some on more recent versions such as Fassbinder's various films. I could make recommendations if anyone wants some. (See also Flo Leibiwitz's article on this topic in _Post-Theory_: "Melodrama, or Why 'Women's Films' Aren't Trivial".) These films are often derogated as "women's films" because they deal with women's emotions in intense ways: love, romance, mother-daughter ties, sacrifice, loss, etc. Stanely Cavell's recent book _Contesting Tears_ is about the older melodramas, and I would venture to call some of his writing feminist. His essay on "Now Voyager" might be interesting to use in conjunction with that movie. Students today, however, may think that they are too sophisticated for some of these old movies!

Angela Curran at Bucknell U. has an essay now awaiting publication on consumerism in "Ruby in Paradise" and "Clueless" which I suspect would also be very good to use with students for whom these films will be more current and appealing. You can write to Angela at acurran@bucknell.edu (I'm not sure if she is signed onto SWIP).

Linda Lopez McAlister mcaliste@chuma.cas.usf.edu

I have done reviews of many of the films that have been mentioned in case you want to have a bit more information on them. You can get the entire list of film reviews by sending the message


to listserv@umdd.umd.edu
These reviews may also be obtained from the Web at URL: Women's Studies Film Reviews.

Emma bianchi@socrates.berkeley.edu

For a historical perpective - Stella Dallas with Barbara Stanwyck; The Old Maid with Bette Davis, Mildred Pearce with Joan Crawford (several representations of the breakdown of the mother/daughter relationship in response to contemporary social forces).

DHCano@aol.com Since I'm assembling one anyway, I'll be glad to post it to the list once the thread seems to have concluded. But I have to warn you that I didn't think of my 'brilliant idea' about using the thread to create a video library for my daughter until a couple of messages had flown past, so I might have missed something. The originator of the thread might do a better job -- if she wants to do it I'll stand on the sidelines and root; if not, I'll post mine.

Ann J. Cahill jcahill@aol.com

I recently rented "The Spitfire Grille" which I liked quite a bit; it's a slow-paced movie centering around a young woman who tries to start her life over in a small Maine town after spending five years in prison. Although there's the obligatory love-interest, it really focuses on the relationships between three women, the one mentioned above, an older woman, and a mother in her mid-thirties whose husband continually tells her how dumb she is. All the women struggle, successfully but in very different ways, against the men in their lives who are either patronizing or abusive (to very differing degrees). It's quite beautifully done.

And may I join my voice to the chorus suggesting "Antonia's Line." This is simply one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. And philosophy plays a not insignificant role in the story! If you haven't seen it yet, make it your next rental. You won't be disappointed.

theresa jc norman norman@panam1.panam.edu

has anyone mentioned "Shame"? the original is australian, and the american remake stars Amanda Donahoe. same plot, different location: a lawyer on vacation is stuck in a little backwater town while her motorcycle is repaired. she ends up getting involved in a local rape case.

Peter S. Fosl foslp@diana.hollins.edu

One I forgot to mention is Muriel's Wedding, a film about a young woman who looks to (heterosexual) marriage as the culminating moment in her life but finds out otherwise. Also amazing use of music by ABBA.

From: Rebecca R. Hanrahan rhanraha@mtholyoke.edu

Another great film to use in a feminist ethics class is called "Girls Town" It is about a young women who kills herself after having been raped and her friend's response to both her death and her rape. I watch a lot of movies and this was by far the best movie I saw this year.

Peter S. Fosl, PhD

I must agree. Girls Town is a wonderful film, and it really resonates with undergrads. I use it in my "feminist philosophies" class.


I don't think the video "A Jury of Her Peers" is based on a novel of that name, but, rather, on the play "Triffles" by Jane Glaspell.

Kayley Vernallis kvernal@calstatela.edu

The Official Story An Argentinian film about a woman's slow recognition that her adopted daughter is one of the disappeared, and that her husband is part of the military's project to eradicate critics. Good on the personal/political.

Loyalties A Canadian film about a white doctor sexually abusing a First Nations child. Confronts issues of sexuality, race, and class.

Tangren Alexander TAlexander@sou.edu

No one's mentioned one of my favorites, "The Long Walk Home" about the growing alliance between an African-American and a white woman during the Montgomery bus boycott. Whoopie Goldberg & Sissy Spacek.

- Emma bianchi@socrates.berkeley.edu

And two more:

For reproductive themes in sci-fi: Terminator II (mother/nature love vs. technology), and Alien3 (The ultimate Pro-choice choice, with comments on foetal tissue experiments too).

Kathy Miriam kmiriam@cats.ucsc.edu

The author is Susan Glaspell and there is a short story, and a play, both equally excellent, written in the early part of the century. I'm not sure which is called "A Jury of her Peers" and which is called "Trifles".

Barbara Andrew bandrew@selway.umt.edu

I use I've Heard the Mermaids Singing which evokes questions about honesty, friendship, class, sexuality, beauty and art.

Sarah L Hoagland S-Hoagland@neiu.edu

I believe "A Jury of Her Peers" is the short story, and "Trifles" is the play, both the same story and both by Jane Glaspell. I'd be interested to see the video. Sarah Hoagland

Martha Satz msatz@post.cis.smu.edu

Susan Glaspell wrote the short story "A Jury of Her Peers" and also the play "Trifles." The movie "A Jury of Her Peers" is a very literal translation of the story. It is a half -hour in length. If someone is interested in the bibliographical information for the film, I can supply it. Best, Martha Satz

Kate Norlock knorlock@students.wisc.edu Before the film suggestions completely die out, may I recommend "Heavenly Creatures," an Australian film based, I believe, on a true story about two teen-aged girlfriends whose parents keep them apart for fear they have become homosexuals and, well, but I hate to spoil the story by telling it. You might want to review that.

Sarah L Hoagland S-Hoagland@neiu.edu

Given the address listed below in Kathy Miriam's note of Film, Inc on North Ravenswood, I suspect the area code is 773, not 312 (we just went through a big change of area codes).

Since I'm on, I'll mention Death and the Maiden which I use in classes.

Kate Lindemann lindeman@msmc.edu

Has anyone mentioned Stella? [Was it Bette Midler? I am not good at "name the actress/actor"]

Good re: single mother and daughter themes and also raises issues of class. The ending makes for strong discussion. Older but often available at less up to date shops.

Nina Rosenstand rosensta@mail.sdsu.edu

One more idea: "Leaving Normal", a wonderful little study in friendship between women.

Also, since "Alien" came up: a female action hero can be interesting in herself--but in that case, I find "Aliens" more interesting: Here Ripley fights a female monster, a gender-switch version of the Beowulf legend where Beowulf fights the monster Grendel and kills him, but then has to slay the REAL monster from the lake, Grendel's mother! Mythological connections can be made to all western dragon-slayer stories, and ultimately to the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, where the young god Marduk slays Tiamat, the female seamonster. What makes this interesting to me is that these dragon-slayer stories probably originated as a result of a patriarchal hostility toward Tiamat as the creator goddess of a previous era (see Gerda Lerner, _The Creation of Patriarchy_, and a number of other works).

Jennifer Manion jmanion@carleton.edu

"The Chidren's Hour" (1961 with Audry Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine) is a terrific film -- way ahead of its time -- about two young women teachers who run a private girls school and who are accused of being lesbian by a malicious student. Many interesting moral dilemmas in this one!

Kathy Miriam kmiriam@cats.ucsc.edu

At the top of my own list of powerful feminist films are: Marlene Gorris's Broken Mirrors, which, alas I don't think is on video and do not know how to find! but this films is even more radical than A Question fo Silence: it parallels a story about prostitution on the one hand with a story about a serial sex killer on the other. very striking critique of prostitution.

Another film, which is on video (but I do not know the distributor) is Lake of Scented Oils, directed by a man from Taiwan, with subtitles, that is one of the strongest, most complex feminist films that I have ever seen. the film focuses on a woman entrepeneur (she sells oil), her relationship with a helpless, dependent yet batterer husband, a lover, a retarded son who she ruthlessly yet prudently arranges a marriage for with a neighbor,an impoverished young woman. I was amazed at the way that the film maker looked at the relationships between economics, violence, internalized oppression (how women betray one another within this network of power and oppression), in this specific cultural context that yet has resonances with other, including western, contexts.

Lisa Shapiro shapirol@cofc.edu

Perhaps Kate is referring to 'Stella Dallas' starring (I believe) Barbara Stanwyck.

Jeffrey Paris jparis@omni.cc.purdue.edu

The Bandit Queen is important for issues of representation and voice rather than as a tale of leadership. The film claims to be "The True Story" of Phoolan Devi, but its own history belies this claim. First, the film focuses on a land dispute, ignoring the caste issue which was central to Devi. In addition, Devi claims that the rapes never happened, and denies being present when the men were massacred.

When the film, to which she initially agreed, was described to her (Devi is illiterate, and could not read the script), she rejected the characterization of her life. And she was, at least as of last year, unable to view the film as it was banned in India (due to nudity, not content).

The film thus raises issues of the colonial gaze, and the barriers to Devi's own self-representation. She actually spends much of the film, I thought, crawling around on the ground and growling or moaning in various states of undress. For these reasons, and not the graphic content, i would be cautious about showing it in a class without developing the context. I saw the film in a postcolonial studies class where these issues were highlighted. {Sources include: Madhu Kishwar, "The Bandit Queen," in Manushi, 1994; Udayan Prasad, "Woman on the Edge," in Sight and Sound, 1995; Mala Sen, _The Bandit Queen_}

Kate Lindemann lindeman@msmc.edu

I have seen Babette's Feast as having overlays of messages and that, to me, is the strength of the film:

that apparent accidents [of opera tourist] as well as major movements [french revolution] may interweave with the main lines of one's life even in small out of the way places. That life and death relaities are worked out in the boon docks as well as in central cities.

that joy and odd risk taking [lottery] as part of the spirit of extravagance, play etc. including the power of feasting [excellent food and wine, prepared with dedication, genrosity and love] as able to heal community division, make true charity [in this case Christina charity] possible.....

that organized religion when coupled with patirarchy my be detrimental to true religious {christian again] living

Mary J Metzger metzgmj@cc.wwu.edu

Re: films for feminist ethics course: try Nancy Meckler's Sister, My Sister. It's never failed to raise important issues of feminist ethics in the courses I've taught it in.

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