The #DirectedByWomen Films, TV Shows, and Documentaries that Need More Love From You

Copy Edited and Posted by Jennifer Bell

Every September, Directed by Women throws a Worldwide Film Viewing Party to celebrate and share films #DirectedbyWomen. Despite the pandemic keeping most of us out of movie theatres, we invite you to join the initiative by screening films, shows, and documentaries from the comfort of your own home. We conducted a Twitter poll to see what films, TV shows, and documentaries directed and created by women our readers believe deserve more love.

We hope you will join us in partaking in #DirectedbyWomen month by watching some of the brilliant work we discuss below. We all deserve more love right now, and these films and shows tell stories that will help you dig into the big emotions we’re all feeling and come out transformed on the other end. Once you see one of the works we suggest, share your thoughts on social media, tagging @agnesfilms and using #DirectedbyWomen. We’ll share your thoughts with our followers.

Films

Stars, Michelle Krusiec, on the left in an orange sweater, dances with Lynn Chen, on the right in a blue dress. They are in the foreground of the image in a ballroom.

Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen in Saving Face (2004).

Saving Face (2004), dir. Alice Wu 

By Alexandra Hidalgo

I watched Saving Face when it first came out in Cleveland’s beloved, independent Cedar Lee Theatre. The screen was small but the characters burst out and filled the room in all their three-dimensional glory. Although I’ve rewatched the film multiple times since, I still don’t know how Wu managed to juggle so many themes and storylines with such depth and gracethe intricacies of love between mothers and daughters, how immigration shapes different generations, the complexities of coming out to our parents, and the vitality of choosing our own path even if it disappoints our family. We follow Wil (Michelle Krusiec) and her mother Hwei-lan (Joan Chen) as they try to navigate romance, their cultural identity, and most importantly, their relationship with each other in New York’s Chinatown. Not only does the film seamlessly interweave a number of hefty themes, but it does it with a light, humorous touch that fills the audience with hope for the future of the characters Wu so memorably draws and for our own lives (and honestly, who doesn’t need a bit of extra hope this year?). Saving Face is available to stream on Prime Video

Young & Wild (2012), dir. Marialy Rivas

By Alexandra Hidalgo

Marialy Rivas’s tour de force coming-of-age story is an unstoppable tale of self-discovery, desire, and the painful magic we can weave when we finally decide to spread our wings. Alicia Rodríguez plays Daniela, a bisexual high-school senior from an evangelical Chilean family, with ebullient charm and rebelliousness. In spite of—or perhaps because of—her parents’ constant attempts to repress their daughter’s sexual urges, Daniela is fascinated by her body’s ability to connect with other bodies and the sensations those unions produce. As those sensations turn from the physical to the emotional, however, Daniela must not only deal with her family’s increasing disapproval of her choices, but with her own emotional awakening as she falls in love for the first time. Stylistically playful and sleek, yet deeply affecting in its portrayal of our need to carve out our own identity with whatever tools we have at hand, this gem of a film will have you thinking of your first love and of how momentous each caress felt as skin connected with skin in moments that you hoped would last forever. Young & Wild is available to rent on Prime Video.

Clemency (2019), dir. Chinonye Chukwu

By Kara Headley

Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) is a prison warden who oversees the execution of inmates on death row. Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) is one of those prisoners who many believe is innocent. And yet, his execution is already scheduled. Clemency is a brilliant film that explores the horrors of death row, for both those who oversee it and those who are on it. Both Woodard and Hodge give performances that will leave you in tears, displaying the emotional toll of their situations through small actions and gestures. The cinematography and lighting make the prison feel haunting and uninviting without glamorizing it or the situations the characters find themselves in. This film drags its viewers on to death row with Woods and Williams, leaving behind an eerie imprint that will have you thinking about it for months to come. Clemency is available to stream on Hulu

Alfre Woodard stands on the right side of the image wearing a blue shirt and looking down on a partially visible person laying on a table.

Alfre Woodard in Clemency (2019)

Shrek (2001), dir. Vicky Jenson and Andrew Adamson

By Kara Headley

“Somebody once told me…” that Shrek was co-directed by a woman and that touch shows in the thoughtful, clever ways in which they handle the story and characters. Shrek is an animated film that takes a unique twist on the classic fairy tale. Shrek (Mike Myers) is an ogre who lives alone in his swamp, content to spend his days taking mud baths and eating bugs. When Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), the ruler of Duloc who has a short temper, relocates a bunch of fairy tale creatures to Shrek’s swamp, Shrek agrees to go on a mission for Farquaad if he can have his land back. He must rescue Fiona (Cameron Diaz), a princess locked in a tower with a curse that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. The witty humor, colorful characters, and soundtrack of this film has kept it in the hearts—and memes—of people all around the world for almost two decades. Shrek is available to stream on Prime Video.

Twilight (2008), dir. Catherine Hardwicke

By Kara Headley

Say what you will about this film—the glorification of stalking and overly possessive boyfriends, for one—Twilight doesn’t get enough attention for the craft that went into creating a truly artful and beautiful film. Twilight follows Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), a newcomer to Forks, Washington, who catches the attention of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a moody teenager with a big secret. He’s impossibly fast and strong. His skin is pale white and ice cold. He’s a vampire and a dreamy one at that. We watch as Bella and Edward begin their forbidden romance, navigating the problems that arise being a human-vampire couple. The cinematography is stunning and the soundtrack is unforgettable, perfectly capturing the longings of emerging teenage love. Not to mention the baseball scene, which alone should be at the top of this list. Twilight is available to stream on Hulu

Robert Pattinson is in the left side of the frame wearing a suit dancing with Kristen Stewart. Stewart is wearing a white shirt and is on the left side of the frame.

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in Twilight (2008).

 

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
  • American Honey (2016), dir. Andrea Arnold
  • Birdbox (2018), dir. Susanne Bier
  • Booksmart (2019), dir. Olivia Wilde
  • But I’m a Cheerleader (1999), dir. Jamie Babbit
  • Carrie Pilby (2016), dir. Susan Johnson
  • Charlie’s Angels (2019), dir. Elizabeth Banks
  • Desert Hearts (1986), dir. Donna Deitch
  • Documenteur (1981), dir. Agnès Varda
  • Friends with Kids (2011), dir. Jennifer Westfeldt
  • Frozen 2 (2019), dir. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
  • Habana Eva (2010), dir. Fina Torres
  • Harriet (2019), dir. Kasi Lemmons
  • Hester Street (1975), dir. Joan Micklin Silver
  • Honey Boy (2019), dir. Alma Har’el
  • I Like it Like That (1994), dir. Darnell Martin
  • Jwlwi – The Seed (2019), dir. Rajni Basumatary
  • Kung Fu Master (1988), dir. Agnès Varda
  • Ladybird (2017), dir. Greta Gerwig
  • Land of Ashes (2019), dir. Sofía Quirós
  • Lemonade Mouth (2011), dir. Patricia Riggen
  • Mary Queen of Scots (2018), dir. Josie Rourke
  • Oriana (1985), dir. Fina Torres
  • Pariah (2011), dir. Dee Rees
  • Party Girl (1995), dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
  • Queen & Slim (2019), dir. Melina Matsoukas
  • Selma (2014), dir. Ava DuVernay
  • Take this Waltz (2011), dir. Sarah Polley
  • The Ascent (1977), dir. Larisa Shepitko
  • The Farewell (2019), dir. Lulu Wang
  • The Matrix (1999), dir. Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
  • The Riot Club (2014), dir. Lone Scherfig
  • The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018), dir. Susanna Fogel
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), dir. Susan Johnson
  • Unbroken (2014) dir. Angelina Jolie
  • Wonder Woman (2017), dir. Patty Jenkins
  • Yentl (1983), dir. Barbra Streisand

Shows

Sex Education (2019 – Present), created by Laurie Nunn

By Kara Headley

Sex Education takes place at a high school where there is a distinct lack of useful teaching on the ever complicated topic of sex for teenagers. A student at the school, Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), takes up the mantle as the local sex expert, giving out advice for a fee. Otis is not without knowledge on the topic—his mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson) is a sex therapist. We watch as Otis grows his service, giving out sex and relationship advice that he often ignores in his own love affairs. The show candidly deals with the complicated relationships so many of us have with sex and sexuality, delving into topics most other shows would shy away from. Sex Education is funny, heartwarming, and helps its audience feel a little less alone whether or not they are currently sharing their bed with anyone. Sex Education is available to stream on Netflix

The stars of Sex Education sit in a row with a range of emotional expressions on their faces.

Sex Education (2019).

 

Russian Doll (2019 – Present), created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, and Amy Poehler

By Kara Headley

Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying, and she keeps waking up back at the start of her 36th birthday party. Russian Doll takes a dark twist on the premise of Groundhog Day, as Nadia is forced to keep reliving her birthday before she inevitably dies. It seems that she is the only constant in this time loop until she discovers another person who is trapped with her. Together, they must figure out why they must endlessly revisit the same day, why they keep dying, and how to get out. This dark comedy is witty and thoughtful, warping the classic time loop premise into a story about mental health, addiction, and our own conceptions of time. Russian Doll is available to stream on Netflix.

Anne with an E (2017-2019), created by Moira Walley-Beckett

By Kara Headley

Anne with an E is a Netflix original show based on Anne of Green Gables, the 1908 book by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne Shirley (Amybeth McNulty), an eccentric young girl with a penchant for imagination and stories, is adopted by Marilla (Geraldine James) and Matthew Cuthbert (R.H. Thomson), siblings who run a farm in Avonlea. This show follows Anne as she adjusts to life in Green Gables and learns her place in the world. This heartwarming story stays true to its source material while adding some plot lines that will resonate more with our 2020 audiences, like Anne’s friend Cole (Cory Gruter-Andrew) discovering his sexuality and Anne’s fight for freedom of the press. The show is beautifully shot, its images helping to enhance the characters’ emotions and the passage of time as Anne grows up. Anne with an E is available to stream on Netflix

Actress Amybeth McNulty who is playing Anne Shirley is wearing a green dress and sitting on a bench.

Amybeth McNulty in Anne with an E (2017).

 

Jessica Jones (2015-2019), created by Melissa Rosenberg

By Alexandra Hidalgo

A woman with superhuman strength, a devastating past, a penchant for hard liquor, and the most delicious badass attitude on TV is hard to resist. Add to that mix her deep vulnerability and a poorly veiled sense of empathy for those around her and you have the perfect recipe for an electrifying protagonist. Krysten Ritter, who plays the titular character, projects a universe of feminist rage and conviction into each one of her character’s scenes. With such a performance, it is unthinkable that anyone watching Jessica Jones is not clamoring for more shows and films with women superhero protagonists. Not only is Jessica one of the deepest and most entertaining TV examinations of heroism’s contradictions in a decidedly unheroic world, but she is surrounded by a cast of well-drawn diverse characters grappling to figure out how to satisfy their own needs without suffocating the dreams of those around them. So, pour some whisky, unzip your black leather jacket, and get ready to expose the world’s villains while you also expose (and heal) some of your own wounds in the process. Jessica Jones is available to stream on Netflix.  

The Hunter’s Anthology (2020 – Present), created by Nicky Akmal

By Kara Headley

When six strangers find themselves trapped together in a New York subway car, Mac (Taylor August), a man claiming to be a demon hunter, must look into the souls of the other passengers to discover which of them is the demon trapping them there. He discovers each of them has had a supernatural encounter in their past. Mac must discover the demon among them before it is too late. The Hunter’s Anthology will be available to stream Fall 2020.

 

Krysten Ritter playing Jessica Jones is walking on a bridge wearing a black leather jacket.

Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015).

 

    • Atypical (2017 – Present), created by Robia Rashid
    • Batwoman (2019 – Present), created by Caroline Dries
    • Broad City (2014-2019), created by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson
    • Chewing Gum (2015-2017), created by Michaela Coel
    • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019), created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna
    • Dollface (2019-Present), created by Jordan Weiss
    • Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23 (2012-2013), created by Nahnatchka Khan
    • Good Girls (2018 – Present), created by Jenna Bans
    • Insecure (2016 – Present), created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore
    • Jane the Virgin (2014-2019), created by Jennie Snyder Urman
    • Kiki and Kitty (2017), created by Nakkiah Lui
    • Killing Eve (2018 – Present), created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
    • Last Tango in Halifax (2012-2020), created by Sally Wainwright
    • Little Fires Everywhere (2020), created by Liz Tigelaar
    • Masters of Sex (2013-2016), created by Michelle Ashford
    • Never Have I Ever (2020 – Present), created by Mindy Kaling
    • New Girl (2011-2018), created by Elizabeth Meriwether
    • One Day at a Time (2017 – Present), created by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce
    • Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker (2020), created by Janine Sherman Barroi, Elle Johnson, Maverick Carter, LeBron James, Octavia Spencer, Mark Holder, Christine Holder, Kasi Lemmons, and Jamal Henderson
    • Sense8 (2015-2018), created by J. Michael Straczynski, Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
    • Shrill (2019 – Present), created by Aidy Bryant, Alexandra Rushfield, and Lindy West
    • Star Trek: Picard (2020 – Present), created by Kirsten Beyer, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, and Alex Kurtzman
    • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017 – Present), created by Amy Sherman-Palladino
    • The Witcher (2019 – Present), created by Lauren Schmidt

Documentaries

Elena (2012), dir. Petra Costa

By Alexandra Hidalgo

Elena, the second film in Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa’s trilogy examining her family history, is a haunting and loving tribute to her older sister. As the film opens, we know that Elena is no longer in Costa’s life, but we don’t know how or why she’s not there anymore. As the mystery of Elena’s absence unravels, Costa uses years of lyrical home footage and her poignant narration to introduce us to the sister she so dearly loves and admires. While piecing Elena’s life together for herself and for us, she examines the ways in which tragedy can weave itself through generations and leave seen and unseen marks in the most recondite corners of our beings. However, as the film shows, if we examine and face those difficult experiences they can also deepen our ability to engage with the world and with each other. From one sister to another, this love letter to Elena is a must-see for anyone seeking to understand those who shaped us but who are no longer in our lives. Elena is available to stream on Netflix

A childhood image of Elena and Petra Costas. Baby Petra is on the right, resting her head on Elena's shoulder.

The Costas sisters as children in Elena (2012).

 

Miss Americana (2020), dir. Lana Wilson

By Alexandra Hidalgo

Taylor Swift has been in the spotlight since she burst into the scene as a teenager, inspiring legions of young fans with her blend of glamorous girl power and unapologetic displays of emotion in her lyrics, melodies, and videos. For those very reasons, she is also constantly derided on social media and in the media itself. Swift has understandably learned to build countless walls to protect herself from fans and detractors alike, and in Lana Wilson’s nuanced and deeply engaging documentary, some of those walls come down. Mixing footage from Swift’s entire career with intimate interviews and scenes in which we see her engage with her family and collaborators, Miss Americana gives us a glimpse at an icon’s humanity. For me, at least, the human Wilson reveals makes the icon much more intriguing. Wilson found a way to present Swift’s strengths and vulnerabilities in ways that make the singer immensely relatable without losing the mystique that inspires millions around the world to envision the best versions of themselves as they sing along to her music. Miss Americana is available to stream on Netflix.

13th (2016) dir. Ava DuVernay

By Kara Headley

As 13th begins, we hear the voice of President Barack Obama explaining that the United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay looks at this statistic and asks two questions: why? And perhaps more importantly, how? This documentary explores how the 13th amendment while abolishing slavery created a slavery of a different kind—mass incarceration. Moving chronologically through history by interviewing public figures and experts, such as Angela Davis, Newt Gingrich, and Cory Booker, the film dissects the American treatment of Black Americans from the time of slavery to present day. With the recent explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement in protest of police brutality, understanding America’s history of racial injustice is more important than ever. 13th is available to stream on Netflix and YouTube.  

Michelle Alexander sits in a red chair in the middle of the frame. Behind her are large glass windows.

Michelle Alexander being interviewed in 13th (2016).

Jane B. for Agnès V. (1988), dir. Agnès Varda

By Alexandra Hidalgo

Two feminist queens come together in this exquisite meditation on femininity, carnality, motherhood, and what it means to represent one another on screen. We watch Agnès Varda negotiate with Jane Birkin—who memorably outraged the world by orgasmically moaning in “Moi je t’aime…moi non plus,” her duet with then-partner Serge Gainsbourg —about how she will be portrayed in this documentary about her life. During one whimsical scene, Varda wraps Birkin’s house in a bow as a gift for the British star to unwrap as she unravels her life as a sexual symbol who also longs for wearing baggy jeans and spending quiet afternoons at home with her children. From turning Birkin into Ariadne in the maze to having her play both the servant and lady in a Titian painting, Varda constantly searches for ways to explore Birkin’s desires, history, and metaphorical prowess. Through the film, we meet an artist and mother seeking to love, to connect, and to unwrap the gifts held inside her most intimate corners. Enter the maze of empowered femininity and leave having woven your own guiding thread to lead the way to wherever your dreams may take you. Jane B. for Agnès V. is available to rent on Prime Video.

The Wolfpack (2015), dir. Crystal Moselle

By Alexandra Hidalgo

Moselle’s hypnotic film about six brothers whose father forbade them from ever leaving their Manhattan apartment is a loving tribute to human resilience and the power of imagination. Blending Moselle’s warm, handheld images with home video shot by the Angulo brothers over the years, the film invites us into the apartment that has been the brothers’ whole universe throughout their lives. From this small space, they use their boundless creativity to act out scenes from the films they love in homemade costumes that would awe many a Hollywood director with their craft and ingenuity. In Moselle’s deft hands what could have been a story that calls to us because of its shock value becomes a tale of tenacity in the face of impossible odds and of slowly finding our way in the world—whether that world is an apartment or the whole of New York City with its incalculable dangers and glories. The Wolfpack is available to watch on YouTube

The four brothers sit in chairs facing forwards. The front two brothers somewhat block the view of the back two. They are all laughing.

The brothers in The Wolfpack (2015).

 

  • Be Natural (2018), dir. Pamela B. Green
  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamar Story (2017), dir. Alexandra Dean
  • Miss Representation (2011), dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom
  • One Child Nation (2019), dir. Nanfu Wang and Lynn Zhang
  • Paris is Burning (1990), dir. Jennie Livingston
  • Period. End Of Sentence. (2018), dir. Rayka Zehtabchi
  • Sands of Silence (2016), dir. Chelo Alvarez Stehle
  • Shirkers (2018), dir. Sandi Tan
  • The Punk Singer (2013), dir. Sini Anderson
  • Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family (2004), dir. Susan Kaplan 

What #DirectedByWomen content you love didn’t make the list? Be sure to tweet us @agnesfilms! You can learn more about Kara and Alexandra on their profiles.