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8 Documentaries That Will Forever Change The Way You See Women And Yourself


gloria steinem

People can do anything but that thought is far too often amended to what women can’t do. Women cannot be professionals, they cannot be good at math, they cannot go to into combat, they cannot be emotionally stable, they cannot be strong—lies. Considering women have been oppressed in varying degrees for thousands of years I would say we are especially resilient, emotionally stable and most certainly strong. When we talk about history (um, his. story.) we often highlight the contributions men have made and whenever someone asks, “Why can’t a woman do this or that?” We use the accomplishments of men as evidence that they have a proven track record of being better while conveniently ignoring how women have been historically excluded from opportunities to contribute to history (um, her. story) and prove themselves.

We certainly haven’t been given as many chances to think, invent, challenge, change and create as our male counterparts but that doesn’t mean women have not fundamentally changed the world. We have, it’s seems that no one ever really talks about it. As long as women have been around is as long as we’ve have been written out of history. Women have been great thinkers, inventors, women have united nations, women have been pivotal engineers, have fought in combat, have done the hardest, most difficult jobs, have fought for the rights of homemakers and professionals alike.

Women have been altering the course of history for decades and it’s time we understood what that really means for us. Beyoncé might be singing about feminism but it is not anything new, women have been fighting for their seat at the table before we had even coined that term. Giving women credit in history’s past is how we give ourselves the power to change the future. These documentaries don’t not only show us what women have done, they show us what we can do and what we will do.

Makers Women Who Make America

Interviews with Judy Blume, Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton and the list goes on. This 3-hour PBS documentary tells the story of how women transformed the domestic, political and professional lives for women all of the country. Whether they fought through the Civil Rights Movements, LGBT movements or Women’s Liberation, whether they were authors, homemakers, conservatives or liberals, cis or trans, Black or White, it took dozens of courageous, and now notable, women to break glass ceilings and challenge cultural norms so that women can thrive today.

Complicated Women: Sex And Power In Pre-Code Hollywood

In pre-code Hollywood, between 1929 and 1934, women dominated the big screen. These weren’t damsels in distress either, they were business owners, anti-heroes, sexually empowered, femme fatales, and even bisexual Queens who dared to wear men’s clothing like Marlene Dietrich. Pre-Code Hollywood films told the complicated stories of women coping with social norms and challenging them. They were the kinds of women on screen today that nary exist but when we find them we devour them forever. In 1934 when Hollywood began to enforce its new code solely based on “morality” and created in the fear of “corrupting” young women’s minds, women again were reduced to servile, pure and virginal housewives until the 1960s.

Pray The Devil Back To Hell

A powerful documentary about how thousands of Liberia’s women used peaceful protests to unite groups, Christians and Muslims alike, to bring peace during their country’s ongoing civil war. Yes, it’s the story of how a group of women in an African nation brought notoriously conflicting groups together to come to a consensus and end a civil war. Eventually, the protest leaders Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkol Karman would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Why don’t we ever hear about this?

Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII 

During WWII women mathematicians were recruited by the U.S. army to conduct top secret research about engineering and technology that would help win the war. These highly educated and skilled women were not publicly recognized for their exceptional contributions until decades later. Women not good at STEM? Even back in the 1940s we knew that was bull.

Divorce Iranian Style

Three women try to divorce their husbands in Iran and while the women must deal with sexism and cultural biases they are resilient, funny and strong. Kim Longinotto dispels the Western myth that Iranian women are passive victims to an unfair system, Divorce Iranian Style reveals that Iranian women are just as autonomous as any Western woman dealing with a misogynistic culture.

Prodigal Sons

The story of filmmaker and transwoman, Kimberly Reed, returning to the hometown that once referred to her as “he.” Kimberly tries to rekindle a relationship with her estranged adopted brother and in the course faces familial revelations, setbacks and sibling rivalries.


Lioness tells the story of the first women in American History sent into direct ground combat in spite of the official policy that banned women from doing so. Because women weren’t officially allowed to enter combat they were never sufficiently trained, yet these women, as devoted as their male counterparts, fought in some of the most gruesome counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war.

China Blue

“I wanted to put a human face on this issue of modern slavery,” writes filmmaker Micha Peled. China Blue is about the people who are only passing thoughts to us: factory workers. In Southern China, a teenager named Jasmine works for pennies a day so that we can have cheap jeans. Jasmine and her friends aren’t any different than any other teenage girls yet their working conditions can only be described as indentured servitude. Jasmine shares a room with 12 other girls and works from 8:00 am to 2:00 am, seven days a week. The documentary not only points to the resilience of teenage girls and the hardships of poverty but the cost of Western indifference and capitalism on other nations.

Emerald is an editor at CollegeCandy, lover of coffee, and pretend francophile. After studying writing and popular culture at NYU she decided to be a grownup and get a job. Tweet at ya' girl @EmeraldGritty.