In this day and age, film is a particularly effective medium for teaching and learning. This is why, for the past four years, The Pixel Project has been publishing lists of powerful films, documentaries and television shows that seek to inform and educate the public about the worldwide scourge of violence against women, its various forms, and what everyone can do to stop and prevent it.
In recent years, mainstream film has been slowly moving away from traditional sexist portrayals of women and VAW, both following and informing a trend in popular culture to be more respectful and aware of women’s rights. This year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a blockbuster action film starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, is a shining example of a film that used no gender stereotypes and that ignited lots of discussion on gender roles and portrayals. This is certainly a big step in the direction of gender equality but there is still, of course, much more to be achieved.
This year’s list of films and documentaries portray women and girls from diverse backgrounds who all have one thing in common – they are victims and survivors of violence against women. Though many of them may be difficult to watch because they deal with harrowing subjects in an explicit manner, it is important to watch them because they are portrayals of the truth. We hope that they will inspire you to join us in our quest to end violence against women and to be a catalyst of change in your own community.
Written and compiled by Anushia Kandasivam. Additional selections by Catalina Rembuyan and Regina Yau.
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One of the first films to explore women’s issues among the Hmong people, A Daughter’s Debt follows three generations of Hmong-American women as they talk about cultural practices that include bride purchase, polygamy and marriage by capture, and how these practices affect them in their community in the United States. The film was screened at the recent Cannes Film Festival as part of the Short Film Catalogue.
For almost a decade, reporters Nabez Ahmad and Shara Amin shed light into one of the most taboo topics in Kurdish society: female genital mutilation. They took their documentary, A Handful of Ash, which was produced in 2003, to the Kurdish Parliament, allying with a German-Iraqi non-governmental organisation, Wadi. At first, no one paid attention except for a few female politicians. But the film and the campaign was the start of a movement. Three years later, Human Rights Watch released a report on female genital mutilation in Kurdistan. In 2011, female circumcision was outlawed across Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2013, two years after the campaign’s success, The Guardian released a 17-minute condensed version of A Handful of Ash, viewable of their website.
[Trigger warning: This video contains descriptions of rape] Mukhtar Mai is a Pakistani woman from a rural village who was gang-raped on the orders of a local tribal clan as a form of honour revenge in 2002. Mukhtar defied custom to speak up and report the rapes to the authorities. Mukhtar’s bravery and quest for justice ignited a series of events that has led to more awareness of women’s rights in rural Pakistan. Realising that education holds the key to changing society’s mentality, Mukhtar opened two schools for girls in her village as well as a crisis centre for abused women. The documentary follows the progress of the school and tracks the profound impact that education and access to the crisis centre has empowered women and girls in this rural part of Pakistan.
In 2012, a young woman was violently gang-raped and murdered in New Delhi. The incident sparked widespread outrage, generating discussion and criticism of India’s long history of gender violence and inequality, precipitating public protests against the state and central governments for what was seen as continued failure to provide security for women in India. Daughters of Mother India documents the response of Indian policy makers and activists to the epidemic of sexual violence in the country. The film has received strong commendations and high praise from viewers both within India and beyond.
Calgary filmmaker Iman Bukhari wanted to bring to light the fact that forced marriages happen in a first-world nation such as Canada. Her documentary sheds light on the continuing cycle of forced marriages in families and though the film does emphasise that these marriages can happen to any gender, it follows the story of a female victim and features interviews with a mother who forced her daughter into marriage. Bukhari has stated that her intention for Forced is to open a dialogue about forced marriages with the aim of bringing the issue out into the open and helping to end the cycle.
This documentary is about the pervasive misogyny and abuse of women in the gaming world. It documents not just gamers but also female game designers, developers, programmers and others in the gaming industry who consistently receive abuse for being the ‘wrong’ gender in what is still a boys’ club, as well as the abuse and intimidation of women who speak out against it. Documentary maker Shannon Sun-Higginson was inspired to make the film after watching a clip from a major gaming competition in which a player repeatedly sexually harassed his teammate.
Inspired by the now iconic 1998 documentary on street harassment War Zone, this short documentary was created and produced by five interns at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), an organisation in Brooklyn, New York, committed to the physical, psychological, social, and economic development of girls and women. The filmmakers, who ranged from 15 to 18 years old, spent eight months interviewing young women of colour in their neighbourhood about the impact of street harassment on their life. The documentary also features interviews with several men of colour, both young and old, about their intentions behind the behaviour, and examines the root causes of the phenomenon of the harassment of women in public spaces.
[Trigger warning: description of rape and examples of rape threats] This documentary is about the pervasive and seemingly unstoppable phenomenon of sexual assault on the campuses of American colleges and the apathy and dismissive behaviour of the authorities involved. The film contains personal testimonials of five survivors and reveals their struggles to get justice and the blame they face from those who should be on their side. It also serves as a mouthpiece for these women and others who are speaking out against the institutionalised cover-ups of campus sexual assaults.
This documentary asks the question: Do women have a right to defend themselves against street harassment? The film follows the story of four young African-American lesbian women who were walking through a New York neighbourhood one night in 2006 when they were confronted, harassed and assaulted by an older man. When the man became violent, the four friends fought back to defend themselves. When the police arrived at the scene, the women were arrested. They were subsequently charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. The film follows the lives of the women and explores how race, gender, gender identity and sexuality plays a part in violence perpetrated on strangers, especially women. It also discusses how these factors were sensationalised and criminalised by mainstream news media.
This 2006 film starring Bollywood leading lady Aishwarya Rai tells the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, an Indian woman in an arranged marriage who moves to the UK with her husband, and who later kills him after enduring years of abuse. The film follows her trial, incarceration and subsequent appeal in court. In real life, Ahluwalia’s appeal became a landmark case in British law and is still used as precedent today; it changed the legal definition of the word ‘provocation’ in cases of domestic violence so as to reclassify her crime to manslaughter instead of murder. Ahluwalia’s case also created awareness of domestic violence amongst immigrant families in the UK.
[Trigger warning: Survivor accounts in this video include vivid descriptions of sexual assault.] This documentary, a collaboration between PBS Frontline and The Center for Investigative Reporting at the University of California Berkley, tackles an issue that probably has never been explored in film before: the sexual abuse of immigrant women in the janitorial industry in the United States. The assaults are perpetrated by co-workers, managers, building supervisors or security guards. The film features firsthand accounts from survivors and explores and reveals the dangers and difficulties confronted by these women working in low-paying jobs in deserted buildings at night.
In this award-winning documentary, filmmaker Angela Shelton drives around the United States looking for and surveying other women named Angela Shelton. Shelton’s search for other Angela Sheltons started as a simple effort to locate as many women with the same name across the United States as she could. When speaking with the women, she found that about 70% of them were survivors of childhood sexual abuse or other forms of domestic violence. This, coupled with events in her own childhood, when she and her siblings were sexually molested by her father and stepmother, inspired her to make the documentary wherein she interviews the other Angela Sheltons, culminating in her confrontation with her father. Following the documentary, Shelton created a Survival Manual to help survivors of violence heal: www.survivormanual.com
At first glance, this film seems to be a typical teen movie, but it actually deals with a little covered topic – teen sexual assault. The film is told from the perspective of Melinda Sordino (Kristen Stewart), a sardonic teen who starts a new year of high school as a selective mute. She is ostracised by her peers and labelled her a ‘squealer’ as she had called the police to a house party. The truth about why she did this is not revealed until much later when Melinda herself comes to terms with her trauma and finds the courage to speak out. Based on the Laurie Halse Anderson novel of the same name, the film shows how sexual assault can damage a young person’s sense of identity and explores the difficulties victims face in verbalising their trauma and telling a person in authority what happened.
The Hunting Ground is a documentary that exposes and discusses rape culture on American university campuses. Aired at the Sundance Film Festival this year, the film sparked strong reactions, gaining almost unanimous praise from critics and a standing ovation from audiences, but also passionate denial and skepticism from some viewers. Inspired by The Invisible War (selection number 15), The Hunting Ground follows Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark, two survivors of sexual assault on campus who refused to be intimidated or silenced by their respective school administration and became activists on rape culture. A day before the film was released in theatres, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act was re-introduced by a bipartisan group of US Senators accompanied by Pino and Clark.
This award-winning documentary is an investigation into rape and sexual assault within the United States Armed Forces. It features interviews with veterans from various branches of the armed forces, journalists, advocates, mental health professionals and members of the military justice system, among others, and touches on the inadequate care for survivors of sexual assault, failures to address incidences of sexual assault and forced expulsion of survivors from service. The film, which calls for changes to the way the military handles reports of sexual assault, has won numerous awards and has had some influence on government policies aimed at reducing the prevalence of rape in the armed forces.
This Cambodian-French co-production documents human trafficking in Cambodia where most of the victims of human trafficking are young women who are lured with promises of better opportunities abroad. In reality, they are held prisoner and forced to work in horrific conditions, sometimes as prostitutes.This film follows the story of a particular young peasant woman, Aya, who was sold to work in Malaysia aged 16, where she did not receive any salary and was beaten and abused. She returned to her village with a child, the result of rape. It also documents the lives of two powerful traffickers known as ‘Storm Makers’.