Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Women's stories in cinema

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"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands."

― Jane Austen, Persuasion

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in bed watching my weekly movie – this time, it was Tim Burton's Big Fish. As I enjoyed Edward's escapades, it occurred to me that it felt oddly reminiscent of Forrest Gump: both life stories of so-called "ordinary people" who had, through their embracing of life and opportunity, stumbled upon adventures. There was nothing at all the matter with this realisation – until I tried to think of similar films featuring women, and managed to come up with exactly zero.

Mildly concerned, I browsed through my entire IMDb list of viewed titles, and discovered that (a) a large chunk of them were about men, and (b) though I have watched a fair number of films featuring women, most of them focused on just an episode or short period of time. Sustained oppression and struggle were also common themes in the latter, even if they culminated in eventual empowerment.

I took to Facebook to correct this blind spot in my film viewing history, asking people for suggestions. But what I discovered wasn't that encouraging, and so I turned my obsession into a project that I hope many people will participate in, sharing films from all over the world. A start has already been made: view the growing database of films here, and submit your films here.

Because I'm looking for films on women's lives, there are a couple of criteria that your chosen film(s) will need to satisfy:

  • it should span at least a period of 3 years in the protagonist's life (still a short period, but it's surprising how few films do this) 

  • it should tell a story of some sort of adventure/achievement/travel/heroism – stories of empowerment, of women owning their lives, where they are movers and not victims of events

Can you think of any such films that feature a female protagonist?

Now, can you think of any such films that feature a male protagonist?

If your answer to either of the above questions is yes, submit to the project now!

[View database]  [Submit films]

I still haven't quite found what I was looking for (stories of women living adventure) but I hope that this can turn into a large crowd-sourced database that can be used both as a tool for wider research, and one for thinking about and questioning our viewing choices.


A note on gender: categorised based on the gender that the protagonist identifies as for the majority of the film.

©2020 Kriti Bajaj