The "52FilmsByWomen" hashtag isn’t a new invention, but in the last few years, and especially 2017, it’s gained increasingly urgent relevance. Created and disseminated by Women in Film, a nonprofit outlet established to "achieve parity and transform culture," the tag translates into a simple pledge: Watch one movie directed by a woman each week for an entire year. Most years, completing that pledge would be the least one could do. Today, it’s a means of pushing back against rampant gender bias in the film industry.
To help those interested in putting their viewing habits to good use, Paste is highlighting some of September’s best new movies in theaters, as well as on home video, directed by women.
Release Date: September 6, 2019
Director: Chelsea Stardust
It’s tough out there for millennials. Boomers refuse to let go of levers of power, accusing the young of being unambitious, while in reality, delivering pizza is sometimes the only option when you’re neck-deep in educational debt. King bummer. Then you hop on your moped to drop off a pie, and the fancy-pants customer is a lousy tipper, and also he’s a Satanic cultist, and also his cult wants you for your virgin blood. Repeat: It’s tough out there for millennials. Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic takes the mold of horror’s Satanic cult niche and makes it young, new, vibrant, thoroughly bloody and two times as hilarious. Rebecca Romijn vamps as the cult leader, Ruby Modine goes hard as the resident Badass Who Knows Things and Hayley Griffith steps up as Samantha, the shy, plucky hero girl, constantly walking into situations and encountering terrors for which she has no context, let alone tools to handle. Stardust shoots her near-perpetual alarm up close and personal, turning Samantha’s escalating hysteria into a punchline. Satanic Panic loves gore, but loves good physical comedy even more and loves marrying the two most of all. There’s no better time of year than Fall for a good old fashioned spook-a-blast, and this year that movie is Satanic Panic. —Andy Crump
Release Date: September 13, 2019
Director: Lorene Scafaria
If you only saw the trailer from Hustlers, the flashy cash throwing, fake meltdowns outside of a hospital and, of course, the incredible athletics of Jennifer Lopez on the pole might lead you to assume that writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s film is a female version of The Hangover. Instead, Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the Universe) has crafted a story of survival and friendship that more accurately compares to classics like The Apartment. At the center of the story resides Destiny (Constance Wu). Destiny’s elderly grandma accumulated a lot of debt, her parents disappeared from her life when she was a child, and all that stands between the little family she has left and homelessness is her ability to work as a stripper. For her, being an exotic dancer pays better than anything she could get with her GED-level education. It’s legal, and it allows her to help her grandma from pawning all of her jewelry. Enter Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). If Ramona showed up at the World Pole Dance Competition, all of the other competitors would go home. She’s confident in a way that makes everyone fall in love with her. Accordingly, Lopez and Wu are dynamic together. Their back and forth works when they’re fighting, when they’re figuring out how to best cook up their drug cocktail, and when they’re sitting around the Christmas table. The gaggle of women who join their crew feed into that energy, culminating in a wonderful ensemble. Rich in character portrayal and energy, the crew is wonderful to watch—even as they systematically destroy lives. An enviably stacked cast and gorgeous cinematography by Todd Banhazl (Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer) come together to present a heartbreaking story of the distance some will travel to get their piece of the American dream. —Joelle Monique / Full Review
Release Date: September 20, 2019
Director: Jacqueline Olive
In 2014, Lennon Lacy’s body was found hanging from a swingset. Without putting much thought into their investigation, local authorities declared his death a suicide and moved on with their lives. But Lennon’s mother, Claudia, didn’t buy their declaration; she believes that her son was lynched. Given the history of Bladenboro, North Carolina, the place she calls home, the leap from possible suicide to definite homicide isn’t actually all that large, and Jacqueline Olive’s documentary Always in Season makes the case for the latter with convincing ease. Maybe it’s the South. Maybe anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon assumes, out of a sense of superiority, that the deaths of Black Americans living beneath that line must be products of malicious intent. Then again, maybe southern states in the U.S. have a deep, rich history of racism as part of their cultural legacy, and maybe lynching, once upon a time deemed a community activity rather than murder, is part of that legacy, too. Always in Season presents the audience with skeptics of Claudia’s theories too, including a local journalist who astoundingly drops a mutation of the “he was no angel” defense. For the most part, though, Olive’s subjects affirm the idea that Lennon was murdered, buttressed by the recurring presence of Moore’s Ford lynch mob reenactors. If trauma is passed down via DNA—the scars of racism inherited—then it stands to reason that evils (lynching) are passed down, too. The implications of that suggestion are as troubling as Olive’s film is haunting; she bridges scenes with overhead shots, as if to represent the prayers for justice that Lennon’s family send heavenward every single day. Always in Season may be the best and only answer they ever receive. —Andy Crump
Release Date: September 3, 2019 (Blu-ray)
Director: Olivia Wilde
Booksmart, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is another journey down the halls of a wealthy high school days before graduation, but it’s different enough to be endearing. Written by an all-female writing team—Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman—it centers on life-long besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they attempt to party one time before the end of high school. Wilde and company draw from a whimsical, rainbow palate to explore friendship at diverging roads. Feldstein and Dever shine as an odd couple. Molly wants to be the youngest person ever elected to the Supreme Court, while Amy seeks to discover what possibilities life may open up for her. Easily feeding off of one another’s energy, as Amy and Molly travel around town, jumping gatherings, trying to reach the ultimate cool kids’ party, they cross paths with a diverse array of students also attempting to hide their painfully obvious insecurities. As the night progresses, those masks begin to slip, and the person each of these students is striving to become begins to emerge. The pendulum of teen girl movies swings typically from Clueless—girl-powered, cutesy, high-fashion first-love-centered—to Thirteen, the wild, angry, depressed and running from all genuine emotion kind of movie. Most of these films lay in the space of heteronormative, white, upper or middle class, and able-bodied representation. Even in films centered on otherness, like Bend It Like Beckham, the white best friend is given equal space in the advertising of the film, and the original queer angle was written out in favor of a love triangle. Visit nearly any segment of the internet visited by Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z women, and the cry for better representation is loud and clear. There’s a fresh-faced newness of raw talent in Booksmart that begs to be a touchstone for the next generation of filmmakers. Like Wes Anderson’s Rushmore or Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides, Booksmart is an experience cinema enthusiasts will revisit again and again. —Joelle Monique / Full Review
Release Date: September 3, 2019 (Blu-ray)
Director: Pollyanna McIntosh
Pollyanna McIntosh just stealth capped off a trilogy about survivalist cannibalism and social patriarchy, and nobody saw it coming. Darlin’ picks up where Lucky McKee’s 2011 provocation The Woman left off—for those with short memories, McKee’s is the film that inspired one man attending a screening at the Sundance Film Festival to rant and rave and implore other viewers to walk out on it with him. Maybe for good reason, too. The Woman is so determinedly gruesome that Darlin’ plays it downright tame by comparison.
Everyone’s favorite feral man-eating wanderer, the Woman (McIntosh, reprising the role for the third time), kicks things off by depositing her equally feral foster daughter, Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny), at a Catholic hospital. She’s almost immediately scooped up by the Bishop (Bryan Batt), whose seemingly benevolent stance is just posturing to hide his intention of using Darlin’ to further his own agenda within the church. But the Bishop’s bitten off more than he can chew: He has no idea that the Woman is on the hunt, tracking down her adopted child, setting the film on a collision course with social conceptions of civility and bloody violence. Darlin’ is routinely disgusting; when it breaks routine, it’s downright uncomfortable. Taken together, the whole thing plays a little loose, but it’s a miracle the thing exists at all. Don’t look a gift cannibal in the mouth. —Andy Crump