Posted March 8, 2018
By Sophie Cowley
March is around the corner, but with the inevitable sludge comes a beacon of light: Women’s History Month! In the recent article “Five Ways Museums Can Generate Empathy In The World,” Elif M. Gokcigdem poses the question: “How might one go about changing habitual and entrenched perspectives and behavior toward others?”
As Gokcigdem mentions, museums provide a safe space for reflection without the added layer of social performance. We believe that film can provide a safe space for teaching empathy to children by providing windows into our different and common experiences, and catalyzing rich conversation.
Drawing on the curriculum of Cinemania—our after school film club for 7th & 8th graders—and its emphasis on films with young protagonists from around the world, the Jacob Burns Film Center is proud to share a list of films to watch with your kids this Women’s History Month that will foster empathy. Curated by Cinemania instructor Emily Ohara, this list highlights films that are enjoyable for children and adults alike, and also sure to spark important conversations between parent and child:
The Breadwinner is a beautifully crafted tale from the creators of the Academy Award-nominated animated feature Song of the Sea (another must-see). Living in Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the early 2000s, 11-year-old Parvana is forced to provide for her family after her father is arrested. Parvana bravely defies the laws preventing women from working outside the home by disguising herself as a boy and fighting for the survival of her family.
Aisholpan is a thirteen-year-old girl striving to be the first female eagle huntress from a Mongolian nomad family. In this gorgeously shot documentary, wide in scope but cohesive in heart and narrative, the aspiring huntress has an almost sacred experience with her bird. “I just want my daughter to love her life,” Aisholpan’s father comments early on in the film. And by loving her life, this includes a “relentless commitment to expressing her true self.”
Who could forget the lovable and brilliant Matilda? Based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same title, this film tells the story of a young girl whose topsy-turvy world begins to spiral even further out of control as she faces the evil forces of her neglectful parents and terrifying principal. Matilda is an instant hero and an inspiration to girls everywhere.
Matilda is an adorable tale that, for all its whimsy, highlights the importance of education and being true to yourself. Rated PG; available to stream on Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes.
Patricia Cardoso’s Real Women Have Curves stars America Ferrara (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, another worthwhile watch), as a Mexican-American teenager torn between wanting to further her education and pleasing her traditional family by holding on to her cultural heritage.
Many film critics have noted the impact of Real Women Have Curves on this year’s breakout, female-centric hit Lady Bird. If you’ve seen both, compare and contrast the two with your child! Rated PG-13; available to stream on HBO Go, Amazon Video, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Wadjda, directed by the first female Saudi filmmaker and the first feature-length film ever shot in Saudi Arabia, continues with the theme of competition. This coming-of-age tale features a preteen girl determined to purchase a bicycle. She signs up for a Koran recitation competition to earn enough funds to purchase her dream bike, becoming increasingly educated and empowered along the way
Whether you read the book or were introduced to this story as an Academy award-nominated masterpiece, Whale Rider is a force to be reckoned with. Paikea, the film’s main character, belongs to a Maori tribe on the coast of New Zealand, a society still heavily influenced by the patriarchy. As Paikea’s aspirations for the tribal chief role take shape, her ambitions butt up against the traditions of her grandfather Koro.
Whale Rider deals with ancestral authority, the traditions and family structures of indigenous populations, and women in power. Rated PG-13; available to stream on Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes.
Whether you borrow a film from your local library or stream it online, we hope that you get the chance to watch these great films with your family! If you are not sure what age a film is appropriate for, visit Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that provides independent, age-based, and educational ratings and reviews for movies.
More importantly, take the opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion with your daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
Not sure what to talk about? Here are a few starter questions to get you going:
- What was your favorite part of the film? Why?
- What are some ways in which boys and girls are treated differently in this film?
- What would you do if you were in [protagonist’s] position?
- How is your life different from or the same as [the protagonist]?
- How can we work to improve the lives of women around the world?