Tag Archives: Gina Prince-Bythewood

The Films the Oscars Forgot, Part 1

You’re going to have years when someone isn’t represented in the Oscar nominees. All five Best Directors being men? Nine out of 10 Best Picture nominees being directed by men? You’re going to have years like that, just like you’re going to have years when all five Best Director nominees are women and nine out of 10 Best Picture nominees are directed by women. That’s just the way variance works and – wait, what?!? There’s never been a year like that for women? Only four out of 65 Best Director nominees since 2010 have been women, and that’s such a statistical uptick we’ve celebrated it?

Look, this is one of the few years where I feel the Oscars got the Best Picture right. Normally if they remember to nominate a movie like “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, it’s astounding they recognized it – let alone seeing it win. But the full scope of the nominees remains staggeringly narrow.

This is not an article about films by women. I’ve got some in here written and directed by men that were overlooked, too. I just took my list of best films and looked at the ones that saw no Oscar nominations whatsoever. My guideline for this isn’t: select films by women. But there’s zero way of looking at the Oscars and understanding their guideline as anything but: overlook films by women. Just four out of 65 nominees. When I do an article about the best films the Oscars overlook, what do you think’s going to come up?

We constantly complain about a lack of originality in Hollywood, while overwhelmingly watching films from the same narrow band of perspectives that have been platformed for a century in filmmaking. What do you think’s going to happen?

The Oscars are recognizing more than they did before, and that means being more inclusive than before. But getting one step of the work done doesn’t mean all the work’s done. It can be true that the winner this year was the right choice, and that the nominations as a whole still have a mountain of work to do.

These are the best films that didn’t get a single Oscar nomination, and many of them deserved nominations in any fair fight. You’ve also got a film or two that didn’t meet eligibility requirements, which are a mish-mash that already disqualify an enormous number of independent, streaming, and international titles.

Mad God

written & directed by Phil Tippett

We’ll start off with my most controversial pick, and I mean just among myself. My own internal monologue is asking me, “Are you sure?” and it’s responding, “Damn straight”. That’s because “Mad God” is a test of patience and fortitude, an unimaginably painstaking stop motion film from Phil Tippett.

The man is a legend in visual effects, having done the stop motion and miniatures for the original Star Wars trilogy, “Dragonslayer”, and “RoboCop”, and the visual effects for “Willow”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Starship Troopers”. He evolved from an animation director of stop motion and optical effects to one overseeing CGI. 30 years in the making, “Mad God” mixes these with puppetry and live action.

What’s “Mad God” about? A courier descends from the heavens to journey through layered histories of worlds that have each destroyed themselves. If you’ve ever seen a contemporary art installation that one of you’s going to love and be moved by and the other is going to be repulsed by and immediately leave, this is that. If you don’t have the stomach for gross and gore, don’t touch the film. One of its medical scenes is as close as I’ve come to feeling like a night terror’s been realized on screen.

I’m not usually one for that kind of thing, so why do I still like this? Its episodic journey through dense environments of violence and brutality doesn’t feel egotistical or fetishized; it feels reflective of the horrors we read about every day. It feels understanding of our smallness in the face of genocides, systemic abuses, and disasters.

My greatest fear is that this is all humanity is, that anything good or kind I do, or that anything anyone’s done to dodge or minimize harm doesn’t matter. My fear is that in numbers we constantly regress into destroying ourselves, that not enough rise against this cruelty for long enough to make a difference. Part of me knows that each kindness, protest, and the work of activism adds up to a mountain of effort that avalanches into momentum. Part of me knows that each cruelty, abuse, and con does the same. “Mad God” envisions that fear in all its horror. It even asks, “What if that’s all there is?” It doesn’t feel good, but it gives me a space to confront and process it.

That’s what the best contemporary art accomplishes. It creates a hall of mirrors to start reflecting pieces of ourselves inside. Where “Mad God” pushes even beyond this is in considering our creations of divinity. Regardless of whether a particular divinity is real, we certainly do a job of projecting ourselves onto it. “Mad God” works as both a cocktail of human horrors and a creation myth of universes each doomed to self-destruction. To beget something as violent as humanity’s been, how grotesque must divinity be if we’re made in its image? To beget a divinity that licenses and allows our cruelty, how much cruelty must we project onto it in order to justify permitting our own? If divinity is that hall of mirrors, what the hell are we reflecting?

Many of the films we celebrate each year are versions of stories we’ve seen before. I’ve seen no version of “Mad God” before. It is, perhaps, deeply flawed. It is certainly repulsive. While there are influences or fitting stop motion companion pieces to it, such as Mark Osborne’s short “More”, Fred Stuhr’s music video for Tool’s “Sober”, or Jan Svankmajer’s surreal “Alice”, “Mad God” is something for which there is no other version. That makes it the best and worst example of what it is, and what it amounts to is a truth about humanity at large that I sometimes fear overbears the other truths we carry.

Petite Maman

written & directed by Celine Sciamma

Nelly is 8. Her grandmother has died. Her parents clean out her grandmother’s home, filled with memories of her mother’s youth. Nelly has little to do, so plays in the woods. She meets another little girl, Marion. Somehow, Nelly has met her own mother, when she was Nelly’s age.

The concept is explored slowly and simply. The two girls aren’t there to ask sci-fi questions about time travel or come up with a solution to their mystery. There’s no ticking clock or magical quandary. They build a hut from tree branches, play board games, and put on a play for no one else but themselves. In these simple activities rests a profound and needed connection, one that speaks to Nelly’s fracturing family and Marion’s own well-being.

Celine Sciamma is the writer and director of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Girlhood”. I’d argue she’s our best director working today, but that’s for another article. Suffice to say “Petite Maman” is her lightest touch yet. Sciamma can sit you in moments that are passing and forgettable in ways that make you realize how human and deeply caring they are. An observation from a child can describe the situation of an adult more succinctly than our greatest writers. The smallest and most ordinary act can be a towering expression of love.

Sciamma explores a child’s fear and confidence as the shape of her world changes. She explores how generations can care for each other, yet be incapable of communicating the impact of loss between them. She explores how a child sees a parent’s chronic illness, and comes to understand it with maturity. “Petite Maman” feels like every moment of it really happens, that this tale is as natural as a windy day.

The film presents what happens as real, confirmed by other characters in different ways. Yet even if it is metaphor or imaginary friend, that demarcation becomes unimportant because it represents something real to a child. It represents what they are going through. That internal reality has to be the film’s and thus ours as well. Anything else wouldn’t be a true window into Nelly’s experience.

Sciamma doesn’t overwhelm you; she gives you the space to overwhelm yourself. These acts and expressions of care often go unrecognized in our lives. She simply recognizes them with us. She opens a window onto other people’s lives so that we might understand our own better. I leave all her films feeling gentler and, I truly think, understanding kindness better.

The Woman King

directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
written by Dana Stevens, Maria Bello

“The Woman King” easily stands beside other historical epics in terms of visuals, design, acting, story – everything you want out of the genre. The African Kingdom of Dahomey is at a crossroads, on the precipice of war with its neighbors and debating its participation in the slave trade even as European nations encroach. Viola Davis plays Nanisca, the general of the nation’s all-women fighting corps.

Thuso Mbedu’s Nawi is given up by her father to the army and undergoes grueling training to become a soldier as war breaks out. Under the tutelage of Lashana Lynch’s veteran Izogie, she learns to manage her training in conjunction with her independent streak. There are battle scenes, political intrigue, even a forbidden love story. It’s all well done, and none of it pretends that the era can only be presented in muddled gray-blues the way our historical epics about Europe are.

Why didn’t “The Woman King” get more recognition? It suffered a concerted effort from right-wing social media to de-legitimize its launch. Click on any video or article about it and you can see a deluge of comments criticizing the film for pretending Dahomey didn’t have slaves of its own. Except this is wrong. Not only is Dahomey depicted having slaves of its own, whether it should continue participating in the slave trade is the entire plot of the movie. Yet the controversy allowed conservative media to make the argument that if Black filmmakers were erasing an African country’s history of slavery (they didn’t), why shouldn’t white people be allowed to do the same? This is an argument easily disproved by watching the actual movie, or even just the opening text crawl of the movie, but the average Fox News viewer or Kiwi Farms poster isn’t going to do that when they could just spend that time getting angry about something they made up.

The astroturfing didn’t stop there – conservatives went on about how the women army unit of Dahomey lost in both battles it fought, in 1890 and 1892, as if the two-and-a-half years Europeans had bothered to record was somehow a representative history of a unit that was in service for more than 200 years. If I looked at two later years of Vietnam and extrapolated that it meant the United States’ military was a joke that had never won any battle or war, I’d be laughed out of any room where someone hadn’t already punched me in the face. So why would we do the same to someone else’s history (hint: cause racism!)

Yet this concerted effort across conservative media and mainstream social media hamstrung the film, discouraged audiences, and blunted enough support to turn American awards bodies away (“The Woman King” did fine overseas at the BAFTAs with two nominations, for instance). We accept deeply inaccurate historical films all the time. There’s virtually no scene in “Braveheart” that isn’t rife with inaccuracies (Robert the Bruce, who betrays William Wallace in the film, never betrayed him and was the actual figure celebrated in Scottish history as Braveheart; none of its battles happen the way they’re presented; the princess Wallace gets pregnant was three years old at the time; there’s a whole list of this). In fact, “The Woman King” is probably on the more accurate side of historical epics – not that this is saying all that much given the genre. So why do we suddenly care if a historical epic has inaccuracies? (hint: cause racism!)

Choose to watch the film, however, and you get a lively, engaging, visually exciting, and terrifically acted drama.


directed by Dan Trachtenberg
written by Patrick Aison, Dan Trachtenberg, Jim Thomas

With apologies to whichever guns you think are top or most mavericky, “Prey” is the best Western action movie since “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”. This is due to the film’s focus on character development and plot. What’s all that nonsense doing in a modern action movie? Hearkening back to an age when action-adventure movies didn’t leave off the ‘adventure’ side of things. I like my action-action movies and my action-romances and my join the Navy-join the Navy movies, but action-adventure still has a very compelling place.

The fifth main entry in the “Predator” series is the best by far, and a remarkably technically accomplished one. If you’re not familiar with the franchise, it tells the story of an alien race that treats the Earth as a hunting ground, complete with the kind of trophy killing our hunters take part in. Humans inevitably prove one of the most sought after prey. Landing in the Great Plains of 1719, the Predator quickly starts hunting people, Comanche and colonizer alike.

“Prey” features a mostly indigenous cast. Amber Midthunder plays Naru, a Comanche woman who bucks gender roles by wanting to hunt. She’s a good tracker, but also doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. “Prey” is intriguing because it doesn’t pose an Arnold Schwarzenegger commando, Danny Glover cop, or squad of elite military getting overwhelmed by Predators. It poses a talented but still inexperienced hunter against something unfathomable. She’s prone to make costly mistakes, but she’s also quick to observe and learn. This ratchets up the tension, and “Prey” does the best job in the series of having us notice things the hero can use right as she does.

There’s also a lesson taken from “Alien” here – the inherent tension of a woman making the right decision and men assuming she knows so little they should immediately do the opposite regardless of whether it’s smart. That speaks to something real. No matter how much you’re trained as a soldier or hunter, the one thing men are trained in even earlier is to automatically dismiss what women tell us. “Prey” portrays the cost of this bluntly.

It still may seem ridiculous to suggest a “Predator” movie is one of the best films of the year, but it really is that good. No nomination for its cinematography, which relies almost entirely on natural light, is one of the biggest oversights of the Oscars. The pacing is extraordinary and genuinely communicates the threat of a Predator as something unknowable and difficult to quantify, maddening in its otherworldly incomprehensibility. It makes the creature more than an action movie villain, it makes the Predator a horror movie stalker.

This is all paired with a surprisingly complex and moving metaphor for the horrors of colonization and genocide. It manages to take how we feel in opposition to an inhuman hunter of people and reflect it onto how we should feel for an inhumane one. There’s a scene of slaughtered buffalo as far as the eye can see, killed to starve out Native American tribes and skinned to deny them a resource and trade good – something that is real and did happen far beyond the already unfathomable extent shown in the movie. A Predator suddenly seems far less otherworldly and cruel by comparison. It’s one of the best scenes in a film this year, and it’s hardly the only pointed moment “Prey” brings to bear.

It’s a complex and thoughtful movie that delivers on action, adventure, pace, atmosphere, character, and goes above and beyond when it comes to theme and implication. You can watch it in English or a Comanche dub.

Don’t Worry Darling

directed by Olivia Wilde
written by Katie Silberman, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke

“Don’t Worry Darling” is the tale of gossip websites pitting two women against each other despite evidence to the contrary. It’s the story of yet another conservative astroturfing campaign being way more successful in de-legitimizing a woman than you’d like to believe they’re capable of. It obsesses over what day several years ago Olivia Wilde might have started dating her actor Harry Styles because we care when women do this, but shrug our shoulders when a significant portion of male directors do.

But there’s a film, too! One of the best of the year even! Did you know that? “Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t just another opportunity to de-legitimize and trap a woman in a make-believe world where men dictate reality, it’s also a complex cyberpunk tale about…well, crap…de-legitimizing and trapping a woman in a make-believe world where men dictate reality.

None of that’s a spoiler. Unlike apples-to-oranges “The Matrix” comparisons, “Don’t Worry Darling” is a cyberpunk movie that acknowledges the last 20+ years of cyberpunk filmmaking and assumes you already know how all that works. Instead, it becomes a Hitchcockian take on the genre that studies how Florence Pugh’s Alice can recognize and escape a false world. The film picks apart male supremacy movements with expert precision and doesn’t forget to highlight the extent to which complicity enables oppression.

Read any of the news about this film, and you’d think it’s more important who director Olivia Wilde is dating, or – despite a complete lack of evidence – whether that dating means she cheated on her husband (like we know for certain Steven Spielberg and James Cameron did to their wives with their actresses to our utter lack of giving a shit, as well as continuing to nominate them regularly including both their films this year. But a woman might have possibly done it maybe but also maybe not, so get the klaxons klaxoning).

Wilde leveled one of the most important films aimed at dismantling male supremacist bullshit in years, and the MRA and far right convinced people left, right, and center that her relationship history meant her film was unimportant and unworthy. How far we’ve come. We like to imagine we’re immune to the next Trump when we conform to the groundwork of it every day. Luckily, artists like Wilde are making films meant to shine a spotlight on this treatment – if only we’d watch them, and by ‘we’ I mean men as well.

Read Part 2, featuring another five films the Oscars forgot.

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Why is Conservative Brigading Focusing so Hard on “The Woman King”?

“The Woman King” has everything you could ask for in an historical epic: the fate of nations, political intrigue, large-scale battles with personal stakes, generational drama, and a star-crossed romance. The cast is superb, the sets, costumes, and cinematography all remarkable. So why is it controversial? Let’s get to that nonsense in a minute. Let’s consider the film on its own first:

We’re told in the opening text crawl that the African nation of Dahomey is at odds with its neighbors and wrestling with its participation in the slave trade. Thuso Mbedu plays Nawi, a daughter who refuses to be married off to an older man. She’s instead given to the army, which boasts a fierce corps of women fighters.

Nawi doesn’t always do what she’s told, and the first half of “The Woman King” largely follows her training. She gets to know her fellow soldiers, most notably Lashana Lynch as her mentor Izogie. The training is intense and seeing Nawi grow and find her own path forward without losing her individuality is done interestingly enough to be its own movie. Mbedu and Lynch both shine in their roles.

Meanwhile, we see snippets of the kingdom’s politics. General Nanisca, played by Viola Davis, urges John Boyega’s King Ghezo to do away with the slave trade entirely. He’s not so sure. Many in the court agree with him, since it’s their primary way to buy weapons to fight the neighboring Oyo. Ghezo’s already done away with the slave trading of fellow Dahomey, focusing instead on capturing and selling their enemy. Before long, things come to a head with the Oyo, focusing on a brutal connection between General Nanisca and the Oyo’s new general.

Swirl in that brief will-it/won’t it romance for Nawi with the visiting Malik, who is half-Dahomey and half-Portuguese, and you’ve got all the components for a riveting epic.

We’re used to these types of historical movies being told in muddled gray-blues and muted reds, showing off the history of Europe as if everyone without a suit of armor was that mud-farming peasant in the opening scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. More recently, the series equivalent has found a market in making everyone into some kind of Viking-era leather biker. This is the “gritty” that for some reason we all pretend is realistic, but more often fails a historical movie’s actual history and setting.

“The Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood courageously suggests that eras prior to this one had more than two color tones available to them. Cinematographer Polly Morgan shoots the film gorgeously with a focus on rich oranges, and more well-lit and thus natural browns, greens, and blues. There’s some beautiful use of mist. The film has a unique visual blend of side lighting characters in foregrounded shadow that’s rare but works gorgeously here. It did take me a moment to get used to an historical epic that looks more natural, since the medieval films that saturate the genre always look like they take place in a walk-in freezer. Once I acclimated, I was so glad the film was this expansive in its visuals.

There’s a later scene in “The Woman King” of a drowning and it was like watching a painting in motion. I wouldn’t describe the entire film like that, but there are visual moments that do reach this height. If I had one criticism, it would be a minor one. In films like these that span periods of time and large distances, it’s always good to have some compartmentalization of sequences. For an obvious but effective example, think of every helicopter shot montage of the Fellowship trekking over mountains in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It doesn’t have to take that shape, but the most basic form is a wide environmental shot or brief montage interlude. I could have used a dash more of this in “The Woman King” to clarify larger gaps of time in the narrative. It becomes obvious that time passes, but that visual break-up can help us start a new set of scenes understanding this, instead of realizing it mid-stream. It’s a small but important aide to our immersion.

I also like Prince-Bythewood’s approach to fight choreography. She worked with fight coordinator Danny Hernandez on both this and Charlize Theron-starrer “The Old Guard”. In that film, they had a take on what can only be described as four person co-op fight choreo. Some of that partnered choreography makes it in here as well and it’s always a joy to see that level of creativity and execution. They’re hardly the first to do this kind of partnered fight choreo, but they are breaking a lot of exciting new ground on it.

My own pet peeve: I do think the spear work’s too spinny. It’s always too spinny; a spear is treated like a staff in historical epics because advancing in formation with the pointy end keeping the enemy at bay is less exciting than spinning it around in isolation to hit someone two feet in front of you. It’s akin to hundreds of European medieval epics that treat armored soldiers like turtles who couldn’t easily get up from their backs, or dozens of pirate epics that have that weird hip-to-hip choreography where the fighters hold each others’ hands down so they can banter instead of just slash each others’ legs to ribbons. Many will think it looks neat, a few will think, “Just stab the guy already”. There’s always something, but overall the fight choreo is great. Pet peeve concluded.

It’s a great film, a very satisfying watch, and it stands comfortably alongside other historical military epics we’d consider great. Why is there so much controversy around it then?


Is “The Woman King” accurate? Broad swathes are. King Ghezo did end the slave trading of Dahomey’s own people and focus on selling captive enemy. He did pursue the palm oil trade as a replacement for slave trading entirely. Our histories tell us this is largely due to Britain’s eventual anti-slavery stance, and pressure they applied to African states in the region, but let’s remember these histories were written by the British and gave credit for anything and everything to the British.

That doesn’t serve as proof that things happened differently, but we have many other histories from the same era where the British habitually took credit for things that indigenous populations clearly accomplished instead. Might the truth have been more mixed in Dahomey? We don’t know.

Conservatives have been happy to point out that Dahomey women soldiers that Europeans termed ‘Amazons’ only took part in two major battles, in 1890 at Cotonou and 1892 at Adegon. Both involved the Dahomey being defeated soundly by French forces. This speaks to the point I just brought up. Dahomey women warriors only fought in two major battles that Europeans recorded. This ignores more than 200 years of service before this point.

Dahomey effectively conquered neighboring kingdoms with these forces deployed. During the Second Franco-Dahomean War, they created special operations units to seek out and assassinate French officers. The French often recorded praise for these women’s skill and effectiveness. Yet the two battles with the French are the major moments that survive in European records, so more than 200+ years of operation are boiled down to a span of two events that happened two years apart. That accounts for 1% of the total time the corps existed.

If I sat down for my first two meals with you, and took this as proof that you had only ever eaten twice in your life because it’s all I’ve witnessed, it would reflect far more about my reality than it would yours. If I went around and argued with people who said you’d eaten prior to this, and I insisted that you have never eaten before the two moments that I witnessed, it wouldn’t really tell anyone anything about your history of meals. It would tell people that I’d lost all tether to reality and logic. Yet this is the argument conservatives are doubling down on about the two years of military activity Europeans partially recorded out of more than 200 years.

Yet click on the trailer, clip, or just about any post and comment after comment will highlight two things about “The Woman King”. They will highlight that the movie ignores Dahomey’s history of engaging in the slave trade, which is the quickest way to tell that commenter didn’t even watch as far as the opening text crawl. But maybe you had to go to the bathroom and missed it. The Dahomey arrange captives to sell in the first scene of the film. But maybe you had to go the bathroom again, I don’t know. General Nanisca and King Ghezo talk about it several times. Their court debates whether they should end their ongoing participation in the slave trade. Various characters discuss it. In fact, Dahomey’s engagement in the slave trade is the plot of the movie. It’s what the political intrigue is about. If you’re going to the bathroom so often you missed it, see a Doctor; I’m worried about your insides. It makes up half the film. It’s clear as day that any of these commenters didn’t even bother to watch five minutes of the film.

The other thing they’ll highlight is that Dahomey’s corps of women soldiers only ever engaged in two battles that they lost, posing the film as lying about their effectiveness and just making the whole plot up. Never mind that this ignores more than 200 years of the corps’ history of operation – quite literally ignoring 99% of their existence. Conservatives ignoring 99% of women’s work isn’t anything new, but it’s always useful to point out.

Historical inaccuracy is a hell of a thing for Incel boards to organize themselves against when their entire movement patterns itself as a shallow pastiche of “300” and they celebrate movies like “Braveheart” and “The Patriot”.

Look, I can still enjoy some “Braveheart” as a deep shame-watch, but the Battle of Stirling Bridge? Happened at a bridge. Who would’ve thought? Primae noctis? No historical agreement it ever happened. Wallace’s dad killed by the English? Didn’t happen, the entire orphan myth is invented. William Wallace the highland commoner? He was a noble from the lowlands. Wallace never made it as far south as his military success is depicted in the film. The face paint Scots wear hadn’t been widely worn in battle for 1,000 years, and the tartan kilt they all wear wouldn’t be worn for 500 still. The nickname Braveheart? Robert the Bruce’s, not William Wallace’s. Isabella of France, the princess he secretly impregnates at the end? She would have been three years old at the time – actually, wait, that’s part of the Incel platform, isn’t it?

The point being that if you’re going to be fine with a film of that ilk, or really just about any medieval European historical drama, “The Woman King” makes significantly more effort toward a level of involving accurate events and historical developments. I would put it as easily more accurate than most films and series in the historical epic genre, which to be fair, still isn’t saying it’s particularly accurate. The major two points being brigaded are complete nonsense, though.

Who cares about comments? They do shape perception. I consider myself pretty jaded and analytical about this, and even though I knew where the comments were coming from and that they were a brigaded effort, I still went into the film thinking that it wouldn’t engage Dahomey’s participation in the slave trade. Hear something enough and you don’t even register the point at which a falsehood goes over the boundary and gets treated as reality. We all like to imagine we’re immune to that, but we’re not special – these things can find their way into rewriting the perceptions of any of us, which is why we have to consistently call them out and talk about them.

When it comes to brigading about this made-up criticism, conservatives online are organizing around it as an argument for justifying erasure of the history of slavery in both our education system and art. Many states are seeking to erase an honest portrayal of the United States’ history of slavery and slave trading, instead replacing it with narratives about slaves being voluntary guests. Several states have passed legislation that bans colleges from teaching critical race theory, and many other elements that portray the real history of slavery in the U.S.

If conservatives can point to “The Woman King” and (deeply inaccurately) insist that Black artists are erasing African nations’ history of slavery, the conversation gets turned into, “Why can’t we?” It turns into a double-standard where white people who want to ignore slavery happened are the victims. They’re the ones who aren’t allowed to do something that’s normal for Black creators. Never mind that what they’re saying Black creators did is a gaslighting lie that’s the direct opposite of what those Black creators actually did.

What does this brigading do, though? It’s a pursuit of normalization. For better or worse (it’s worse), many viewers rely on user review aggregates to judge whether a film is worth their time or not. Brigading user reviews is a tactic organized by conservative groups online to discredit women filmmakers and artists of color. We can pretend it’s not effective, and it certainly isn’t always, but they aren’t looking for every outing to be effective. They’re looking for the one time out of 20 where it discredits someone. We’ve known ever since Gamergate just how effective it can be. We wouldn’t have ever had to deal with Steve Bannon or Milo Yiannopoulos at such an escalated level if we’d learned our lesson nine years ago. The blueprint of their work shaped much of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign strategy, a campaign for which Bannon was CEO.

You don’t have to sell your own ideas if you just tear everyone down to the same level of discredit, and the quickest route to that is blunt force online brigading. It doesn’t happen on its own; that kind of brigading really does require organizational evolution. These kinds of continued efforts still serve as a research and development lab for the next round of it, and conservative online focus on “The Woman King” is one part of the front line on the latest effort seeking to discredit Black history and Black voices.

If you’ve seen those comments or reviews, watch “The Woman King” to actually know what’s in it. If you want to enjoy a bunch of great performances and some beautiful cinematography and design, watch “The Woman King”. If you’re tired of muddy Viking biker gangs slowly discovering the secret choreographic advantage of getting up after falling down in a world that takes its visual inspiration from Eiffel 65’s 1998 pop hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”, and you want to see something good and satisfying instead, watch “The Woman King”.

You can watch “The Woman King” on Netflix.

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New Shows + Movies by Women — Shirakawa, Dahomey, Sicily

You may notice a few changes. First of all, it’s Thursday! What’s this doing a day early? I’m going to move New Shows + Movies by Women from Friday to Thursday. I’d like it to be a permanent move, but I want to make sure it works well first. It’s a better day for readership, and it gives readers a little more prep time to plan ahead for their weekend viewing. I’ll still cover everything coming out through Friday for the week.

I’m also playing around with titling. Dates are good, but they don’t grab people. Folks don’t click on something that says April 2022 because it’s now out of date…yet the shows and movies featured in that article will still be just as directed by women as they were a year ago. The purpose of the article and information it has doesn’t change or lose value, and the title should reflect that. Besides, the date remains the first thing after the title when you click through.

New series this week come from Japan, while new movies come from Italy and the U.S.


Dearest (Netflix)
directed by Tsukahara Ayuko

Japanese series "Dearest" on Netflix.

(Yes, Netflix is still terrible about releasing trailers for their smaller international licenses.)

In this Japanese series, Rio is a businesswoman who discovers she witnessed a murder 15 years prior. She has to navigate this newfound responsibility between the contrary urges of an old flame detective and a protective lawyer.

Tsukahara Ayuko directs. She’s directed a ton of Japanese series, including on Nogi Akiko’s “MIU404”, which landed last month (and which I loved).

“Dearest” is another in Netflix’s recent push to bring on more Japanese broadcast series.

You can watch “Dearest” (or “Saiai”) on Netflix. All 10 episodes are available immediately.


The Woman King (Netflix)
directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

“The Woman King” depicts Dahomey, an historical kingdom that counted among the most powerful nations in Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega star.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood also helmed “The Old Guard”, “Beyond the Lights”, and “The Secrets Life of Bees”. She started in the 90s as a writer on “A Different World”.

You can watch “The Woman King” on Netflix.

Game of Love (Hulu)
directed by Elisa Amoruso

Bella Thorne stars as Vivien, whose partner Roy is preparing the family estate for sale. She discovers secrets about his past that put their romance in jeopardy. The film is Italian, but English language.

Elisa Amoruso has directed and co-written a number of romantic dramas, including Thorne’s previous “Time is Up”, which forms a loose franchise with “Game of Love”.

“Game of Love” debuts Friday, Feb. 17. You can watch it on Hulu.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Efficient, Concise, Satisfying Action — “The Old Guard”

“The Old Guard” is beautifully restrained. It should be more difficult to describe a movie this violent with those words. That’s what “The Old Guard” is, though. It’s a somewhat old-fashioned (think mid-2000s style) action movie joined with modern sensibilities and absolutely perfected. Like the stellar fight choreography, it’s efficient. It gets in, does what it wants to do, and leaves you wanting the sequel immediately. I already know I’m going to re-watch it because it’s going to be easy as hell to re-watch.

“The Old Guard” stars today’s leading action hero, Charlize Theron, as an immortal who can’t die. She pals around with three other immortals who can’t die, trying to do good in a world that increasingly makes that feel inconsequential. Beneath the movie’s more driving plot, this is quietly its most effective idea. When even those who’ve lived for thousands of years feel like they can’t make a difference, what are those who’ve put years in supposed to feel?

“The Old Guard” centers on a sniveling, egotistical Martin Shkreli-alike who wants to capture our heroes. Why? He wants to extract the secret of their immortality so he can one day market it as a pharmaceutical. I’m not sure if that premise is a bit cheesy or disturbingly relevant. It’s not really what the movie’s about, though. “The Old Guard” is about whether anything we do matters, and answers this in a surprisingly touching way in between bouts of Charlize Theron hacking people apart with an axe.

The story is told to us through the classic ‘new recruit’ trope – we learn because there’s a new immortal. Nile was a soldier in Afghanistan one day, and the next she simply can’t die. Since she has to learn what immortality is all about, we get to as well. We’ve seen that approach a thousand times, but because this is done in a mature, considered way where everyone talks like adults and asks pertinent questions about what’s happening to them, it doesn’t feel like it’s ever wasting the viewer’s time. Often, things are explained through action, and there are zero “tell me about my new powers, but first who’s that boy” distractions.

When I say it plays like a mid-2000s style action movie, I mean this in a good way. Sure, most action movies from that era weren’t great. Same goes for most action movies from any era. Same goes for most movies from any genre of any era. The approach to mid-2000s action had a lot of value, though.

Whether “Bourne”, Bond, or Beckinsale, the 2000s-style action movie was usually episodic in its telling. These episodic sequences would conclude with an action scene that either forced a change in plot, character dynamic, or cued up the switch to a new location. They were efficient and so were their characters. Action was tight and didn’t overstay its welcome, prizing quality over length of sequence. The best of these movies rarely wasted energy or contained excesses. They stayed focused on their characters. The more complex the plot, the more the film tightened to those characters to show us how they inserted themselves into that plot.

There would also usually be an assault on a shining, modern, glowingly white techno-castle built with glass that wanted to shatter so bad it essentially quivered with anticipation (unless it was a goth-action movie; then it was an actual castle and stone walls that burst in a shower of rubble if you so much as breathed on them).

There’s an absolute pleasure in these kinds of movies, especially in an age of bloat. They focus in on character over bombast. Rarely is the world at stake. Usually it’s something much closer and more accessible to viewers – characters’ own lives or freedom, the lives of a handful of people, or their idea of who they are.

These days, I’m a bit worn on superhero movies, though I still love them. But come on – none of them are examples of lean, efficient storytelling. I’m not saying they’re worse or better or anything. I’m just saying we have a surplus of them, and not as much of this kind of more efficient action movie. It’s refreshing to have a movie that’s essentially about a type of superhero that just gets on with its storytelling.

Then there’s the other type of modern action movie we see:

That’s the extremely bloated, grittastic action drencher that invariably features the secretly-wants-to-die hunk-chop beef-cheese hero communing with his gaping punctured lung as the driving electrobeat freezes in a drone long enough for him to consider the dichotomy of the release of death and a sudden appreciation for the beauty in life, while we wonder if their sniper will shoot him before his sniper shoots their sniper before their helicopter shoots his sniper before he has a chance to dropkick one more dude for good measure (wussup “Extraction”, I love you!) The point is, it’s also refreshing to have something that is completely disinterested in grit, wallowing, self-hatred, Soderberghian-yellow air, or trying to be Hemingway-but-only-the-drunk-parts.

“The Old Guard” conveys emotion without having to beat you over the head with it. It’s funny and charming without having to turn everything (or anything) into a laugh line or memeable moment. It’s a low-stress action movie, which is not the style of action movie that usually gets made right now. And yet that doesn’t mean it lacks in thrill, quality, beauty, or even wow factor.

The direction is good, the storytelling concise and to the point, the performances all deliver a lot of emotional information in quick beats, and the fight choreography is an utter dream. It’s eminently watchable, and completely satisfying.

“The Old Guard” can be watched on Netflix.

Does “The Old Guard” Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “The Old Guard” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Charlize Theron plays Andy and KiKi Layne plays Nile. They’re the film’s two leads.

In addition, Natacha Karam plays Dizzy, Mette Towley plays Jordan, Van Veronica Ngo plays Quynh, Olivia Ross plays Celeste, Anamaria Marinca plays Dr. Kozak, and Majid Essaidi plays Sadeq.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. Each of the characters just listed except Dr. Kozak speaks to another of the women characters.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Andy and Nile speak about tactical plans, their individual history, women in their families, and a range of other topics. Dizzy and Jordan speak about Nile. Celeste is a brief character with one of the most powerful scenes.

As a note, the film is directed by a woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood. I also try to note when male-dominated fields are held by women in the crew: One of the two directors of photography is Tami Reiker, and the editor is Terilyn A. Shropshire.

Getting back to Bechdel-Wallace, the film does pretty well on this front. Of course, it fulfills the three questions, but that’s always only a start. The film respects the women in it and centers its focus on their perspective of the world. In a clever way, it also tackles the perspectives of two generations looking at the state of the world – one through Theron asking if anything they’ve done has made things better, the other through Nile tackling the problems they’re still struggling to understand with hope and fresh determination.

It’s also a fairly inclusive film on other fronts. Major roles featuring Black actors include KiKi Layne as Nile and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Copley, an ex-CIA contact. One of the immortals is played by Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari. Several supporting roles feature actors of color.

Two of our immortals are in a same-sex relationship and the movie treats this as most other films would treat a heterosexual one: the casual everyday partnership of life, the romantic moments, the desire, it’s all there. It doesn’t feel tokenistic; it feels genuine and valued.

The film isn’t as diverse as the world, but it’s a lot closer than most movies of its type.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Shows + Movies by Women — July 10, 2020

This is a pretty great week for interesting choices. There are first-rate horror, period, action, musical, anime, political thriller, and documentary offerings. Let’s get into the new shows and movies by women quickly, but first I’ll mention one other short documentary that crossed my radar.

“The Claudia Kishi Club” is a short, 17-minute documentary supporting Netflix’s new show “The Baby-Sitters Club”. It’s directed by Sue Ding and talks about young Asian-American readers being able to see themselves as a protagonist when reading the YA novel series on which the show’s based. You can watch it on Netflix here.

On to this week’s features:

Relic (digital rental)
directed by Natalie Erika James

A grandmother may have dementia, may be seeing horrors, or could be facing both. She goes missing. Her daughter and granddaughter turn up to look for her, and everything starts descending bit by bit. The film’s been compared to recent horror surprises like “Hereditary” and “The Babadook” in its slow-burn approach to psychological horror.

Director Natalie Erika James chose to make the film look as natural as possible, opting for animatronics and keeping to a single location. Perhaps the most striking visual element from the trailer is the primary use of light sources that are within the scene. The result can border on murky in moments, but it feels much closer to our reality than more cinematic lighting approaches usually do.

This is James’s first feature. The Japanese-Australian director grew up in Japan, China, and Australia, and she’s discussed the influence that Asian horror has had on her filmmaking – that horror often comes from restraint and suggestion.

You can watch “Relic” for $6 on Amazon, or $7 on iTunes, Vudu, or YouTube.

First Cow (Amazon)
directed by Kelly Reichardt

This hit theaters in March, right when the pandemic was closing everything down. If you know Kelly Reichardt’s name, it’s from character dramas that feel quietly real. They can be both affirming and heartbreaking. Her best known film is “Wendy and Lucy”, about a woman who’s living in poverty and loses her dog.

“First Cow” is about a cook and a Chinese immigrant in the 1800s. They start a business with a cow whose milk they don’t own.

Some directors can present entire worlds with all their loudness and complexity. Reichardt is a director who finds in quietness the world inside a character – worlds we may never know because we overlook the types of people her stories are about. Witnessing their daily lives communicates what should be an obvious humanity that we otherwise pass by and ignore in real life.

She’s often shown a fascination with harsh living and the dreams and determination of people who live on the edges of their society. She doesn’t glorify poverty, though. She just remembers the people who are often numbers and causes are still people who have stories to tell.

You can watch “First Cow” with an Amazon subscription.

The Old Guard (Netflix)
directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

“The Old Guard” is based on a graphic novel series about soldiers who have lived for centuries.

Charlize Theron has relentlessly carved out territory for women in action films. It’s easy to think this is more recent, with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the “Atomic Blonde” franchise. Yet she’s been doing this since “The Italian Job” and “Aeon Flux” in the early 2000s. KiKi Layne has impressed in recent films like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Native Son”.

Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood is perhaps best known for romance movies like “Love & Basketball” and the (very underrated) “Beyond the Lights”. A great director is a great director, though, and can usually cross genres easily.

You can watch “The Old Guard” with a Netflix subscription.

Little Voice (Apple TV series)
showrunner Jessie Nelson

“Little Voice” follows a musician trying to find her way in the world. One thing I like about the trailer is the presentation of a man who’s emotionally supportive of a woman pursuing her creative and career goals. This is something that is still all too rarely presented in movies and shows. Of course, it’s a romantic comedy and musical, so he already has a girlfriend.

We might be in an age of really exceptional romantic comedy series. Just this year we’ve already had the exceptional “Never Have I Ever” (created by Mindy Kaling and showrun by Lang Fisher) and the exceedingly charming “Love, Victor” (co-showrun by Elizabeth Berger). Huh, a genre that’s finally opening itself to the other 50% of the talent pool by seeing women run the largest new shows is doing really well, who would’ve thought?

“Little Voice” showrunner Jessie Nelson directed “Love the Coopers” and “I Am Sam”. The latter was controversial for whether Sean Penn should have played a man with an intellectual disability. The film did cast two lesser roles with actors who had intellectual disabilities.

“Little Voice” looks admirable for its diversity. It does have a lead character with autism (I don’t want to compare the two, as autism is a developmental disability, a category which includes intellectual disabilities but does not necessarily indicate one). Thankfully, some lessons may have been learned since 2001 and this role has been cast with an autistic actor, Kevin Valdez.

You can watch “Little Voice” with an Apple TV subscription.

Japan Sinks: 2020 (Netflix series)
series director Pyeon-Gang Ho

Stop giving 2020 ideas, please! “Japan Sinks: 2020” follows a family after devastating earthquakes hit Japan. Its release was initially scheduled to coincide with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan (really, what was this plan?), but the pandemic has obviously indefinitely postponed the Olympics.

The big name on this used in all the advertising is Masaaki Yuasa, who directed “Devilman Crybaby”. He’s the director here, but there’s often something in anime shows called a series director. In this case, that’s Pyeon-Gang Ho. The meanings of these roles can cover a lot of different territory. Masaaki Yuasa could just be lending his name and overseeing things from what amounts to a producer role, he could be deeply involved in every decision, or it could be somewhere in the middle.

A series director generally makes the daily creative decisions about the show and would rate somewhere between (in U.S. series terms) a showrunner and an episode director (who directs all the episodes). But just like in the U.S., the level of creative control and responsibility that entails can scale up or down depending on the other people involved.

Does Pyeon-Gang Ho deserve the same credit as Masaaki Yuasa? More? Less? It’s hard to tell without diving deeper, especially because materials advertising the show will clearly highlight the far more famous Masaaki Yuasa’s involvement.

You can watch “Japan Sinks: 2020” with a Netflix subscription.

Stateless (Netflix limited series)
showrunner Elise McCredie
directed by Emma Freeman, Jocelyn Moorhouse

“Stateless” is an Australian limited series that focuses on the country’s abhorrent treatment of refugees and immigrants. Much like the U.S., Australia has a large-scale, privatized concentration camp industry. Human rights abuses and government cover-ups have been widespread, journalists barred from facilities, and charity workers have reported the regular assault and sexual abuse of camp prisoners.

“Stateless” centers on the refugees and their families here, as well as a bureaucrat neck-deep in controversy. It stars Yvonne Strahovski, Fayssal Bazzi, Clarence Ryan, and Cate Blanchett (who also produces) among others in a standout Australian ensemble cast.

Showrunner Elise McCredie started out as an actress in Australian TV, but started gaining ground as a writer and director more recently.

Three episodes each are directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse. Freeman is a regular Australian TV director who’s worked on “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” and “Tideland”, just to name a pair of shows that are familiar in the U.S. Moorhouse is a writer-director who worked extensively in the 1990s before fading for about a decade starting in the 2000s. It was the 2015 surprise “The Dressmaker”, starring Kate Winslet, that seemed to announce her return.

You can watch “Stateless” with a Netflix subscription.

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (Netflix)
co-directed by Cristina Costantini

Walter Mercado was a famous astrologer who was watched by tens of millions. He was gender-noncomforming, yet loved and admired in millions of Latin-American Catholic households. He vanished from the public eye at the peak of his fame. “Mucho Mucho Amor” explores what happened.

Cristina Costantini is a documentary director who’s hit the ground running in her first few years. Her most well-known documentary before this is “Science Fair”, which followed competitors in the International Science and Engineering Fair.

You can watch “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” with a Netflix subscription.

Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense (Hulu, Funimation series)
co-directed by Mirai Minato

There’s a popular anime subgenre that follows characters in MMO (massively multiplayer online) games. Here, it’s a woman named Kaede Honjo who begins playing but doesn’t want her character to get hurt. She decides to put every skill point into defense. This leaves her slow and lacking skills, but virtually unassailable.

The series balances plot in reality, in the game, and then within events in the game, but is centered on in-game battles and adventures. Since there’s no trailer in English, I went with a clip, but the series has both subtitled and dubbed options available.

Mirai Minato is co-directing with Shin Onuma.

You can watch “Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense” with either a Hulu or Funimation subscription.

Your Excellency (Netflix)
directed by Funke Akindele

“Your Excellency” is a political satire from Nigeria that asks what happens if a disastrous and unqualified billionaire runs for president, but does unexpectedly well because of social media. Hmm, I can’t imagine.

The Nigerian film industry is often referred to as Nollywood, and it’s seen a number of movies cross over into American consciousness – generally with over-the-top scenes shared on YouTube. Netflix has actually done a pretty good job on including a number of Nollywood films. There’s a better collection there than in most other places accessible from the U.S.

Director Funke Akindele has acted in a number of Nigerian films and series, but has progressively found more opportunities for writing, producing, and directing. “Your Excellency” became the fourth highest-grossing Nigerian film of 2019.

You can watch “Your Excellency” with a Netflix subscription.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.