Sure, everyone thinks about Guy Fawkes and plots to destroy the British government when November 5 rolls around each year, but an equally — if less literally — explosive event happened on the same day in 1872, when Susan B. Anthony cast her vote in the presidential election of that year, despite women not having the right to vote. Her attempt to be heard led to her arrest, and energized the suffrage movement in the U.S.
Standing up to The Man and supporting democracy? That’s way more worthy of celebration than trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament, even if Anthony lacked either a cool mask or fireworks to remember her by. Instead, celebrate what she fought for with these 10 documentaries about contemporary feminist issues.
LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE! (2000)
Even exotic dancers know that, as the song goes, there is power in a union — which is one of the origin points for Julia Query and Vicki Funari’s fun look at the trials and tribulations of the dancers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady as they try to create a better work environment for themselves. Try not to think about the fact that the club closed in 2013 after becoming a worker-owned co-operative in 2003.
MISS REPRESENTATION (2011)
The mantra that we are what we watch has a flip side, which is the focus of this eye-opening documentary about the lack of representation for positive female role models in mainstream American culture. If there aren’t women in influential positions in the stories we tell children, how will those children grow up to aspire to more?
DARK GIRLS (2011)
Racism inside the African-American community is at the heart of this fascinating, troubling documentary, which suggests that black women with darker skin experience forms of prejudice far beyond those of lighter skin. It’s learned behavior from a number of sources, including the media (This actually makes a great double bill with Miss Representation) and our shared history.
THE INVISIBLE WAR (2012)
Winner of a Peabody Award as well as an Emmy for Best Documentary, The Invisible War interviews veterans from multiple branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and members of Congess about sexual assault within the ranks, painting a horrifying picture of the level of abuse rife in the military.
AFTER TILLER (2013)
After the murder of George Tiller in 2009 — hence the title of the documentary — only four doctors in the United States performed late-term abortions. Each of the four are shadowed in this sobering, uncomfortable but warm look at their work, which manages to humanize the abortion debate not only by allowing the doctors responsible to speak, but also the women they’re caring for.
THE PUNK SINGER (2013)
Whatever happened to Kathleen Hanna? That’s the question at the heart of Sini Anderson, who tries to track down the lead singer of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre following her disappearance from the public eye in recent years. The answer is, sadly, Lyme Disease, and the movie focuses not only on Hanna’s impressive career, but also how she deals with her illness.
GIRL RISING (2013)
A star-studded — at least when it comes to voiceovers, with Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Kerry Washington amongst those lending their vocal talents — globe-spanning look at the experience of nine girls growing up in different countries around the world, to see how their lives differ (and what, sadly, is consistent across borders), Girl Rising inspired a movement to improve education standards for women across the world.
There remains a lot of controversy over whether or not mothers “should” breastfeed their children, and this documentary dives deep into the middle of that, talking to mothers who did, didn’t, and who tried, to find out what is “best” in this particular debate. Don’t expect a definitive answer, but the journey getting there is eye-opening for those who’ve never gone through it.
JE SUIS FEMEN (2014)
It’s possible that you’ve heard of Femen without knowing it — topless women activists aren’t that common, after all, and tend to stick in the mind once you have heard of them — but Alain Margot’s documentary about the movement (and, specifically, Oksana Shachko, its guiding light) is likely to be enough to make you want to find out a lot more.
A PATH APPEARS (2015)
Issues of contemporary gender inequality in Africa and the U.S. are explored in this brand-new PBS documentary that looks at important topics like sex trafficking, violence against women and teen pregnancy, while also investigating possible solutions.