This is the 10th year The Pixel Project has curated a selection of thought-provoking and powerful documentaries, feature films, and television series that depict violence against women (VAW) in its various forms.
This year’s list predominantly highlights programmes that have debuted over the past two years; a period of time in which the momentum of the #MeToo movement has continued to inspire stories based on true events of women reporting harassment and abuse and receiving (or being denied) justice. We have also included a small number of older films and documentaries that depict forms of VAW that are not at all new – child marriage, rape as a weapon of war, sex trafficking – but that continue to be unresolved and shoved aside.
Refreshingly, a number of the films on this list tell stories of VAW from a new perspective, dealing with intersectionality better than before, and depicting comeuppance for the perpetrators of VAW, whether in the form of legal and social justice or deliciously brutal and entertaining revenge. Some are unsettling and heartbreaking, but all are thought-provoking. Once again, most of the films are new productions and available for streaming through on-demand services.
We hope that these films, documentaries, and TV series not only bring you more understanding about gender-based violence, but also inspire you to examine the world around you and take some kind of action to bring about change to stop VAW in your own community. And if you are specifically interested in revenge movies about VAW, check out our list of 10 feminist revenge films about VAW that make you think.
Introduction by Anushia Kandasivam with additional content by Regina Yau. Written and compiled by Anushia Kandasivam.
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Film Selection #1: Angela Black (2021 – )
The new six-part drama Angela Black is about a woman living through the horror of domestic abuse. Inspired by personal accounts of coercive control from survivors in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it also coincides with the UK’s current national conversation about femicide and calling on men to end their violence against women. The titular Angela seems to have an idyllic marriage but, in reality, she is suffering in silence from emotional, psychological, and physical abuse at the hands of her husband. The violence is almost entirely off screen but the show makes it clear that it has happened. Part thriller – a mysterious stranger appears with shocking revelations – the series still deftly handles the indiscriminate nature of domestic abuse, including the reactions of friends and family. This series is available to stream on ITV.
Film Selection #2: Bombshell (2019)
Bombshell tells the true story of the sexual harassment scandal that took down the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes. The films follows journalists Gretchen Carlson, the woman who first accused Ailes, Megyn Kelly, at that time the network’s rising star, and a young woman who stands for a combination of several real-life characters. (In the end, more than 20 women accused Ailes of harassment). Highly entertaining with stellar performances from the leads – the viewer watches the situation at the network spin slowly out of control before power is regained by the women – it is also a shocking insight into how men in power abuse that power with impunity, secure in the knowledge that nobody will call them out.
Film Selection #3: Bulbbul (2020)
Set against the backdrop of 1880s Bengal Presidency, Bulbbul starts with a precocious child bride, the titular character, who forms a sweet friendship with her husband’s youngest brother Satya, who is closer to her age. Satya is sent overseas to study and returns years later to a much changed home: his oldest brother has disappeared, his second brother was murdered in his sleep, Bulbbul now has an unsettling self-assured energy, and the villagers tell whispered tales of a demon-woman haunting the forest and killing men. While Satya tries to solve the mystery of murdered men with logic, Jonathan Harker style, the viewer slowly learns about the horrors that happened during his absence and why the demon is targeting these particular men. An atmospheric gothic horror, this film is about abuse and revenge, with an underlying message about the far-reaching consequences of violence against women. This Hindi-language film is available on Netflix.
Film Selection #4: Captive (2021)
This documentary by journalist and filmmaker Mellissa Fung is about three girls trying to piece their lives back together after being held captive by terror group Boko Haram during the brutal war in northeastern Nigeria. Captive follows Zara, Asa’u, and Gambo over four years as they grapple with the physical, psychological, and social scars of abduction, rape, and violence, and being marked by stigma by their own communities. Fung herself was once a captive of a terror group, having been kidnapped by Afghan rebels in 2009 and held in a pit for a month. Because of this, she tells the girls’ stories with empathy and the documentary sometimes feels like an exchange of stories by survivors.
Film Selection #5: Delhi Crime (2019 – )
This Indian crime drama depicts the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case and follows a tenacious Deputy Commissioner of Police and police officer, both women, as they investigate the crime and lead the manhunt for the perpetrators. Gripping yet difficult to watch, the series focuses on the investigation and police actions rather than the brutal events of the crime. Director Richie Mehta, who obtained permission from the victim’s family for the series, said that he realised that an “analysis of hunting these guys is also a way of understanding why these things happen.” The series will continue with a different case in season two and live on as an anthology on Netflix.
Film Selection #6: India’s Rape Scandal (2021)
Another difficult-to-watch but necessary film about the pervasiveness of violence against women in India, India’s Rape Scandal is a documentary that follows two of the most high-profile rape cases in the country and explores how police, political corruption, and societal bias led to their cover-ups. This documentary is produced by Channel 4’s current affairs programme Dispatches and presents an unflinching report about the depth and breadth of corruption and how little women, especially those from low-caste families, matter to men in power. The full documentary is available on Channel 4’s website (requires a sign-in).
Film Selection #7: Knots: A Forced Marriage Story (2021)
Child marriage is a huge and pervasive problem in the US; it is legal in 46 out of 50 states and affects children as young as 12. This feature-length documentary follows three forced marriage survivors – Nina, Sara, and Fraidy – as they talk about their lives and the circumstances of their marriages to adult men while they were children, and about their fight to escape and survive. The film also follows the advocates, experts, and lawmakers who are fighting to end this human rights abuse in the U.S. Eye-opening in that it explains current laws, reveals traditions that lead to child marriage, and shows how it impacts communities, the film is also about the strength of the women who survive to fight for future generations.
Film Selection #8: Maid (2021)
This limited drama series was inspired by American author Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. It tells the story of young mother Alex Russel just after she has left an abusive partner, running with her two-year-old daughter to a shelter. She gets a low-paying job cleaning houses and starts to piece her life back together while raising her daughter and dealing with government assistance, a dysfunctional family, and her abusive ex-boyfriend in a system that does not make it easy for single mothers or abused women. The film shows the insidious effects of emotional abuse and the demoralising formal procedures of completing labyrinthine forms to obtain government help, as well as how it’s possible to survive world-destroying changes with persistence and support. This series streams on Netflix.
Film Selection #9: Moxie (2021)
A fun and entertaining ride, Moxie is also an insightful look at the challenges girls face in navigating a conformist world, especially when they are told to keep their heads down and that ‘boys will be boys’. Based on the YA novel by Jennifer Mathieu and directed by Amy Poehler, the story is inspired by the riot girl era of the ‘90s. Present-day protagonist teen Vivian ignites a raging feminist movement at her high-school through an anonymous punk ‘zine that calls out the boorish behaviour of the boys at school and the sexist administration. The girls of the school come together, revealing their individual stories of harassment, assault, and exclusion and discover their strength and determination. The film also, refreshingly, addresses intersectionality in the feminist movement and shows different perspectives and reactions of girls and women to the movement. This film is available on Netflix.
Film Selection #10: Òlòturé (2021)
Òlòturé is a Nigerian crime drama film about the titular Nigerian journalist who goes undercover to expose the underworld of sex and human trafficking in Lagos. The film is based on the true story of Nigerian journalist Tobore Ovuorie, who in 2013 worked eight months undercover in Nigeria and emerged with a terrifying account of victims of sex trafficking. The film is a no-holds-barred depiction of the brutality of the world of sex trafficking, where women are treated like chattel to be bought and sold and their lives have no meaning. Òlòturé has triggered a passionate debate in Nigeria about the sex trade and what’s being done to stop it. This film is available on Netflix.
Film Selection #11: Polytechnique (2009)
Intense and atmospheric like all Denis Villeneuve films, Polytechnique uses this style to drive home the incomprehensible horrors of femicide and misogyny. This French Canadian film depicts the events of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, an antifeminist mass shooting at an engineering school in Montreal where a lone gunman murdered 14 women and injured 10 women and four men. The story is told through the eyes of two female students who witness and survive the incident. The film does not attempt to moralise what happened, instead showing the violence and resentment of the shooter as he cuts a swathe through his fellow students. Though it came out 12 years ago, the film and the events and emotions it depicts are still shocking and horribly familiar.
Film Selection #12: Promising Young Woman (2020)
This critically acclaimed thriller tells the story of Cassie, a medical school dropout who works at a coffee shop and spends her nights feigning being drunk and trapping creepy men who try to take advantage of her. It soon becomes clear that there is something driving Cassie’s need for punishment and revenge – her best friend was raped in college with no investigation or redress by the school or authorities. The film’s title is a play on the harmful belief of many a legal system that punishing a ‘promising young man’ for his crimes would rob him of his future. While watching men get their comeuppance is highly entertaining, the film really addresses issues that are seldom explored, including how sexual violence affects not just the victim but those closest to her for years, leaving them unable to reach their full potential.
Film Selection #13: She Will (2021)
She Will tells the story of an ageing actress who goes on a healing retreat to the Scottish highlands with her nurse after a double mastectomy. The surgery and healing process open up past traumas, causing her to remember and examine memories of mistreatment by powerful men when she was a young actress. Full of gothic symbolism and arthouse tricks to engage the viewer emotionally, this film explores the #MeToo movement from a unique perspective, reframing the consequences of VAW, and ultimately telling the story of female empowerment through collective understanding.
Film Selection #14: The War Against Women (2013)
This documentary explores the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the use of women as a battleground, and the war tribunals that follow. The documentary was filmed over three years in ten different countries, including Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It tells survivors’ stories and examines why sexual violence is used in this way. Eye-opening and heartbreaking, the film is a call to action for governments and the international community to pay more attention to an oft-ignored war crime and crime against humanity. This film is streaming on Netflix.
Film Selection #15: The Whistleblower (2010)
The Whistleblower is about an American police officer-turned UN peacekeeper who, while on assignment in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999, discovers a Bosnian sex trafficking ring serving and facilitated by an American military contractor. It is inspired by the story of Kathryn Bolkovac who filed a lawsuit against her military contractor employer for unfair dismissal after whistleblowing about the sex trafficking ring. The film has come under criticism for graphic scenes of violence but the filmmakers, who had conducted heavy research into the scandal, have said that everything depicted about the victims was accurate and even toned down. It depicts the moral quagmire of war and corruption, the hopelessness of fighting the system, and the moral strength and fortitude required to stand up for what’s right.
Film Selection #16: Tina (2021)
Musician Tina Turner has been a best-selling artist and powerhouse performer for almost half a century. This documentary follows her life and career from the beginning to present day, with frank storytelling from Turner herself and anecdotes from her famous friends. In 1976, Turner ran away from her then husband, also a famous and talented musician, and filed for divorce after enduring years of abuse at his hands. It was a huge public scandal at the time and the story followed her around for years. Despite this, Turner staged a powerful comeback and seemed to have ‘overcome’ her problems but, as the documentary discovers, reality is more complicated and the past is “always lurking around the corner.” Even so, Tina depicts how a determined and tenacious woman can survive trauma to become a successful and powerful force. This film is available on HBO.
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