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March for women is the gift that just keeps on giving,in a good way of course. And what better way to pay homage to extraordinary women who have continuously dazzled us with their brilliance  than by maintaining  this élan. Let’s talk about films and shows with strong female leads.

It’s become increasingly evident,and especially in the 21st century,just how much soft power the media has. The strongest weapon in the arsenal of a viewing platform that hopes to influence the masses is the shows or movies it broadcasts.

While unbeknownst to some,what you watch ultimately impacts your standpoint on more than one matters. To take a page from Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s book; you are what you view. The content you consume ever so subtly affects or alters the way you perceive  the world. So to give credit where credit is due; these shows aim to mirror the world we live in by presenting sensational women in all their  glory and the challenges they face in their particular endeavors as women,and quite simply,as human beings.

A well deserved strong start to our list would be : How To Get Away With Murder.

The legal drama that delivers exactly what its title reads…and more. Think exhilaration and back to back awe inspiring performances. It’s hard to  envision “strong female lead” without seeing the remarkable Viola Davis who gave the show so much of it’s candor and charisma when she repriced the role of Annalise Keating. The show follows Annalise,a criminal defense lawyer doubling as a college professor. She takes a group of students from her class as proteges and with an extreme bravado that borders hubris,leads  them down a dark and gory but equally impressive and revelatory rabbit hole.

If you’ve watched the show,you’ll have to admit that at one point or the other,from the edge of your seat watching Annalise in court, whether she was valiantly defending the honor of a client or satiricaly questioning a witness and sometimes even challenging the judges by appealing beyond their intellect to their humaneness ,you wanted to be a lawyer. Seeing her in action with her impeccable diction and her gift of gab,arouses something within you that makes you yearn to be as she is, and that’s what makes this show a list topper ; Annalise Keating.

2.The Handmaids Tale

“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum! (Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down!)”

I feel if I continue further without mentioning this particular show,I will have done us all a great disservice.

My 2017 neighbor Brandy introduced me to this revolution that has kept me raising my fist for three whole seasons. And I just remembered how I told a man about the agonizing world of The Handmaid and, his only take away from it was, “so the man gets to fuck two women at the same time?” Lawd hold me!

The Handmaid’s Tale, an extolled dystopian film adapted from the 1985 novel of the same title by Margaret Atwood. The movie is set in a theocratic society piggy backing on classism. “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” Margaret wrote.  The Handmaid’s Tale brings her infusion of poetry, merging historical and present events, her understanding of the life of women and in inspiring a revolution against the persecution of women under totalitarian regimes.

Due to certain environmental factors women and especially the Handmaid’s are viewed as little more than tools of re population. But the protagonist; Offred,has other plans for herself besides the ones dictated to her by the world she lived in. And we trace her journey and the missions she embarks on to regain a child lost to her. The show was a great success,bagging and being nominated for numerous awards including a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 2017.

I think Margaret’s message is clear. This series is a warning against falling prey under such tyrannies. It’s a reminder of all the previous feminist revolutions that have previously been unceremoniously overturned. It’s a reminder to all feminist to continue fighting against oppression because all our efforts could be annihilated if we allow leaks into our ship.

You can get more of Atwood’s insights on writing the accurate depictions of world women in this interview shared in an article on The New Yorker.

3. Queen Sugar

“Remaining silent when one must speak is the slow death of freedom.”

Funny enough, this series was recommended by a male friend who attributed its themes to “women power,” black people power” and concluded by saying, “just watch it.”

So, I went home downloaded it, lit a blunt and got ready to be amazed by the brilliant brain of Ava Duvernay.

The story revolves around two strong women Nova (played by Rutina Wesley) and Charley (played by Dawn-Lyen Gardner ) different and defiant in their quest for self-awareness, making peace with their pasts, leaving a mark in history, fighting for their family, community, race, and love.

These women break many barriers set before their paths, emerging successful among their peers, achieving recognition and making great impact in their community.

For this writer, Nova inspires me the most because of our similar interests; writing and activism. She seeks independence early in her life, searches for freedom through her art and activism, adamant in her love and a go-getter. Nova appeals to me most because she makes many mistakes, some against people she loves and others against the community she fights to clean.

Isn’t this the predicament of the human, of the artist and activist?

Her sister Charley is a successful business woman, and mother. Her story begins with her as a loving wife and manager to her husband, a famous basketballer whose team gang-rapes a woman and cheats on her serially.

She leaves her husband, goes back to her home town, Louisiana founds her own sugar mill (Queen Sugar) and works hard to raise her son, Micah, who realizes his blackness in the South of America where black people are still slaves to unfavorable work conditions and big white corporations. She eventually gets elected as a community leader.

She says, “Don’t lead with the fear of what might be, lead with the strength of who you are.”

Ava Duvernay achieves a lot with his series. From highlighting key issues and gaps in women’s and black people rights. It’s one I would totally recommend.

4. Moxie

Fourth on our list is: Moxie. Rated a solid 6.7 by IMDb. I’ll admit,if teen dramas don’t particularly tickle your fancy,you might not be motivated to watch it. A timid girl,voted most obedient by a group of macho boys in her class, fuelled in part by the spirit of rebelliousness anonymously creates a group to advocate for equity; Moxie, she names it.

The club gains traction and more girls become part of it as they lobby against a patriarchal system and attempt to bring about change in the school.  The club and it’s members  face challenges,the biggest one being the lack of support or involvement of other students in it’s welfares…and of course,the extremely popular jocks who have it in with their teachers,what’s a good teen drama without jocks? Eventually the club is successful in it’s mission and order in Rockport High School is restored.

5. Hidden Figures

“If we do not write down our ow history, someone else will do it.”

Hidden Figures also makes the list. This movie that debuted in 2016 features three black women. With a star studded cast which included renowned actress  Taraji. P. Henson and the multi talented  Janelle Monae. They were dealt an unfortunate deck as they had to deal with both racial and gender bias. Especially in a mathematical field dominated by white men charged with incredible machismo and in which they’re at the bottom of the food chain thanks to their gender and skin color.

This hindrance while challenging is not successful in disheartening the characters as they each strive,through sheer determination and an impressive sense of resilience to accomplish their goals, sexism and racism notwithstanding. Taraji admitted that it took her some practice to reel in her larger than life personality in order to play the quiet and almost timid Katherine Johnson.

These shows are virtual representations of the tribulations that constantly challenge women in their day to day lives, and if it’s any indication, which I’m strongly convicted it is, just like most of these women, we will find our way and eventually win in one way or the other in a system that has been dunked in patriarchy. And perhaps we too can remove the proverbial boot from our neck or at the very least,loosen it.

6. Kona

And here in Kenya, we have our own version of a feminist Tv Show, Kona!

Featuring the great Nini Wacera, Brenda Wairimu and other acclaimed actors, Kona is here to show us that even Kenyans are steadily rising from the shackles of patriarchy. The show revolves the Oyange family who struggle to keep their business as well as their unity. Thus follows the story of Julia, an educated woman, who inherits her father’s gym and struggles to run it in a male dominated world that would rather see her collapse.

She runs the gym better than her father and is people-oriented, bringing the business back to life. The show shows other women like Auntie Bent who leaves her polygamist husband and starts life on her own. We are also shown female boxers, who might rise to the glory of Congestina Achieng’.

I refer this as feminist because the girls were given the same rights as boys, they got to chase their dreams and also run business.
The show also feature the strife women experience trying to build their marriages and keep the family together. The show is solely built from Julia’s perspective and we watch her grow from a love stricken girlfriend to a bold, outspoken yet sensitive woman

7.She Gotta Have It

 If you read the synopsis on IMDb they will tell you that this is a series about a woman and her three lovers.

But I will tell you that this is the story of Nola (played by DeWanda Wise) who just gotta have it all; whatever she wants, she goes for it. This is in both the roles of an artist and activist. A painter with the desire to portray the female form and exude her full capacity.

She also dates three men and girlfriend who give her different kinds of love and love-making escapades. Nola is a woman who lives free, flows with the rhythm of her soul and seeks an identity that is unique and authentic. The story-telling of this blockbuster created by Spike Lee also makes it interesting to keep the audience engaged with switches between her vlog and her character.

8. The Hate You Give (THUG)

Division is how they win. Unity is how they crumble.”

Division is how they win. Unity is how they crumble.” A line that has stuck with me from  The Hate U Give, starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter; an African American high school student who witnessed the grotesque murder of her friend by a white police officer after being pulled over on their way home.  This traumatic event coupled with other societal issues ,the biggest of which is systemic racism ,sees her gradually transform into an activist seeking justice for her friend and her community.

The movie is an emotional rollercoaster and her outstanding performance is guaranteed to ignite complex thoughts and feelings within you,that I can guarantee. It’s one of those films that leaves you bereft of words but brimming with emotion,from anger to loathe to despair and  finally delivers you to a sort of awakening on matters of  racial prejudice. Incase you harbor within you the “american dream” this movie not only removes your rose colored glasses on this glorified nation,but crushes them so much so that you remain grateful to be a black man in a black mans country.

9. The Bold Type

The Bold Type; this show follows the lives of three millennial women as they navigate the workplace and attempt to balance their careers with their private and social lives. The entire main cast is female and the story is told through each of their perspectives, simultaneously. It is bombarded with quick wit and top notch humor as well as discouraging adversities and how they tackle and overcome or are overcomed  by them, be it together or individually. The primary focus of the show emphasizes the whole girl power phenomenon, but it is definitely a must watch if your go to genre is drama.

10. Mrs America

“Revolutions are messy. People Get Left Behind.”

2020 was a productive year for feminist agenda to be pushed through films, art and literature.

Mrs America is the journey of the Equal Rights Amendment with its roots in the 1970s in America.

Of course, you gotta wonder who the fuck is Mrs America? And from who’s point of view the story is told from. Is it from the conservative woman against the ERA? Or is Mrs America the valiant liberal women seeking women emancipation.

I see it as the story of the valiant women who fought for equal pay and equal rights. The women who deconstructed the notion that opportunities must accorded on the basis of sex.

The story revolves around impactful figures in the American feminist front like Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. Magazine,  Betty Friedan, Shirley Anita Chisholm, the first woman (black) to vie for presidency in America.

Not only does this story revolve around the struggles of this movement, the importance of intersectional feminism, but also reflects the fight against women ourselves.

Phyllis Schlafly is a white woman whose wealth and connections to policy making enables her to prevail under patriarchy in the guise of a ‘submissive’ woman. She begins a fight against feminism citing the movement as erosive to gender roles and God’s rules.

What follows is the downfall of the ERA, the disintegration of the women’s liberation front, but also a growing resistance to what is considered normal for women. And hey in 2017, Nevada became the first state to pass the ERA.

For me, this movie serves as a motivation to continue to fight for women’s rights, to realize that I can still change the things that I cannot accept.

Its also a call for us feminists here in Kenya to push for the Equal Rights Amendment. Our constitution deceives us that we also need a third of representation, bullshit! We occupy more than half of the world’s population; we deserve 50/50 representation of all spaces in decision-making.

There you have it folks!! If you haven’t watched them, then here’s your synopsis. Also tell us what you think about our list.

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