our-heroOur Hero (2000–2002, CBC Television)
There was a period in high school where it seemed like every show I watched portrayed teen girls in one of two ways: either as complete and utter hopeless messes waiting for the right guy to come save them, or as wise-beyond-their-years outcasts who had their shit together and were waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. And then I found Kale Stiglic. Kale is the 16-year-old protagonist of Our Hero, a show that lasted just two seasons on Canada’s public broadcasting channel. In the pilot, Kale gets frustrated with her dad, who keeps using humiliating moments from her life as the basis for his humor column in the local paper. She decides to tell her own story by creating a zine, which she names Our Hero. Each episode of the show unfolds around an issue of her zine and deals with whatever problems Kale is facing. Our Hero covered realistic topics in honest ways. Like, having a boyfriend who seems liberal and openminded but who turns out to be a controlling douchebag, or being unapologetic about loving sex but still not wanting your parents to know. Yes, it was a little cheesy at times, but when I was watching it, Kale’s zine seemed like the coolest, most punk rock thing in the world. It’s a great, sweet show about making art on your own terms in order to make sense of your life. —Anna F.

In_a_World_posterIn a World (2013)
A karaoke date where two adorable characters realize they want to kiss each other while singing goofily is my all-time favorite film trope. In a World features one such scene, but that’s not the only reason it was my favorite movie of 2014. Lake Bell wrote and directed In a World, and she stars in it, too, as Carol Solomon, an aspiring voice-over performer. Carol exercises her pipes and practices different accents while working a day job as a vocal coach. Her dad, Sam Sotto, is the king of voice-over, which would be an advantage if he wasn’t also a jealous jerk, who deters Carol from her dream. Again and again, he tells her that “a female sound” just isn’t desirable in the business. Um, shut it dad, because that is FALSE. At least, that’s what Carol hopes when she is asked to audition to be the voice of a blockbuster movie trailer—a major coup. Carol marches to the beat of her own drum and has singular focus, but she doesn’t so much surmount obstacles as stumble around them, while wearing overalls and watching reality TV. In a World is a comedy about a gal trying her darndest, and it’s an excellent commentary on the gender imbalance in Hollywood. Women’s voices really aren’t audible in movie trailers, and women are made fun of for speaking with vocal fry, (even though it’s just, like, a response to the expectation to be sweet and demure). I am STOKED that Lake Bell threw some feminist commentary into her directorial debut, without turning preachy, or sacrificing laughs. —Brodie

free_angela_and_all_political_prisoners_xlgFree Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012)
Angela Davis is one of those iconic women whose fly afro, raised-fist salute, defiant face, and all-black attire makes me warm inside. When I found out Free Angela and All Political Prisoners was showing at an indie cinema near me, I realized that there were serious holes in my knowledge of this woman. I knew she was an academic and that prison abolition is a large part of her life’s work, but not much else. Though interviews with Angela Davis, as well as her friends, family, and colleagues, Free Angela explains how and why Davis became a freedom fighter. This woman has been through a whole lot. As a college professor, she was ostracized by colleagues for being a “COMMUNIST.” She was also hunted by the FBI, and was almost put on death row. I came to the film curious about why prisons were such a central part of Davis’s work, and I eventually understood that her motivation was the rottenness of the prison industrial complex, which traumatizes, harms, and kills so many. Angela Davis could never be called an armchair activist, or an ivory tower academic: Throughout her life she’s translated her beliefs to real action. Watching Free Angela, what stood out for me is Davis’s fearlessness. To live a life that is entirely dedicated to what you believe in is incredible. —Nova

tracks_ver2_xlgTracks (2013)
In 1977, a fearless young woman called Robyn Davidson embarked on a 1,700-mile journey across Australia—from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean—with three camels and a faithful dog. National Geographic sponsored Davidson’s trip, in exchange for her agreeing to be photographed for the magazine throughout the nine-month trip. Mia Wasikowska stars in this epic tale based on Davidson’s book of the same title. Our fearless protagonist prefers the company of animals over humans, and decides to take this solo journey because she is “sick of carrying around the self-indulgent negativity that was so much the malaise of my generation, my sex, and my class.” Tracks looks so damn good. It captures Australia’s otherworldly landscape so beautifully that I ended up taking screenshots of half the movie. The lighting is a combination of the magic hour in Days of Heaven, multiplied by Melanie Safka’s “Birthday of the Sun.” BONUS: Adam Driver plays a National Geographic photographer, and every time his Land Rover rolls up in a cloud of dust he is playing this perfect Seals and Crofts song. —Sonja

How-to-Get-Away-With-MurderHow To Get Away With Murder (2014–, ABC)
The amazing Viola Davis plays Annalise Keating, a hot-shot lawyer and professor who will do anything to win her court cases. Annalise cultivates a small group of special students who follow her lead—they deceive and manipulate anyone and everyone for information. It’s a crazy web of tangled egos, and it’s so worth watching! I also love HTGAWM because it gives its black woman characters dynamic narratives, which we don’t see enough of on mainstream TV. Annalise is a nuanced character, so, while she’s scaring the shit out of you, she’ll also be busy having feelings, and realistic nighttime routines, and displaying her intellectual brilliance. She is ALL OF IT! —Chanel

1.167132Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013)
Actress and singer Elaine Stritch was mouthy, eccentric, talented, and, above all, determined: She was a true broad, a real dame. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a hard-hitting look at a woman who lived for the stage. In addition to performing well into her eighties—despite diabetes—the movie gives us clips of Stritch’s annihilating rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” (this is so powerful, it’s mindblowing), or keeping the cast of 30 Rock (in which she played Jack’s mother) on their toes. Elaine died in July of last year at the age of 89, but she went out a hero; one whose allegiance to hard work earned her accolades, admiration, and respect. And perhaps most importantly: the woman never wore pants. —Anne

Venus-and-Serena-posterVenus and Serena (2012)
Every time I watch this documentary about tennis QUEENS Venus and Serena Williams, I want to punch the air, and high kick, and choreograph a dance routine inspired by their sporting supremacy. These women are the epitome of brilliance, perseverance, and black-girl genius, facts which aren’t always reflected in how popular media treats them. Venus and Serena isn’t only a film about the come-up of two girls from Compton, it also documents a bond between sisters which many tennis commentators speculated would be totally destroyed by their sporting rivalry. This is, above all, a film about love between two black women. With their occasionally unsteady, handheld camcorder, directors Maiken Baird and Michelle Major track the sisters’ responses to the physical, emotional, and psychological tolls of playing tennis. Watch them laugh, get sick and train anyway, dance, and defiantly carve out space for themselves, and for each other, on the whiter-than-white tennis courts of the world. —Derica

Hilary-and-jackie-posterHilary and Jackie (1998)
This drama, based on real life events, depicts the lives of sisters Jacqueline and Hilary du Pré. Hilary is an excellent flautist, but it’s Jackie who becomes the musical genius of the family with her prowess on the cello. Her career rockets, but things start to go awry. Each sister is tested in her own way by a combination of sibling rivalry, jealousy, and illness. The film explores the discipline of devoting yourself to music, and the determination and self-sacrifice it can take to protect a sibling. Hilary and Jackie shows the lengths to which people will go to mend their own lives. —Chanel

Dead_poets_societyDead Poets Society (1989)
I studied engineering for two years in college before switching my major to art history. I guess that’s why this quote from Dead Poets Society resonates with me: “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Dead Poets Society is a heart-wrenching film about an English teacher named Mr. Keating who changes the lives of a handful of students at an all-boys prep school. Inspired by their new teacher and his unorthodox teaching style, a group of friends resurrect an old literary society called the Dead Poets Society and begin to hold secret meetings where they share their favorite pieces of literature. The movie follows the lives of roommates Todd and Neil, who are both heavily influenced by Mr. Keating—to the dismay of their classmates and families. This movie is pretty intense, and I recommend watching it with a pal to hold, just in case! —Shriya ♦