Editors' Choice: Filming Gender

The Gazelle Editors recommend films addressing gender in all of its aspects across cultures.

Dec 03, 2017

film Illustration by Joaquín Kunkel


Ida, the titular protagonist, navigates the reckonings of communist Poland in Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2015 Oscar-winning film. Following Ida’s attempts to understand her past before taking her holy orders as a nun, Pawlikowski displays a Poland rife with unease following the Second World War. Perhaps more relevant now than ever, Ida shows the conflicted sense of freedom provided during the communist era — one where women could finally be both powerful and sexually liberated, while also subject to the same economic depravity haunting the Soviet sphere. Shot in black and white, a cold patina amplifies the sense of malaise running through the film. Ida is a sober look at many groups in Poland during the early Cold War era: People with good intentions, struggling to understand where those intentions went awry.

Tom Klein, Editor-in-Chief

Margarita with a Straw

Margarita with a Straw follows a Delhi-based student named Laila, played by the wonderful Kalki Koechlin, as she navigates cerebral palsy, bisexual awakenings, familial relationships and a semester abroad in New York. The film made its world premiere on Sept. 8, 2014 as part of the Contemporary World Cinema Programme at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and went on to be screened at the BFI London Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival, among others. A coming-of-age film markedly different from others in the genre, Margarita with a Straw is a warm and fun example of what a film can accomplish when it truly embraces diversity.

Shreya Shreeraman, Senior Features Editor

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning is an iconic documentary that captures the subculture of ballroom competitions, comprised of vogue dance battles and fashion runways in New York City during the 80’s. Shot over a period of seven years by Jennie Livingston, the film chronicles the lives of African American and Hispanic gay men, transgender women and drag queens as they navigate these ballroom scenes and their lives outside. The film includes some of the characters candidly discussing complex subjects like HIV/AIDS, gender orientations and the economic inequality present in New York.
The documentary brought to light a marginalized community that has now become en vogue in popular culture. Its influence in mainstream media spans from hit TV show Rupaul's Drag Race to Madonna’s music video Vogue to commonly used phrases like “shade” and “yass, queen!” In addition to sparking conversations on the issue of gender and its representations, the film also made its audience reflect on the positionality of the filmmaker, who was a white, heterosexual female, and the ethical responsibility that one bears when filming members of a community that one does not belong to.

Karma Dolma Gurung, Editor at Large

Pope Joan

The movie follows Johanna, a German woman living in the ninth century, who disguises herself as a man and rises through the ranks of the Vatican. After winning a great reputation in Rome for curing the pope of gout, she becomes the pope’s favorite physician. When the pope is murdered, the people elect her his successor by acclamation. Torn between her love for a man and the papacy, Johanna is in great danger. The movie, released in 2009, brings to life a taboo subject in the Christian world: A female priest who climbs up the social ladder. The movie also engages the audience with the conflicted sense of identity of the protagonist and discrimination against women in a patriarchal world.

Daria Zahaleanu, Opinion Editor

Die Beautiful

The Filipino comedy-drama film follows the journey of Trisha, a young Filipino transgender woman living in Manila. After being disowned by her father for being "gay," she renounces her given male name and joins gay beauty pageants around Manila in hopes of achieving her dream to become a beauty queen. The movie centers around Trisha's wake after her unexpected death, celebrating the character's life through a series of flashbacks. Addressing Filipino cultural notions and stigmas toward members of the LGBTQIA community and their struggle through a society that is tolerant but not accepting of gay people, Die Beautiful celebrates the lives of those who identify beyond binary genders while questioning existing Filipino notions of gender and sexuality. The film was selected as an official entry for the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival, where its actor won the Best Actor award.

Bernice delos Reyes, Social Media Editor

The Danish Girl

The drama is based on the real life story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery. Einar and Gerda Wegener are a happily married couple who are both artists. One day, Einar poses in a dress for a portrait Gerda wants to paint. While this is initially done as a lark, it changes something in Einar who soon discovers that she is a women and prefers being called Lili. Her journey of self-rediscovery leads her to undergo the first ever sexual reassignment surgery.

Julia Tymoshenko, Deputy Social Media Editor


Wadjda was the first Saudi-Arabian feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, as well as the first to be directed by a Saudi woman. In the movie, we follow Wadjda, an 11-year-old girl living in Riyadh, who wants a bicycle so she can race her friend Abdullah. Due to traditional gender roles, Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy her a bicycle, so she enters a Quran recitation competition in order to win money to fund the bicycle. At the same time, Wadjda’s father is considering taking a second wife, which causes great distress to her mother. Finally, the father takes a second wife, and the mother buys Wadjda a bicycle in protest.
The movie considers issues of gender inequality in the conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the film’s permittance can be seen as part of a pattern of slight liberalization which recently resulted in women gaining the right to drive and to issue fatwas. The movie was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2014 BAFTA Award and it was the first ever Saudi Arabian submission for the Academy Awards. It was, however, not nominated.

Jakob Plaschke, News Editor


This French-Iranian animated film is based on Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. It follows a young girl as she comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. Satrapi is rebellious, precocious and outspoken in a society and culture that increasingly throws caustic characters and crises her way, often jeopardizing her freedom and rights as a female. As she grows up, leaves home for the West and then eventually returns, Satrapi must decide where and who she is as a young woman in an often turbulent and divisive world. Persepolis was co-winner of the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Vamika Sinha, Features Editor

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

As an adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel stripped of much of its nuance, the film traces the still intricate line between love and intimacy. It explores the durability of a relationship in which the partners hold exactly opposing views on fidelity, simultaneously challenging traditional views on gender dichotomy and the rationality of rivalry between two women different to the utmost. The events of the 1968 Prague Spring unfolding in the background add yet another level on which the protagonists navigate personal freedoms and choices. One important message of the critically acclaimed film is that ultimately, the more one loves, the more willing one is to bend one’s own principles.

Karolina Wilczynska, Managing Editor

Email us at [email protected]

Gazelle Logo