This International Women’s Day, celebrate outstanding female characters in film and TV

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  • From an AOC documentary to the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’, Netflix has plenty of content featuring inspiring women
  • Gather your girls, virtually or IRL, and cheer these independent, hard-working, vulnerable, loving females
Dannie Aildasani |
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From documentaries about US politicians to a Roald Dahl classic, here's how to celebrate women on screen. Photo: knockdownthehouse.com

Representation definitely matters, and seeing an outstanding female lead in a TV show or movie can be very inspiring. To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’ve rounded up a few series and movies with strong female characters who are independent, hardworking, and realise that vulnerability can sometimes be a strength.

Even better: all these options can be found on Netflix. Sweatpants on, Zoom party loaded, let’s do this.

Carmen Sandiego (2019-2021)

Reboots can often be disappointing, but thankfully this updated version of a beloved classic may actually be better than the original.

Roughly 20 years ago, an orphan (code-named Black Sheep) was found on the streets of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. She is taken to V.I.L.E. academy and trained to become a master thief as part of a worldwide criminal organisation.

When Black Sheep realises the true purpose of the academy, she runs away. Adapting the name Carmen Sandiego, she makes it her mission to get back things V.I.L.E. has stolen and return them to their rightful owners.

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Carmen is fiercely independent and dedicated to her mission of righting wrongs and serving as a modern-day Robin Hood – even if people misunderstand her intentions and mistakenly think she’s the bad guy.

Matilda (1996)

If you loved the classic Roald Dahl novel, you’ll appreciate this film version starring Mara Wilson.

A supremely clever, totally underappreciated little girl with a horrible family life develops mysterious powers that allow her to move things with her mind.

She starts school, where she has a wonderful teacher named Miss Honey, but a terrible principal called Miss Trunchbull, who treats students in ways we’re pretty sure are illegal in every country.

Matilda soon realises there’s a connection between Miss Honey and Trunchbull, and uses her powers to right some deep-seated wrongs.

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More importantly, she realises the power of kindness, of being yourself, and realises how much joy can be found in learning.

The Half of It (2020)

Ellie Chu mostly keeps to herself. She takes care of her father, still overcome by grief after the death of her mother, and even performs his duties as a signalman at the local railway station. She makes extra money by writing homework assignments for her classmates.

One day, athlete Paul Munsky approaches her with a different request, asking her to write a love letter to the pretty, popular Aster Flores. At first she refuses, but when she learns her electricity may be cut off if she doesn’t pay the bill, she agrees to the arrangement.

Ellie learns a lot about herself: she learns to take risks, to trust others, and even gets to know about her sexuality. It’s a very cute coming-of-age romantic comedy with a delightful twist.

Knock Down the House (2019)

You’ve heard of one of the stars of this documentary – New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, more affectionately known as AOC.

This film follows the stories of four women (AOC, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin), all progressive Democrats running grass roots campaigns, as they challenge more powerful politicians in the 2018 midterm elections. Watching the women and the passion they bring to politics is incredibly inspiring, even if only one of them ends up getting elected that year (Bush wasn’t elected in 2018, but she ran again two years later and won).

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It also gives more insight into the complicated world of US politics, where money and connections generally matter more than the message.

Self Made (2020)

Inspired by the true story of Madame C. J. Walker, America’s first female self-made millionaire, this mini series stars Octavia Spencer in the title role.

The first free child born in her family after the end of slavery, Walker’s dream is to develop a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women. After a lot of hard work, she establishes the Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.

The series takes some artistic licence, of course, so not all the details are accurate, but it’s still inspiring to watch. Walker’s real-life story is just as uplifting, and she did a lot to help black women.

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Many of her company’s employees – including people holding more senior positions – were women, and she made it her mission to teach black women how to budget, set up their own businesses, and become financially independent – ideas that were considered crazy during her time.

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