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Amy Roberts

Here are ten of the best biopics about female musicians ever made. Be sure to play ‘em loud.

Dreamgirls: The best female focused music biopics

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Roxanne Roxanne, Michael Larnell’s critically acclaimed biopic of female emcee Roxanne Shanté, premiered on Netflix back in March and we’re still reeling from it. By all accounts, it’s one of the finest music biopics in recent years.

Boasting a strong pedigree of actors including Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (House of Cards), Nia Long (The Best Man Holiday), and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz, as well as a score by RZA and producers including Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker, Roxanne Roxanne is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t already.

While we’re on the topic, here are ten of the best biopics about female musicians ever made. Be sure to play ‘em loud.

10. The Sound of Music (1965)

Loosely based on Maria von Trapp’s account of the Von Trapp Family Singers, The Sound of Music takes a lot of artistic license with the source material. But isn’t it all worth it to see Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) howling at the Austrian hills with a gaggle of precocious stage children around her? That might depend on whether the movie sends you hurling off for the hills or singing along with rapt enthusiasm. (We’re definitely the former).

9. Sweet Dreams (1985)

Patsy Cline’s life story is peppered with tragedy all the way through until her shocking death in a 1963 plane crash at the height of her fame. Starring Jessica Lange (Tootsie) as the velvet-voiced country icon, Sweet Dreams brings energy to Cline’s most wounded moments and meditates on the cost of love & success.

8. Bessie (2015)

Dee Rees’s HBO Bessie Smith biopic is a loving tribute to the legendary blues performer and deserves to be celebrated. The director brings out phenomenal performances in a cast including Queen Latifah (Chicago), Mo’Nique (Domino), Oliver Platt (Bicentennial Man), and Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave) and showcases Rees’s skill with ensemble casts & music.

7. Selena (1997)

Jennifer Lopez’s performance as record-breaking Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez is vastly underrated. Selena follows the chanteuse as she spins big dreams into even bigger chart success right up until her tragic murder in 1995.

6. Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Starring Sissy Spacek (The Help) as legendary country singer Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter explores the icon’s dynamic career from the provincial poverty of her beginnings to the international superstardom that followed. The movie is an underrated gem (though it made a huge splash at the time) that comes with the added bonus of a young Tommy Lee Jones with a dashing sweep of blonde hair sure to make you wonder, “Wait, do I have a crush on Kay from Men in Black now?” ‘Fraid so, friend.

5. The Runaways (2010)

Floria Sigismondi’s frenetic coming-of-age biopic about a raucous teenage rock band The Runaways is full of youthful energy and painful insight. Exploring the ways the band may have been exploited by the industry alongside the relationship between Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), the movie is as pounding as The Runaways’ hottest tracks.

4. Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

Sidney J. Furie’s biopic of Billie Holiday features Diana Ross (The Wiz) neither looking nor sounding anything like the iconic singer, but if you can get past that, the movie is nothing short of incredible. With stellar performances from Ross and co-stars Billy Dee Williams (Batman) and Richard Pryor (See No Evil, Hear No Evil), the five-time Oscar-nominated movie offers an unflinching look at Holiday’s troubled life and career.

3. Dreamgirls (2006)

Though not a direct biopic, Dreamgirls is loosely based on the story of The Supremes and Motown Records, and that’s good enough for us! Featuring Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Hudson acting circles around Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) and Eddie Murphy (Coming to America), the movie is pure power and deserves to enjoyed with the volume turned up to max.

2. La Vie en Rose (2007)

Marion Cotillard (Ismael’s Ghosts) is staggeringly good as French chanteuse Édith Piaf and rightfully took home the Best Actress statue at the 2008 Oscars for her performance. Piaf’s devastating and often heartbreaking life is laid out alongside some of her most beloved tracks to shattering effect.

1. What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

Following the career ascension of soul goddess Tina Turner (a formidable Angela Bassett) as she fights to break free of abusive husband Ike (Laurence Fishburne), What’s Love Got to Do with It is one of the greatest musical biopics ever made. The soundtrack is pure fire and the barbed energy between Bassett & Fishburne will have you screaming at the screen for Tina to rise up and succeed.

Tipping the velvet: The most vital lesbian love scenes of cinema

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Earlier this year, critics and audiences alike found themselves blushing at the sight of a hot and primal lesbian love scene between Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams in Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience. The sight of Weisz passionately spitting in McAdams’s mouth, is one that will stay with us for a long time and has been praised as being one of the best sex scenes of the past twelve months by critics.

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Kristen Stewart has enjoyed a career full of gutsy roles and masterful performances that prove she’s genuinely one of the greatest young actors in the industry. Here’s our ranking of her ten best so far.

‘Personal Shopper’: Kristen Stewart’s most gutsy roles to date

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Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was released ten years ago and the film (along with his subsequent sequels) remains a divisive relic of 00s movie madness. Scores of preadolescent girls developed major feelings for sparkling vampires and Kristen Stewart was basically tasked with being the human equivalent of a heart-eye emoji as meek mortal Bella Swan opposite brooding undead babe Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). However you feel about the films, there’s no denying they didn’t offer much of a role for Stewart to sink her teeth into.

From the Twilight franchise alone, it’d be difficult to see any glimmer of skill or talent from Stewart beyond her ability to bite her lip suggestively at a blood-guzzling beau. But both prior to and following the young adult vampire films, Stewart has enjoyed a career full of gutsy roles and masterful performances that prove she’s genuinely one of the greatest young actors in the industry. Here’s our ranking of her ten best so far.

10. On the Road (2012)

Released towards the end of the Twilight Saga’s tight grip on the hearts & minds of teenage girls (and grown-ass women) everywhere, On the Road saw Stewart delivering a transformative performance. Playing free-spirited Marylou in Walter Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s revered beat classic, Stewart gleefully danced off the shackles of mainstream Hollywood.

9. Panic Room (2002)

Only the gutsiest 12-year-olds have the opportunity to work with David Fincher (Zodiac) for a lead role, which is exactly what Stewart did as the daughter of Jodie Foster’s Meg in Panic Room. She’s tough, resilient, and daring, squaring up to the men who have broken into her home (Jared Leto & Forest Whitaker) with all the confidence of someone twice her age.

8. Certain Women (2016)

Alongside Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) and Laura Dern (The Tale), the movie tells the story of three trailblazing women whose lives intersect in a small-town. Though her role isn’t as major in the movie, Stewart is sweet and restrained as a lawyer struggling with the demands of her job.

7. Camp X-Ray (2014)

G.I. Jane aside, it’s rare to see portrayals of female soldiers in a lead role. As Cole – a soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay who befriends a man imprisoned there – she offers a magnificent blend of strength & vulnerability, proving women can also throw on Army fatigues and display as much corporal tenacity as the dudes (as if anyone ever had any doubt!)

6. American Ultra (2015)

After showing off her credentials in numerous dramatic roles, Stewart let loose a little in American Ultra as a stoner striving to protect her government agent boyfriend who has been marked for extermination. Her performance is the most playful of her career to date, and an absolute hoot to watch.

5. Lizzie (2018)

Having premiered at Sundance in January, Lizzie is still yet to be released to the masses. However, the psychological thriller in which Stewart plays the maid and occasional lover of Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny) is still a gutsy choice of role. An infamous murder mystery with a side of illicit lesbian romance? Yes, K-Stew!

4. The Runaways (2010)

The musical biopic marked a departure for Stewart from mainstream teen idol to a rebel with range. Starring opposite Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds) & Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), Stewart sported a messy mullet to play rock icon Joan Jett and delivered a performance full of swagger and unkempt, sapphic desire.

3. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

It’s no surprise Stewart’s most critically-acclaimed performance was in Olivier Assayas’s story of a film star (Juliette Binoche) coming face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself. The actor collaborates well with the director and in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart holds her own against powerful performances from Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz (I Love You, Daddy) by maintaining a measured intensity throughout.

2. Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

If you’re going to step into the acting ring against James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), you’ve got to have some big moves to keep up with him. Playing a troubled stripper named Mallory, Stewart showcased her capabilities as an actor who – at the time – was unfairly ridiculed for her apparent lack of range. Stewart stepped up to her criticisms in the role, showcasing serious range alongside some truly unnerving restless energy.

1. Personal Shopper (2016)

Assayas’s mournful horror balances emotional, pensive drama with unnerving, supernatural exploration. At the heart of the story is Stewart, who juggles all of these thematic swords with effortless finesse as Maureen – a young woman desperate to make contact with her recently deceased twin brother.

With some of the best films of the past 18 months having been directed by women, we can’t help but wonder what these magnificent talents could do if given a big budget movie to work with.

The fiercest female filmmakers who deserve big-budget films

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It’s been a strong year for the leading ladies of the silver screen, with three of the past year’s most major blockbuster hits – Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Beauty and the Beast – featuring female actresses front and center. However, it’s also been quite a year for women behind the camera too – at least in terms of independent cinema. With some of the best films of the past 18 months having been directed by women, we can’t help but wonder what these magnificent talents could do if given a big budget movie to work with. Here are ten fierce female filmmakers who deserve to be given big-budget films to direct.

Alia Shawkat

Ultimate funny girl and owner of our hearts, Alia Shawkat is having her moment following film festival success with her feature writing debut Duck Butter, about two women (Shawkat’s Naima and Laia Costa’s Sergio) who are dissatisfied with the dishonesty they see in dating and relationships and make a 24-hour sex pact, hoping to find a new way to create intimacy. Having shown her comedy chops in shows such as Arrested Development and Search Party, we would have the utmost confidence were she to helm a satirical feature flick.

Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig has warmed our heart cockles and tickled our funny bones for years with her writing, particularly when collaborating with co-writer and director Noah Baumbach for films like Mistress America and Frances Ha. But it was her directorial debut Lady Bird that really blew the world away – a stunningly crafted coming-of-age film starring Saoirse Ronan (Hanna) as a teenager trying to navigate herself through kidulthood in the unglamorous setting of Sacramento, California.

Natalia Leite

We were lucky enough to speak to writer-director Natalia Leite about her 2017 revenge horror M.F.A., a film that follows Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) – an art student brutally raped by a potential love interest – who takes justice into her own hands after being failed by the system. Speaking on female directors in the horror genre, Leite explained, “I hope there are a lot more women who feel empowered to go into this genre. It’s a fact that there’s not a lot of us doing these types of films.” We have no doubt Leite would absolutely slay were she to direct a major horror blockbuster.

Anna Biller

Another leader in the horror genre, Anna Biller directed The Love Witch, proving her oddball flair with a film about a beautiful young witch on her quest to find the perfect mate. With clear visual panache and styles echoing sexploitation films of the 60s and 70s, we’re hoping to see more kooky characters from this undeniable auteur in the years to come.

Lena Waithe

Writer for hit comedies such as Master of None and The Chi and an appearance in Steven Spielberg’s recently released Ready Player One, Lena Waithe is absolutely changing the game on screens both big and small. While enjoying her moment in Hollywood, Waithe’s breaking records while she’s at it, having become the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing. More of this, please!

Alice Lowe

Alice Lowe has been making us laugh with her acting roles for years, from Sightseers to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace to Hot Fuzz. But it was all about her writing & directing debut Prevenge, following a pregnant widow who finds herself at the whim of her murderous, demonic unborn child. Imagine Rosemary’s Baby as a comedy, throw in some sharp British humor, and you’re there. Lord only knows what Lowe would come up with were she in charge of a blockbuster budget – we can but dream.

Cathy Yan

Cathy Yan made her directorial debut Dead Pigs in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, focusing on a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an ambitious expat architect, and a disenchanted rich girl who collide when thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly modernizing Shanghai. It’s a unique and quirky film, but we’re rooting for the director even more since she was pitched as the unexpected director of DC Comics’s unnamed Harley Quinn film. We’re keeping our fingers, toes, and eyes crossed this dream is made a reality!

Dee Rees

Dee Rees made Oscar history this year after becoming the first black woman nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for her breakout hit Mudbound. A masterpiece in its own right, the film is an epic story of two families pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape, portraying racial conflict in postwar Mississippi. With other hits such as the 2011 drama Pariah, the outlook is strong for this skilled and determined filmmaker.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Anyone who’s bingewatched the new Brit comedy Fleabag in one sitting will know that writer and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Solo: A Star Wars Story) is one talented woman. As funny as it is dramatic, the show follows a self-confessed pervert as she comes to terms with her friend’s death while dealing with life in London. Perhaps a feature length writing debut is on the cards in the near future? We sure hope so.

Desiree Akhavan

Although she’s best known for her 2014 feature film debut Appropriate Behavior, Desiree Akhavan has been making waves with her coming-of-age drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Highly praised at this year’s Sundance, the narrative centers around a girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is sent to a conversion center after being caught hooking up with the prom queen. As Clare Binns suggested, let’s give Akhavan a blockbuster to direct. You know it makes sense!

A study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film suggests Hollywood still has a long way to go before it achieves gender equality.

Film’s future is female: Join these women leading from the front

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In the wake of Hollywood’s sexual misconduct scandal, gender equality remains a central theme within the industry. While female filmmakers like Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig, Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins, and A Wrinkle in Time’s Ava DuVernay may be recognized as some of the greatest talents working today, a study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film suggests Hollywood still has a long way to go.

The study discovered the jaw-dropping statistic that women held just 18% of behind-the-scenes film jobs including directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers in the top grossing movies of the past year. The figures have hardly budged since 1998. Out of the 250 top-grossing domestic films, just 1% employed 10 or more women, while 70% employed 10 or more men. Furthermore, 30% of the titles featured zero or one woman in behind-the-scenes jobs, while none of the films had fewer than one man.

Rather than simply sitting back and despairing at these dismal figures, a series of organizations and initiatives have launched to encourage gender parity both in front of and behind the lens.

Seeking to prove actions speak louder than words are the Film Fatales – a community of female feature film & TV directors who meet regularly to share resources, collaborate on projects, and discuss relevant topics in their careers. Currently there are over 500 members in Los Angeles and New York, and hundreds more across Europe, Australia, and Africa.

Film Fatales Founder Leah Meyerhoff thinks the statistics for female filmmakers are too low. “Half of our society is women. Half of the audiences are women. Half of the creative content needs to be made by women. The more that women and people of color can see reflections of themselves on screen, and the more that straight white men can learn to empathize with other subject positions through watching a variety of stories unfold, the healthier our society will be as a whole.”

That’s where Film Fatales comes in. So far the company has programmed over 250 films directed by women at 90 independent theaters and organized over 100 panel discussions, workshops, and networking events in partnership with festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, Toronto, and more. “By expanding the landscape of storytelling to include more underrepresented voices, Film Fatales continues to bring new and exciting films to the big screen.”

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Women Directors offers many programs to benefit its members. Chair of the organization, Jennifer Warren, claims that the non-profit’s primary goal is to achieve parity in the workplace for female directors. “As an organization, we are fighting for change in the hiring practices. One example would be our partnering with the ACLU in identifying discriminatory patterns within the studios.

“In addition, we have outreach to all the film festivals, which provides our members with various perks, including lower entry fees; we have affiliations with many of the professional organizations; we have educational programs and panels with high-visibility directors; and we have different kinds of shadowing programs all aimed at getting our members employment.”

Over in the UK, Women in Media provides networking opportunities and professional development for directors in the film and TV industries. Executive director Tema L. Staig outlined the company’s reason behind the launch of its female-focused IMDB-style list, the so-called WiMCrewList.

“For the longest time, we heard that people just couldn’t find women in the crew. For some reason, even though I knew tons of women, they were invisible to many decision makers. With the WiMCrewList, women can add their IMDB, resume, reels, SoundCloud, mini bio, if they are union / non union, and the rest. Our members can add all their credits, which is necessary when it comes to decision makers vetting new talent.”

The Director List is a hub for finding female directors and their work. As a filmmaker herself, founder and editor Destri Martino sought out the work of seasoned female directors to provide inspiration and guidance for her own projects, but was often disappointed by the low number of women she found.

“While doing research for a masters thesis back in 2005, I realized there were a lot more working directors than mainstream media coverage”. Out of this realization, The Director List was born. Since then, the list of female directors with demonstrable experience in features, TV, and/or large-scale commercials and music videos has jumped to 1,000 members and growing.

In addition to the database, the site provides news, photos, video, and a community focused on the film, TV, and video projects women are actively creating around the world.

Elsewhere, Reel Angels has been breaking boundaries as an agency that represents female technical crews for film, TV, and entertainment events. The company claims to promotes gender equality in technical departments by providing a credible and proven resource of top-end talent.

Lulu Elliott, founder of RA Agency, told Film Daily how the company exists at a time when there has never been a more opportune moment to employ female talent in film and TV. “By representing women, we see ourselves as leaders in the ongoing progress towards full gender parity across the industries.”

These organizations’ efforts haven’t been going unnoticed. Since 2016, Telefilm Canada, the powerful, well-funded film financing arm of the Canadian government, unveiled its ambitious drive to gender equality in the film sector by 2020. It seems the initiative is already having effect, as a 2017 study shows a 27% increase in agency-backed projects directed by women since 2015.

While gender counting in filmmaking crews & casts will undoubtedly remain a hot topic in 2018, it remains to be seen whether a world in which crews maintain 50% representation between genders across the entire industry is actually desirable, or even possible. And what about those who identify as something else entirely? Film Daily recommends the underrepresented feline contingent in entertainment production create a non-profit to promote human-cat parity by 2026.