Screenshot from Frida biopic 

In response to Millie Bobby Brown's appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show where she stated that she would like to play Britney Spears in a biopic of her life, Spears complained “I’m not dead yet”. But do you need to be dead to have a biopic of your life? Some films such as The Runaways and Mommie Dearest would beg to differ but more classic icons like Frida Kahlo and Harriet Tubman, unfortunately, have passed, and can’t comment on their film portrayal. As a society, we develop deep awe and interest in celebrities of all kinds, and a biopic of a living icon can be an intimate way to give a deeper look at that person and their work. We’ve cut our list of great biopics about women down to a handful of portraits of women through history, both living and dead, that best portray the value in a film representation of notable icons’ lives. From the story of a deeply important abolitionist badass who saved many lives and reunited families, to the female rock 'n roll era legends who brought women into the grimy side of rock n roll, biopics about women are an impactful way to enrich your feminist education. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Frida

Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most renowned female artists, is beautifully and intimately portrayed in this biopic of her life. Played by Salma Hayek, Frida (2002) brings the viewer on a dreamy journey through the artist’s scandalous love affairs with women and men outside of her marriage, controversial actions like dressing masculine and telling dirty jokes, and a life-altering bus accident at 18 that left her bedridden and changed the course of her life. Frida ultimately creates the perfect storm of intrigue and admiration. Set in Mexico City in the early 1900s, this biopic gives a deep insight into the life of one of history’s most unapologetic female artists.  Frida is avaiable to stream on HBO Max. 

Harriet

Cynthia Erivo powerfully plays the role of abolitionist and Underground Railroad concutor Harriet Tubman in her incredible life story of escaping slavery and then bravely turning back to help others to freedom in the 2019 film Harriet. After fleeing to the north from a life of southern slavery, Tubman meets some incredible people who show her a new life and encourage her to stay where she is free and safe. However, she soon can no longer bear being away from her family and friends and turns back to help them gain freedom too. Although there are small inaccuracies for the sake of the film’s dramatic narrative, the majority of the film is historically accurate. Harriet presents the story of an incredible woman with the justice she deserves. Harriet is available for streaming on HBO Max. 

The United States vs Billie Holiday

“Strange Fruit” singer Billie Holiday, played here by Andra Day, did not have a simple or straightforward path to stardom as a singer in the 1950s. Although she was beloved for her enchanting voice and emotional lyrics, The United States vs Billie Holiday (2021) shows the deep prejudice she endured when the FBI took notice of her iconic human rights protest song with lyrics relating to the lynching of Black Americans in the south. Since they can’t legally charge her for her song lyrics, the government targeted her drug use in an attempt to put away the jazz singer. Throughout this biopic, we see a complicated and influential woman whose path refuses to be covered.  The United States vs Billie Holiday is available to stream on Hulu. 

The Runaways

The punk scene has a history of not being kind to women. Joan Larkin (Kristin Stewart), a southern California teenager, changes her name to Joan Jett and teams up with a band manager, Kim Fowley, who helps her build her all-girl punk band. They find 15-year-old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) to sing and be the face of the band, and with two other girls, Stella Maeve as Sandy West and Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford, to create a four-piece group they become The Runaways. This empowering gritty female biopic follows the tumultuous ups and downs of rock stardom, both on stage and off.The Runaways is available to rent on a variety of streaming platforms.

ADVERTISEMENT

Coal Miner's Daughter

Following the story of country music star Loretta Lynn starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta, Coal Miner's Daughter is a film about family, poverty, and the power of perseverance. The 1980 biopic is based on a biography published in 1976 by George Vecsey and follows the heartwrenching story of Lynn growing up in poverty-stricken Kentucky in the 1940s. At the age of 15 in the year 1958, she marries 22-year-old Oliver "Mooney" Lynn and by the age of 19 already is mother to four children. The family moves to Washington State, where Lynn sings her country songs in small town honky tonk bars and is later discovered by a Canadian record label when one of her songs is featured on a local radio station. Coal Miner's Daughter is available for rent on a variety of streaming platforms.

Hidden Figures

Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 non-fiction hit book Hidden Figures was the inspiration for this movie by the same name. In 1961, a group of three African-American women whose mathematic work at NASA put the U.S. ahead of Russia in what was referred to as the Space Race with the goal of putting a man in space. Starring Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn, Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, and Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, it's truly a film that should be at the top of everyone's "to watch" list. Hidden Figures is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Erin Brokovich

Julia Roberts is a total bad bitch in this cinematic retelling of the Erin Brokovich story. When a car accident with an at-fault doctor puts Erin Brokovich into the hands of lawyer Ed Masry, this single mother of three loses the case but gains a job at the law firm due to her determined and undeniable spirit. Upon receiving her first case, she discovers a major cover-up on contaminated water that is leaving a small local community wrought with dangerous diseases. Roberts' magnetic push for justice in this female-led biopic will leave you inspired to dig up some dirt yourself. Erin Brokovich is available for streaming on Starz.

 

Mommie Dearest

Based on the 1978 memoir of the same name by Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina Crawford, this 1981 film stars Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in an unforgettable portrayal of the complicated relationship of a movie star and her child. This story starts with Mara Hobel as young Christina who seemingly had been rescued from the foster care system by a glamorous but lonely movie star, only to have her life quickly turn into her worst nightmare of abuse and terror. You may not necessarily feel inspired after watching this one, but it's something of a camp classic, and the book, at least, helped many people feel less alone in their suffering. 

 

 

Emma lives in Appleton, WI where she is pursuing a degree in creative writing and publishing. She fills her time by writing poetry, watching Gilmore Girls, and playing board games with her husband.