A Southern Movie Bonus: A Women’s History Month Sampler

In March, we take time to celebrate and recognize the contributions and achievement of women. So, in honor of Women History Month, the Southern movies listed below are, with one exception, either adapted from stories by women writers or were based on the lives of real women. From more recent years, moviegoers may be familiar with 2002’s The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, 2008’s The Secret Life of Bees, or 2012’s The Help, but here are few that may be less familiar to modern audiences.

The Member of the Wedding (1952)

Based on Carson McCullers’ 1946 play of the same name, The Member of the Wedding follows a pre-teen tomboy named Frankie, who like many of McCuller’s characters is an outsider in her Georgia hometown, during the period leading up to her older brother’s wedding. Frankie is messy-haired and unkempt, and in the absence of a mother, she is raised mostly by the family’s black housekeeper.

This film offers a portrayal of an unconventional young Southern woman dissatisfied with the options that her culture offers in the years after World War II.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

This film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play stars Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. In the story, two women named Karen and Martha operate a girls’ boarding school but the situation is about to change because Karen will soon leave to get married. That split is made more complicated by Martha possibly being lesbian and possibly being in love with Karen.

The Children’s Hour asks complex questions about the nature of the women’s relationship as they live and work in close quarters.  Karen and Martha have known each other since college and have chosen to remain together, yet that closeness has become suspicious to some people around them, including one of their students who overhears something she shouldn’t.

The Miracle Worker (1962)

This black-and-white retelling of the true story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan is iconic. The film stars Anne Bancroft in the role of Sullivan and provides one of the iconic moments in American film, when Keller and Sullivan are together at the well.

The Miracle Worker is a American narrative that testifies to wonders of the human spirit. Keller, who was from Tuscumbia, Alabama, faced supposedly insurmountable disabilities, being both blind and deaf, yet she and her teacher found ways transcend those circumstances.

Cross Creek (1983)

Based on the life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote the novel The Yearling, this bio-pic is set in northern Florida during the Great Depression. Mary Steenburgen plays Rawlings, who has no clue how to lead an isolated life in a rural area when she arrives at the place where she intends to live and write. There, she meets and is befriended by a young girl who has a pet fawn.

The film is based loosely on Rawlings’ memoir, which has the same title, and also stars Alfré Woodard as a feisty domestic helper who emerges from the local community to work with Rawlings in re-establishing the dilapidated homestead.

The Color Purple (1985)

This Academy Award-nominated film based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is set in early twentieth century North Carolina and tells a complex story of the interwoven lives of a group of African American women. The cast includes ’80s mainstays Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Rae Dawn Chong.

Though The Color Purple comes from a fiction novel, it has been agreed-upon since its day that the story tells hard truths about hard subjects. Its candor about domestic and sexual abuse and its revelations about the human spirit create a scenario that is impossible to watch with neutrality.

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Steel Magnolias is the only film listed here that wasn’t either written by or based on a woman, yet it couldn’t be left out. (Though, playwright Robert Harling did create his story from real events involving his own sister.) This film is the film about late-twentieth century white women in the South.

An ensemble cast plays a variety of characters who face a variety highs and lows within their romantic relationships, their parental relationships, and their understanding of society’s expectations.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Adapted from Fannie Flagg’s 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, this movie often sits in tandem with Steel Magnolias as now-classic portrayals of late-twentieth century white Southern womanhood. However, the story in this one is less conventional. This time, it’s a frame story, which straddles modern times and bygone days.

Fried Green Tomatoes touches on some of the same subjects as The Color Purple – domestic abuse, for example – but in a very different way. This strangely didactic tale shows how doing what is necessary can sometimes lie outside the bounds of traditional morality.

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