May 2021 Film Preview | Women and Hollywood

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By Vicki A. Lee and Kara Headley

Since 1992, the United States has observed Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month every May, paying tribute to the monumental role Asian and Pacific American immigrants and members of the diaspora have played — and continue to play — in the collective advancement of our country.

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Despite the innumerable contributions the AAPI community has made to their adopted homes, they are still otherized as the perpetual foreigner. While AAPI Heritage Month is indeed a celebratory occasion, it is just as important to address the resurgence of “Yellow Peril” triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Stop AAPI Hate, 3,795 cases of anti-Asian hate crimes were reported from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021 — including verbal harassment, shunning, physical assault, civil rights violations, and online harassment. No matter the form of hate, all incidents stemmed from the same root cause of ignorance and prejudice, as well as the impulse to fear and eliminate “the other.”

While art is not a universal antidote to hate, it certainly can engender empathy and understanding of an unfamiliar culture and its peoples. More importantly, AAPI creatives are reclaiming their narrative agency by telling their own stories from their uncensored point of view, not one distorted by or pandering to a Western lens.

This month’s film highlights include the theatrical release of Haifaa Al Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate” (May 14), which features Mila Al Zahrani as Maryam, a young doctor running for city council to make change in her community. “Take Out Girl” (May 18), written by Hedy Wong and Hisonni Johnson, tells the story of a young woman trying to make extra money for her mother’s struggling Chinese restaurant who gets wrapped up with a local drug lord. Also coming out May 18 is Kaashvi Nair’s “Sardar Ka Grandson,” in which a grandson goes on a comedic journey to fulfill his grandmother’s dying wish.

Gia Coppola’s online culture satire “Mainstream” (May 7) and Emma Stone-starring Cruella de Vil origin story “Cruella” (May 28) are also among the films on our radar this month. Others include Kim A. Snyder’s portrait of the Parkland gun control activists, “Us Kids” (May 14), and Danielle Lessovitz’s “Port Authority” (May 28), which sees a trans girl and cis boy falling in love against the backdrop of NYC’s kiki ball scene.

Here are the women-centric, women-directed, and women-written films debuting this May. All descriptions are from press materials unless otherwise noted.

May 4

“Crappy Mother’s Day” (Available on VOD)

Three generations of women come together on Mother’s Day. Things don’t go as planned.

May 6

“In Our Mothers’ Gardens” (Documentary) – Directed by Shantrelle P. Lewis (In Theaters and Available on Netflix)

“In Our Mothers’ Gardens”

“In Our Mothers’ Gardens” celebrates the strength and resiliency of Black women and Black families through the complex, and oftentimes humorous, relationship between mothers and daughters. The film pays homage to Black maternal ancestors while examining the immediate and critical importance of self-care, and the healing tools necessary for Black communities to thrive

“And Tomorrow the Entire World” – Directed by Julia von Heinz; Written by Julia von Heinz and John Quester (Available on Netflix)

An anti-fascist law student infiltrates a regional neo-Nazi group to find out more about a planned attack that threatens her friends.

May 7

“Mainstream” – Directed by Gia Coppola; Written by Gia Coppola and Tom Stuart (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

“Mainstream”

In “Mainstream,” a young woman (Maya Hawke) thinks she’s found a path to internet stardom when she starts making YouTube videos with a charismatic stranger (Andrew Garfield) – until the dark side of viral celebrity threatens to ruin them both.

“Emily @ The Edge of Chaos” – Directed by Wendy Apple; Written by Emily Levine (In Virtual Cinemas)

“Emily @ The Edge of Chaos” interweaves Emily Levine’s live performance with animation, appearances by scientists, and animated characters. The film uses physics, which explains how the universe works, to explain our metaphysics – the story of our values, our institutions, our interactions. Using her own experience and a custom blend of insight and humor, provocation and inspiration, personal story and social commentary, Emily takes her audience through its own paradigm shift: from the Fear of Change to the Edge of Chaos!

“Paper Spiders” – Written by Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

“Paper Spiders”

Dawn (Lili Taylor) recently lost her husband and experiences growing anxiety as her daughter Melanie (Stefania Owen) plans to move away for college. An argument with a hostile new neighbor aggravates Dawn’s mental condition, and she begins to show signs of paranoid delusions. Melanie attempts a series of interventions, but challenging Dawn’s reality of persecution threatens to destroy their loving relationship. Melanie is forced to make the toughest of choices as she struggles to support her mother on the path toward recovery and healing.

“Knots: A Forced Marriage Story” (Documentary) – Directed by Kate Brewer (In Theaters)

“Knots” explores forced and child marriages, which are occurring legally across the United States every day. Director Kate Brewer reveals the disturbing truth about this problem in modern America through the complicated experience of three forced marriage survivors. Nina Van Harn, Sara Tasneem, and Fraidy Reiss share intimate details of their personal journeys of surviving, escaping, and ultimately becoming powerful voices in the historic fight to end the human rights abuse of forced marriage.

“Queen Marie” – Written by Brigitte Drodtloff, Ioana Manea, Maria-Denise Theodoru, Gabi Antal, and Alexis Cahill (Available on VOD)

Devastated by the First World War and plunged into political controversy, Romania’s every hope accompanies its queen (Roxana Lupu) on her mission to Paris to lobby for international recognition of its great unification at the 1919 peace talks.

“The Columnist” (Available in Virtual Cinemas and on VOD)

“The Columnist”

Successful columnist Femke (Katja Herbers) is flooded every day by anonymous harassments and death threats on social media. She becomes addicted to the vicious messages, and finds herself continuously clicking back to the hateful comments before she goes to sleep. Not only is this affecting her motivation to write new articles, but she also needs to finish writing the novel she promised to deliver her publisher. One day, she snaps: the act of violence and revenge eases and inspires her — she writes like never before.

“The Water Man” – Written by Emma Needell (In Theaters)

A boy (Lonnie Chavis) sets out on a quest to save his ill mother (Rosario Dawson) by searching for a mythic figure said to have magical healing powers.

May 11

“What Lies West” – Written and Directed by Jessica Ellis (Available on VOD)

“What Lies West”

New college graduate Nicolette (Nicolette Kaye Ellis) has a problem: her ex stranded her without a promised summer job, and she needs money, pronto. The only work available is babysitting Chloe (Chloe Moore), a sheltered teen with a very, very nervous single mom who refuses to let the 16-year-old stay at home by herself. Chloe and Nicolette have nothing in common. Nothing at all, that is, until Chloe starts dragging Nicolette on longer and longer hikes every day. 

“Specialish” (Documentary) – Written and Directed by Jessica Watkins (Available on VOD)

A struggling stand-up comedian decides to jump start her career by walking across the United States. Never having hiked before, and not a comedy club in sight, getting laughs won’t be the only hard part.

May 12

“Oxygen” – Written by Christie LeBlanc (Available on Netflix)

“Oxygen”

A woman wakes in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there, and must find a way out before running out of air.

“Dance of the Forty One” – Written by Monika Revilla (Available on Netflix)

Based on the Ball of the Forty-One, a society scandal in early 20th-century Mexico. The incident revolved around an illegal police raid carried out in November 1901 in a private home in Mexico City. The scandal revolved around that of the group of men who attended — 19 were dressed in “feminine” clothing. Despite the government’s efforts to hush the incident up, the press was keen to report the incident, since the participants belonged to the upper echelons of society — including the son-in-law of the incumbent President of Mexico. This scandal was unique in that it was the first time homosexuality was openly spoken about in the Mexican media and had a lasting impact on Mexican culture.

May 14

“The Perfect Candidate” – Directed by Haifaa Al Mansour; Written by Haifaa Al Mansour and Brad Niemann (In Theaters)

“The Perfect Candidate”

“The Perfect Candidate” follows Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani), a determined young doctor who runs for city council after the male incumbent repeatedly ignores her request to fix the muddy road leading to her clinic. Despite her father and her community’s struggle to accept her as their town’s first female candidate, Maryam’s creative and ambitious campaign builds momentum, becoming a symbol for a larger movement.

“Us Kids” (Documentary) – Directed by Kim A. Snyder (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

“Us Kids”

After a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School claims 17 lives, a number of students rally themselves around the tragedy as an opportunity to speak out against the national gun violence epidemic.

“Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm” (Documentary) – Directed by Hannah Berryman (In Virtual Cinemas)

Fifty years ago, deep in the Welsh countryside, brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward were starting out in the family dairy farming business. But they yearned to do something different – they wanted to make music. So they built a studio in the attic of their farmhouse and started recording with their friends. Animals were kicked out of barns and musicians were moved into Nan’s spare bedroom. Inadvertently, they’d launched the world’s first independent residential recording studio: Rockfield. Rockfield’s reputation spread like wildfire, quickly garnering international acclaim as the place that bands wanted to record. From Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, and Queen, to Simple Minds, Iggy Pop, and Robert Plant, and later Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, Manic Street Preachers, and Coldplay – an unbelievable roll call of artists have recorded there over the decades.

“Profile” – Written Olga Kharina, Brittany Poulton, and Timur Bekmambetov (In Theaters)

“Profile” follows an undercover British journalist (Valene Kane) in her quest to bait and expose a terrorist recruiter through social media, while trying not to be sucked in by her recruiter and lured into becoming a militant extremist herself. 

“The Woman in the Window” (Available on Netflix)

“The Woman in the Window”

Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is an agoraphobic child psychologist who finds herself keeping tabs on the picture perfect family across the street through the windows of her New York City brownstone. Her life turns upside down when she inadvertently witnesses a brutal crime. Shocking secrets are revealed and nothing and no one are what they seem in this suspenseful psychological thriller.

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” (In Theaters and Available on HBO Max)

Angelina Jolie stars as Hannah, a smoke jumper still reeling from the loss of three lives she failed to save from a fire when she comes across a traumatized 12-year-old boy with nowhere else to turn.

May 18

“Take Out Girl” – Written by Hedy Wong and Hisonni Johnson (Available on VOD)

Inspired by a true story, Tera Wong (Hedy Wong) delivers Chinese food for her mother’s struggling restaurant in the “Low Bottoms” of south central Los Angeles. Everyone around her is financially trapped in this crime and violence-ridden neighborhood, that is until Tera takes a job from a local drug lord to move “product” inside her takeout food containers. With the cash rolling in, Tera intends to move the family restaurant to the suburbs and go clean. But after a series of tragic events, the dream that Tera built on a foundation of lies may just crumble.

“Sardar Ka Grandson” – Directed by Kaashvi Nair; Written by Kaashvi Nair and Anuja Chauhan (Available on Netflix)

A devoted grandson embarks on a complicated and comic journey to fulfill his ailing grandmother’s last wish.

“Hunted” – Written by Léa Pernollet and Vincent Paronnaud (Available on VOD)

What started as a flirtatious encounter at a bar turns into a life-or-death struggle as Eve (Lucie Debay) becomes the unknowing target of a misogynistic plot against her. Forced to flee as two men pursue her through the forest, she’s pushed to her extremes while fighting to survive in the wilderness — but survival isn’t enough for Eve. She will have revenge.

May 21

“Spring Blossom” – Written and Directed by Suzanne Lindon (In Theaters)

“Spring Blossom”

Suzanne (Suzanne Lindon) is 16. She is bored with people her own age. From the outside, everything appears lovely in her charmed world, but the everyday monotony of school and her relationships with friends and family feels completely uninspired. Every day on her way to high school, she passes a theater. There, she meets a 35-year-old actor named Raphaël (Arnaud Valois). Despite their age difference they find in each other an answer to their ennui and develop a strong connection. Immersed in the world of grown-ups and adult choices, Suzanne begins questioning the pitfalls of blossoming too quickly and missing out on life – the life of a 16-year-old, which she had struggled so much to enjoy in the same way as her peers.

“I Carry You With Me” – Directed by Heidi Ewing; Written by Heidi Ewing and Alan Page (In Theaters)

Ambition and societal pressure propel an aspiring chef (Armando Espitia) to leave his soulmate in Mexico and make the treacherous journey to New York, where life will never be the same.

“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” – Directed by Caroline Link; Written by Anna Brüggemann and Caroline Link (In Theaters)

“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit”

An adaptation of Judith Kerr’s novel, “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” follows a Jewish family’s escape from 1933 Berlin to Europe. The story tackles prejudice, exile, displacement, and adaptation, as told from the perspective of the author’s alter ego, nine-year-old Anna Kemper (Riva Krymalowski). When her father (Oliver Masucci) suddenly vanishes, the family is secretly hurried out of Germany. Anna begins to understand life will never be the same as she and her family navigate unfamiliar lands and cope with the challenges of being refugees.

“Rare Beasts” – Written and Directed by Billie Piper (In U.K. and Ireland Theaters)

“Rare Beasts” is the dark, funny, failed love story of Mandy and Pete. Mandy (Billie Piper) is a modern woman in a crisis. Raising a son, Larch (Toby Woolf), in the midst of a female revolution, mining the pain of her parents’ separation, and professionally writing about a love that no longer exists, she falls upon a troubled man, Pete (Leo Bill), who is searching for a sense of worth, belonging, and “restored” male identity.

“The Retreat” – Written by Alyson Richards (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and Valerie (Sarah Allen), a couple at a crossroads in their relationship, leave the city to spend the week at a remote cabin with friends. But when they arrive, their friends are nowhere to be found. As they stumble through their relationship woes, they discover they are being hunted by a group of militant extremists who are determined to exterminate them.

“Seance” (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

“Seance”

Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) is the new girl at the prestigious Fairfield Academy for Girls, drawn into the mystery surrounding Kerrie (Megan Best), a student who died following a seance summoning the legendary Fairfield Ghost. Camille befriends Kerrie’s clique. When they invite her to their next seance, she initially believes that she is being pranked, but then the girls start being killed off one by one. The Fairfield Ghost has come to take its revenge and Camille must turn detective and solve the mystery, or suffer the same fate.

“Dream Horse” (In Theaters)

“Dream Horse” tells the inspiring true story of Dream Alliance, an unlikely race horse bred by small town bartender, Jan Vokes (Toni Collette). With very little money and no experience, Jan convinces her neighbors to chip in their meager earnings to help raise Dream and compete with the racing elites. Their investment pays off as Dream rises through the ranks and becomes a beacon of hope in their struggling community.

“Counter Column” – Written by Laura Starkey, Gilbert Sorola, and Matthew Jordan (In Theaters)

Anthony Mendoza (Chris Gonzales), an inner-city drug dealer on the run, joins the Army, only to clash with Chris Wright (Nathan-Andrew Hight), a hard-headed Christian determined to share his faith despite persecution.

May 25

“My Zoe” – Written and Directed by Julie Delpy (Available on VOD)

“My Zoe”

Following a divorce, geneticist Isabelle (Julie Delpy) is trying to rebuild her life. She has a new boyfriend and plans to revitalize her career. But ex-husband James (Richard Armitage) can’t accept this and makes her life difficult in the custody battle for their daughter, Zoe (Sophia Ally). When a tragedy strikes, the already broken family’s world is shattered. In reaction, Isabelle decides to take fate into her own hands.

“The 8th” (Documentary) – Directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle (Available on VOD in the U.K. and Ireland)

“The 8th”

“The 8th” traces Ireland’s campaign to remove the 8th Amendment – a constitutional ban on abortion. It shows a country’s transformation from a conservative state in thrall to the Catholic church to a more liberal secular society. “The 8th” includes voices from both sides of the debate, but its primary focus is on the dynamic female leaders of the pro-choice campaign. The film follows the veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth and self-described glitter-activist Andrea Horan as they chart a bold strategy of grassroots activism and engineer the impossible. This dramatic story is underscored by a vivid exploration of the wrenching failures that led to this defining moment in Irish history.

May 26

“Baggio: The Divine Ponytail” – Directed by Letizia Lamartire (Available on Netflix)

Biographical film about Italian footballer Roberto Baggio (Andrea Arcangeli), a man who inspired entire generations to play football. A unique footballer, capable of thrilling fans all over the world.

May 28

“Cruella” – Written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara (In Theaters and Available for Rent on Disney+)

“Cruella”

Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, “Cruella” follows a young grifter named Estella (Emma Stone), a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves and together they build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of fashion legend Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) but their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, and revenge-bent Cruella.

“Port Authority” – Written and Directed by Danielle Lessovitz (In Theaters; Available on VOD June 1)

“Port Authority”

After getting kicked out of his home in central Pennsylvania, Paul (Fionn Whitehead) arrives to NYC’s dizzying central station with nowhere to go. A momentary encounter with Wye (Leyna Bloom), a trans woman of color, leads him to seek her out. Transfixed by her beauty and confidence, a love soon blossoms. But as the two learn more about each other, Paul’s false narratives begin to surface and the double life he lives must be reconciled.

“Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog” – Written and Directed by Lynn Roth (In Theaters)

When the Nuremberg Laws are passed forbidding Jews to own pets, Kaleb, a German Shepherd, is separated from his Jewish family and his beloved 10-year-old master, Joshua (August Maturo). Kaleb becomes a street dog, is captured, and eventually adopted by an SS dog trainer (Ken Duken) at a Nazi work camp where Kaleb has now been trained to help round up and terrorize Jewish prisoners. One day when a new trainload of prisoners arrives at the camp, Joshua steps out of that train and a miraculous reunion takes place as Kaleb rediscovers his unwavering loyalty to his young master. Together the pair attempt to escape the camp and begin the perilous journey to freedom.

“Endangered Species” – Directed by M.J. Bassett; Written by Isabel Bassett and M.J. Bassett (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

“Endangered Species” is an intense, action packed survival-adventure about a wealthy American family who travel to the vast African wilderness of Kenya hoping for a dream vacation filled with excitement, bonding, and a chance to fix the growing rifts within their family. But when their safari vehicle is attacked by a rhino protecting her calf, the family is left stranded miles from help and their dream vacation turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival in a world where they are at the bottom of the food chain.

“American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally” (In Theaters and Available on VOD)

Based on the true story, “American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally” follows the life of American woman Mildred Gillars (Meadow Williams) and her lawyer (Al Pacino), who struggles to redeem her reputation. Dubbed “Axis Sally” for broadcasting Nazi propaganda to American troops during World War II, Mildred’s story exposes the dark underbelly of the Third Reich’s hate-filled propaganda machine, her eventual capture in Berlin, and subsequent trial for treason against the United States after the war.

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