Sometimes a song works perfectly to encapsulate a moment or an entire movie. Among this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Original Song is the fourteenth mention for Diane Warren, who has yet to win a competitive Oscar, for “Applause,” from a small movie called Tell It Like a Woman that made its premiere at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy last fall. That nomination will surely draw attention to this film, and the tie-in feels very fitting given that the spirit of this anthology film is well summed-up by the lyrics of the affirming and uplifting musical tribute to its characters.
Tell It Like a Woman is made up of seven separate stories that come from different directors. Told in five languages, there is a universality to the message they send, which is that there are struggles and misunderstandings that often impact the journeys of those who should not have stumbling blocks put in their way, and those can be very difficult to overcome. Yet it’s the enduring resilience that speaks loudest across any language, and these seven films don’t ignore the uphill battles that women face in any number of situations and the determination required to keep going when things feel hopeless.
There is no consistency or rhythm to this collection of stories, some of which are more effective than others, but it’s easy to come away from the film remembering its strongest moments. Among them are the first featured story, “Pepcy and Kim,” which comes from director Taraji P. Henson and stars Jennifer Hudson as a woman being released from prison grappling with the terror of what waits for her on the other side, and is based on an inspiring true story. The topic of motherhood and its complexities is explored compellingly in other segments with performances from Eva Longoria, Anne Watanabe, and Margherita Buy.
The importance of friendship and humanity echoes across all the short films, and may be most potent in one “Elbows Deep,” from director Catherine Hardwicke, which follows Marcia Gay Harden and Jasmine Luv as medical professionals checking on a homeless woman (Cara Delevingne) living in a California hotel room repurposed during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Sharing a Ride,” from director Leena Yadav and starring Jacqueline Fernandez, emphasizes the value of being seen for who you truly are.
This anthology opens with two English-language stories set in America and closes somewhat puzzlingly with an animated vignette, “Aria,” from directors Lucia Bulgheroni and Silvia Carobbio, which isn’t as strong as those that come before it. The Oscar-nominated “Applause” provides a more resounding departure swell, played during the penultimate segment, “Sharing a Ride,” and followed by an encore during the opening credits.
“Let ‘em know your time has come” and “Give yourself some love ‘cause you’re worth it” are worthwhile lyrics that speak to the film’s overall themes.
Tell It Like a Woman is the first feature film from We Do It Together, a company that describes itself as “uniquely dedicated to the empowerment of women.” Its mission is to give women opportunities to tell their own stories, and the extensive research highlighted on its website indicates grim statistics about representation in Hollywood and global film industries when it comes to gender, race, and LGBTQ identities. This feature film is an excellent start, one that fulfills its stated goal of giving women a platform through which to share what matters to them with the world. The diversity of filmmakers and actresses who worked on this film shows that it is possible to make this happen, and future efforts like this one should certainly be undertaken by many companies in the pursuit of true parity within the worlds of cinema and storytelling.
Tell It Like a Woman is now streaming on digital.