Say what? Periods on screen? Yes indeed! Although perhaps not the first subject what comes to mind when you think about films, menstruation is also hot & happening in the cinema and on Netflix. From Oscar-winning blockbusters to personal short docs, here are some must-see menstrual movies.
Just like 200 million other women, director and animator Ellen Andries suffers from endometriosis. Together with her husband, filmmaker Thomas Maddens, she decided to document her own endo journey. Over a period of 4.5 years, the Belgian couple has filmed their search for answers and pain relief. Intimate, vulnerable and emotional, MyEndo shows their personal battle with the disease that affects more than 1 in 10 women, but still has no known cause or cure. Apart from Andries’ and Maddens’ own struggle, the documentary also includes interviews with medical experts and an animation of Andries’ endo monster, made by the graphic designer herself. Watch it if you want to know what living with endometriosis really feels like for you and your loved ones.
About Bloody Time
She’d happily talk about sex or childbirth, and even about poo. But not about periods. Why not? The 40-year-old filmmaker Rachel Judkins from New Zealand has menstruated more than 300 times, but she’s still a bit weird about it. To finally ditch her own period cringe, Judkins – ‘It’s about bloody time I got over it!’ – explores the silence about periods in a very personal way. The result: About Bloody Time!, a short documentary that’s funny, a bit quirky, and above all, very honest. One to watch if you want to start a conversation about menstruation.
Period. End of Sentence.
In 2019, Period. End of Sentence. by the Iranian-American film director Rayka Zehtabchi won an Oscar for the best documentary short film. The movie doesn’t just reveal the influence of menstrual poverty on the lives of women and girls in an Indian village, it also shows the difference education, empowerment and entrepreneurial spirit can make. When a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the enterprising women take charge and begin manufacturing their own sanitary pads.
Pandora’s Box – Lifting the lid on menstruation (by director Rebecca Snow) focuses on the worldwide menstrual equity movement. It takes the viewer to Kenya, Uganda, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Women everywhere, from developing countries to American prisons and European schools, tell their stories. What they have in common? All of them have trouble managing their menstruation with dignity. The 75-minute Canadian documentary, which also features activists, policy-makers, lawyers and other supporters of the menstrual equity movement, made its premiere at Whistler Film Festival 2019 where it got an Honorable Mention. Curious? Watch the trailer here.
Period Girl follows Nadya Okamoto as she opens up about some of the personal trauma that helps fuel her work. Okamoto is a 21-year-old activist and social entrepreneur who left Harvard to continue the global conversation about menstrual hygiene. She doesn’t sit still: when Okamoto was just 16 years old, she set up Period.org, a non-profit organisation which distributes free menstrual supplies to homeless people across the country and fights to end the stigma on menstruation. She’s also written Period Power, a manifesto for the menstrual movement. Period Girl, which is directed by Jalena Keane-Lee, shows the person behind the organisation and offers a look behind the scenes.
Things We Don’t Talk About
Things We Don’t Talk About: Woman’s Stories from the Red Tent is a 72-minute documentary about the Red Tent Movement by filmmaker Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost. Originally inspired by Anita Diamant’s work of fiction The Red Tent, a Red Tent is a safe space where women gather to rest, renew, and often share deep and powerful stories about their lives. It provides a place that honours and celebrates women, by respecting and understanding their cycles, and enabling open conversations about things they’d usually rather not talk about in other venues.
Director Emma Branderhorst has made a short film about a trending topic: period poverty. To research this topic, Branderhorst spent a while working at a food bank, where she noticed the demand for menstrual products – which weren’t always available. The drama Vlekkeloos (which translates as ‘spotless’) is about the 15-year-old Ruby who has to deal with her menarche by herself. She doesn’t have any menstrual products and doesn’t want to bother her hardworking mother with this as there’s no money to pay for tampons or pads anyway. But how long can she keep this up? Branderhorst, who calls herself a progressive feminist and graduated from the HKU University of Arts (Utrecht, The Netherlands) in 2019, previously made the movie Onderhuids.
Even if you’re not into coming-of-age dramas or menstruation as a movie subject, Kanya is worth watching. Why? Because its visuals are simply stunning, especially the underwater scenes. The story: teenage girl Kanya is a great swimmer who trains to compete at national level. But when she gets her first period – yes, of course that happens in the swimming pool – she has to give up her dreams. Because the menarche, although celebrated at first, also means a girl has to behave ‘like a woman’ and thus confirm to Indian society’s patriarchal rules. In other words: no more swimming. Gender inequality is the main theme of this movie, perhaps best summarised by Kanya’s brother’s reply to her question why he doesn’t have to undergo all these rituals: ‘Only girls go through this’. With Kanya, her graduation film and in her own words ‘a story of liberation’, director Apoorva Satish won the best student film award at Imagineindia 2021.
Warning: watching this short video (which comes with a trigger warning) might make you angry. That’s at least the goal of its makers. In fact, they want you to become so mad about period poverty that you do something about it. This campaign, produced by Prettybird and directed by Margot Bowman, is actually based on science. The psychological insights of Dr Philip Gable, Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Delaware (USA), have led to different techniques being used to evoke anger with the viewers. Narrative arc (a girl unexpectedly gets her period in school and doesn’t have any menstrual products), character depictions, graphics, soundtrack, pace and use of colour: all are meant to make you so angry that you want to combat period poverty. Preferably by donating or shopping Hey Girls products, because let’s not forget, Seeing Red is an advert.
For The Sake of Calmness
For The Sake of Calmness – the first short movie by the Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian – isn’t a menstrual movie in the strictest sense of the word. It actually is a series of landscape stills and faces, combined with a disturbing soundtrack. In other words: an experimental take on a reality that’s disrupted every month by the premenstrual syndrome. ‘About a week before my period starts, my mood changes: I feel too much, I see too much. I withdraw into myself on these days, it feels like there’s no filter between me and the outside work, like I’m naked. I’ve felt like that for years, every month, without knowing what it was,’ she says in an interview with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant. Nowadays, Tavakolian is convinced that PMS also is a superpower. ‘While talking to women and doctors, I realised that many women develop a sixth sense during PMS. In the past, women were burned or stoned to death because of this, they were called witches because of their sensitivity. During their PMS days, women are at the peak of their creativity and power. But because you feel so much, you close the door to the outside world: you don’t want to see anyone or do anything, everything is too much.’ For The Sake of Calmness was first shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). Watch the trailer on vimeo.
It isn’t out yet, but you can already watch the trailer here. PMS – from the Portuguese film director Ana Pio – is a 9-minute short film about real estate agent Maria who’s struggling to sell an apartment the day before her period arrives. It’s a dark comedy. Or is it a thriller? Pio wants to normalise the conversation around women and hormones. Why? ‘I suffer from Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome and my mother had a very devastating menopause, so I’m all up for making menstruation a normality in the media. This way, it can be normal to talk about in real life too!’ Not surprisingly, her next project will be a film about menopause.
Not Ovary Acting
Another endometriosis film, this one is made by the American End of Endo Project. Not Ovary Acting is the story of Leah, a young woman who has dealt with pain for as long as she can remember. She visits different doctors, but doesn’t get the help she needs, being instead given birth controll pills or told she has a low pain tolerance. After all, getting your periods can be a little uncomfortable. Finally, she’s properly diagnosed and, after a lot of false advice, eventually Leah gets the support she needs. A bit ridiculous and absurd at times, Not Overy Acting is dramedy with a serious message: if you’re suffering from endometriosis, no matter what doctors say, you’re not overreacting.
A Bloody Mess
A Bloody Mess, made by South-Asian Canadian filmmaker Asis Sethi, won Best Short Film in different categories (from drama to social awareness) at various film festivals. The 11 minutes long film is about Varsha, who struggles to have a normal conversation about menstruation with her conservative South Asian family who still see it as a taboo subject. Despite living in another country, Varsha is forced to follow Indian customs and restrictions during her menstruation. However, she defies tradition and battles against her mother’s firm beliefs. Moral of the story: open communication between parents and children about menstruation is incredibly important.
A Dutch film, directed by Ashgan El-Hamus, Birdland is an intimate story about young mother Joy and her daughter Skye, who live in a trailer park on the outskirts of the city. Skye tries to be just as mature as her mother an copies Joy in everything. The film is about easy-going parenting, setting boundaries – and also about menstruation. Because, says El-Hamus: ‘How do you show that, the wish to grow up? From my own childhood I remember really wanting to get my period. For me, that symbolised being a woman.’ The second reason to include periods in this film, was El-Hamus’ frustration about the way menstruation is normally portrayed. ‘It’s always shown either pretty and clean, with blue blood for example, or as pure horror. But it’s never realistic.’
The Great Indian Kitchen (new release!)
Yes, it’s about homemade food, as the title suggests. But more than that, The Great Indian Kitchen shows the domestic life many Indian women are forced to live after marriage. A life consisting of cooking, cleaning and doing other household chores. According to director Jeo Baby, ‘Kitchen is actually hell’. Menstruating women get a relief from their duties since they’re banned from the kitchen: while on her period, even an upper caste woman is considered impure. When the unnamed wife in this movie accidentally touches her husband when menstruating, the priest advises him to purify himself. How? By eating cow dung or drinking cow urine, which is obviously way less gross than menstrual blood… The man gets away with just a dip in cleansing water, the woman goes straight back into the kitchen after her period has finished. The Great Indian Kitchen paints a realistic portrait of what happens in traditional Indian households that are still ruled by patriarchy.
Padman is based on the life of Indian entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham. The story starts when Muruganantham discovers his wife uses old rags instead of sanitary pads. The reason? Otherwise they wouldn’t have enough money left to buy milk. The entrepreneur decides to develop a machine which produces low cost sanitary pads. However, his invention causes him to lose nearly all his family and friends, his money and his position in society. Finding women to test his product turns out to be impossible. Eventually, he decides to test the pads himself, hence his nickname ‘menstrual man’. Padman – produced by the Indian Twinkle Khanna, with her husband and Bollywood movie star Akshay Kumar playing the lead role – was also nominated during the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony, but didn’t win a gold-plated statue.
Another movie about an Indian man who makes sanitary pads for the women in his village. Phullu (Hindi slang for a man who spends lots of time with women) already came out before Padman, in 2017. The absence of famous Bollywood actors probably explains why it’s not as well-known as Padman. Phullu also isn’t based on a real life story. Instead, it’s a fictional drama about menstrual hygiene and awareness. Its tagline: ‘Jo aurat ka dard nahi samajhta, bhagwan usse mard nahi samajhta.’ (Translation: The man who doesn’t understand the pain of a woman, isn’t considered a man by God).
This web series is a tongue-in-cheek history lesson about women in different periods of history… having their periods. With Period Piece, American actress Liliana Tandon hopes to empower women to embrace their periods instead of feeling ashamed of their monthly bleeding. A serious message, but the series itself will make you laugh out loud – we guarantee. Season 1 brings you from colonial America, 18th century France, Victorian England and New York in the Roaring Twenties, to menstruation in modern times (keyword: denial!). Season 2 includes a menstrual story from ancient Rome, menstual pad problems in the Wild West, the menstrual stain as fashion statement in 1800s Germany and of course #makeperiodsgreatagain! with Donald Trump.