Updated: Apr 25, 2021

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

Throughout this article, we will take a journey into the world of documentaries on womxn who left their fingerprints on musical history and impact music to this day, not only for their artistic efforts - but also for their values, their struggle, their teaching, and the examples they set with their life and work.

Name: Amy Director: Asif Kapadia Year: 2015 Country: UK

Before you start, have a box of chocolates nearby, too much on when this film hits you right in the feelings. The documentary, directed by Englishman Asif Kapadia, features unreleased archive footage and interviews with British singer Amy Winehouse, an artist with a natural talent for jazz and soul and a prodigious voice that soon made her a world star, despite releasing only two albums. A series of shaping events that set off with the divorce of her parents when she was a child finally led this tragic talent to her untimely passing.

Name: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Director: Liz Garbus

Year: 2015

Country: United States

This film provides a journey through the life of legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone. The documentary not only shows the moments of glory of the American singer but also some of the darkest moments of her life, such as her mental illness and the racism she suffered from within the music industry. The production includes unedited photos and files, as well as excerpts from over 100 hours of never-before-heard audio interviews. "What Happened, Miss Simone?" earned director Liz Garbus nominations at the Oscar Awards for Best Documentary and the Grammy for Best Music Film 2015.

Name: Silvana – Väck mig när ni vaknat (Wake me up when you wake up)

Director: Mika Gustafson, Olivia Kastebring, Christina Tsiobanelis

Year: 2017

Country: Sweden

With her uncompromising lyrics against all forms of oppression, Silvana Imam is a rapper who has conquered Scandinavia. An activist and icon of the queer community who defines herself as a lesbian, feminist and anti-racist, she has become the voice of a generation. This film is a journey, starting in the early years of the artist's career, following her as she becomes a true contemporary icon in the spotlight of hundreds of teenagers and followers.

Name: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Director: Amy Berg

Year: 2015

Country: United States

This documentary takes a look at the fast life of legendary American singer Janis Joplin (1943-1970). The artist Cat Power narrates the film from a first-person point of view, explaining how Janis Joplin became a star, using the letters that Joplin wrote for years to her family, friends, and collaborators, before her fateful death at the age of 27.

Name: Woman

Director: Raul de la Fuente

Year: 2019

Country: Spain

Mozambique, Southeast Africa: The case of Josina Machel, daughter of the president, shows that gender-based violence does not distinguish between social strata. A new generation of multi-faceted, powerful, passionate and struggling women are raising their voices to fight inequality from hip-hop, rap, poetry, justice, and social movements. Examples of these are poet Enia Lipanga, and singers Dama do Bling and Iveth Mafundza, lawyers who specialize in cases of male violence and who ended up working in hip-hop to raise awareness in Mozambican society.

Name: Bixa Travesty

Director: Kiko Goifman, Claudia Priscilla

Year: 2018

Country: Brasil

The documentary tells the story of transgender singer and performer Linn da Quebrada, an artist turned into an artistic and social phenomenon: a terrorist of the genre, as she likes to define herself, who surprises us with her sharp lyrics against all kinds of oppression, her shocking wardrobe and her conception of the body as a political weapon that threatens the heteronormative gender image. You can learn more about Linn da Quebrada, one of our previous artists of the week, in our recent article.

Name: Gaga: Five Foot Two

Director: Chris Moukarbel

Year: 2017

Country: United States

The power of a male-dominated industry, the exposure to drama-loving media, her fight (?) with Madonna, and the physical struggles faced through complicated hip surgery and chronic pain - those are just some of the factors that circulate within this great documentary where the now matured Lady Gaga opens the doors of her heart to all her fans.

Name: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Director: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin

Year: 2013

Country: Russia

Adrenaline without demagoguery and without desire: those are some of the key elements to the Russian feminist punk group "Pussy Riot". On February 21, 2012, during a performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, three members of the Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with vandalism. Their trial began in late July, and Masha, Katya, and Nadia faced a seven-year prison sentence.

Name: Good Ol’ Freda

Director: Ryan White

Year: 2013

Country: United States

The story goes that The Beatles were together for 10 years, but Freda worked with the band for 11. She was a staple for the English band because of her unwavering loyalty and dedication. This documentary reviews Freda Kelly's life as a devoted secretary and friend of the Beatles, she witnessed not only the evolution but also the end of the greatest band in history.

Name: Madonna Truth Or Dare

Director: Alek Keshishian

Year: 1991

Country: United States

1991, already at the peak of her career, Madonna put on a show blurring the line between her private life and her public persona, knowing that everything she would do in front of the cameras would be scrutinized by fans and press critics. Sex, homosexuality, sarcastic comments about Kevin Costner and Oprah Winfrey are some of the topics the queen of pop addresses in "Truth or Dare".

Name: Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl

Director: Kerri Koch

Year: 2006

Country: United States

This documentary tells the story of the origins of the Riot Grrrl social and cultural movement in the independent music scene of the 1990s and how this feminist movement became a revolutionary underground network of education and self-awareness through music, writing, activism, and women-friendly community.

Name: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.

Director: Steve Loveridge

Year: 2018

Country: United States, UK

The structure of this documentary is rather linear and traditional, following M.I.A from the early days as the daughter of a Sri Lankan immigrant in London to today's fame, controversy, and motherhood. The film comes from a place of deep admiration for the British rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, visual artist, and activist (yes, she is all that!), but unlike the more flattering biographies, it is a compelling case that this admiration is well earned. Many people will be unaware of the cruelty of the violent reaction against her by a U.S. media establishment. A production you can't miss.

Name: Kate Nash: Underestimate The Girl:

Director: Amy Goldstein

Year: 2018

Country: United States

Setting up a house, writing songs, dealing with betrayal, being a woman in the industry and owning your voice are some of the issues that British singer Kate Nash faces in this production.

Name: Anita O’Day. The Life of a Jazz Singer

Director: Robbie Cavolina, Ian McCrudden

Year: 2007

Country: United States

For jazz lovers, this documentary shows the musical career and part of the life of jazz singer Anita O'Day. She had to face divorces, abortions, jail, heroin addiction... But even so, she never stopped singing until she was 86 years old. Based on part of her autobiography "High Times Hard Times".

Name: Komponistinnen

Director: Kyra Steckeweh

Year: 2018

Country: Germany

When the German pianist Kyra Steckeweh realized that her repertoire consisted exclusively of music composed by men, she started looking for pieces written by female composers. In her research, she discovered four amazing women and composers: Mel Bonis, Lili Boulanger, Fanny Hensel, and Emilie Mayer. The documentary discovers the life of these four unknown composers who left behind an extensive and high-quality work.

Name: Miss Sharon Jones

Director: Barbara Kopple

Year: 2015

Country: United States

The documentary directed by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple follows R&B queen Sharon Jones through a landmark year for her, as she battles both a cancer diagnosis and keeping her band, the Dap-Kings, together to return to the stage.

Name: Chavela

Director: Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi

Year: 2017

Country: United States

The protagonist of an excessive and unrelated life, no other Latin American singer has generated such a widespread and amplified anecdote as the Mexican Chavela Vargas. She lived, but she also sang, as she wished. The unpublished material in this documentary, as well as the interviews with Chavela herself and her contemporaries, colleagues, and partners, have resulted in a loving portrait of a charismatic and exceptional artist.

Name: Cuando Una Mujer Avanza

Director: Manuvuelto

Year: 2012

Country: Mexico

A documentary about Oaxaca's indigenous hip hop artist, Mare Advertencia Lírica. The film is filled with videos of her music and words that express an amazing vision of the world from a rarely heard perspective. Mare talks about religion, family, empowerment, and her best escape and means of transmitting the struggle and being the voice of women: hip hop.

Name: Tomar el escenario

Director: Elena Idoate

Year: 2013

Country: Spain

"Tomar el escenario" is a documentary about the presence and absence of women in Spanish alternative music. Throughout more than twenty interviews, the documentary goes into the musical participation of women who break with the traditional roles that society and music had reserved for them: women who have opened up new paths, who have fought against stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes.

Name: The Punk Singer

Director: Sini Anderson

Year: 2013

Country: United States

Using a combination of interviews and archival footage including live band performances, the documentary traces Kathleen Hanna's life and career: from her troubled upbringing and beginning in poetic performance, to her feminist activism that would lead to the creation of the group Bikini Kill and to what is considered one of the leading icons of the Riot Grrrl, an American feminist movement, linked to the alternative scene, born in the early 1990s.

Name: Twenty Feet from Stardom

Director: Morgan Neville

Year: 2013

Country: United States

Their voices provide harmony to the best bands, but we hadn't known much about the lives of these singers. Twenty Feet from Stardom is a tribute to the singers who have always remained in the background to singers and famous bands like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, among others. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill... those are just some of the great women stars of this documentary.

Name: Peligro Social