With the release of Akshay Kumar’s Padman, we definitively entered a new age, one in which menstruation isn’t simply to be whispered about. However, believe it or not, periods made their cinematic debut years ago. They’ve even featured in classic hits like “Carrie” and “Clueless.” A simple Google search will show you all the movies that have acknowledged and displayed menstruation – in more nuanced and multi-dimensional ways. Here’s a more diverse look at how the golden screen has depicted menstruation over the years. (Fair warning, spoilers ahead. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
1. “Menstrual Man”
Let’s start right at home. Four years before Akshay Kumar discovered Arunachalam Muruganantham and his story, Amit Virmani created the revolutionary documentary film “Menstrual Man.” Claiming Muruganantham’s journey “played like a Bollywood movie,” Virmani decided to break taboos and challenge status quos alongside his co-producer Seah Kui Luan. He even refused to change the title in order to better confront the stigma associated with menstruation. Who would’ve known that this piece would eventually be the spark for India’s menstrual awakening?
“Aami” follows the life of Malayali poet and author Kamala Surayya, affectionately known as Aami. Though the movie has been called pretentious, watered down, and even mediocre, there is an important scene that depicts her first period in its first half. It is straightforward but disheartening; She is isolated in solitary confinement and made to eat alone. Because Surayya has thus “attained womanhood,” her father decides she is now ready for marriage. It’s a scene from decades ago that is still culturally relevant today (unfortunately).
3. “The Virgin Suicides”
Based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel of the same name about five sisters, Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation of “The Virgin Suicides” is considered a visual storytelling masterpiece. Menstruation is never placed centrestage, but it guides the Lisbon sisters’ characterisation, creating raw and real women who truly live (not just exist), hurt, and yes, menstruate. There is a curious scene in which Peter Sissen, the girls’ next-door neighbour, opens a closet overflowing with tampons only to be interrupted by Lux Lisbon, who opens that very closet in front of him. The scene highlights the flirtatious mystery of women and menstruation, something that most teenagers – regardless of gender – experience, especially when they aren’t well-informed or educated just yet. It’s a relatable, nostalgic, and melancholic ode to teenagedom.
4. “Kept and Dreamless”
“Kept and Dreamless” is an independent film from Argentina that tells the story of a young girl, Eugenia, and her relationship with her mother Florencia who struggles with a drug addiction. Amidst the country’s economic crisis, Eugenia is forced to grow up far too early, often taking up a maternal role as her Florencia’s caretaker. As the movie approaches its end, Eugenia experiences menarche. Here, we see that Florencia apparently never educated her about menstruation, but tenderly shows her how to use a tampon and stands by her daughter in her moment of need. The movie uses menstruation to demonstrate the complexities of motherhood and parenting, presenting various typecasts of mothers and maternal figures.