Everyday Hero: Susan Madsen continues to inspire women 1

Susan Madsen poses for a portrait in her Highland home,


Aug. 24.

, 2016.

Madsen is currently a Utah Valley University professor and project director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project.


Like many of my fellow Utahns, I have spent more time looking at screens in the past few months than I care to admit. Yes, much of it is work related: Zoom, Skype, research and writing take up most of my time. But at the end of a long day sitting at a computer, I am eager to make a snack, curl up with my family and watch a good movie.

Since many of you are in the same situation, we here at the Utah Women & Leadership Project have complied a list of 12 movies, from six countries that relate to our mission of strengthening “the impact of Utah girls and women through informing, engaging and developing their voices, confidence, influence and leadership.” Each movie features a strong (often young) female protagonist who has to work hard and break barriers to achieve her goals. Click the link to IMDB to access trailer, ratings, parental guides and where the films can be viewed.

If you think documentaries are a yawfest, think again. “Maiden” (2018) is the edge-of-your-seat story of 24-year-old Tracy Edwards, who became the skipper of the first-ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989. It’s an exciting blend of raw talent, learned leadership and guts. A little gem from Mongolia is “The Eagle Huntress” (2016). Watch a 13-year-old girl train to become the first female in 12 generations of her nomad family to become an eagle huntress.

This movie’s courage will stay with you for ages. An inspiring story about another 13-year-old girl is “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” (2018). She loses an arm to a shark, but refuses to give up her dreams of becoming a professional surfer and ultimately a mother. Her willingness to push through pain and create new ways to succeed is inspirational.

In the cartoon category, we could include “Moana,” “Frozen” and “Brave,” but you’ve seen those. So instead we offer a film out of Afghanistan, “The Breadwinner” (2016). Think of it as Mulan takes on the Taliban. In 2001, when Parvana’s father is captured, this determined young girl disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. Equally thrilling and enchanting, this story embraces hope in even the darkest of times.

Fact-based fiction is a favorite genre of mine, and there are many outstanding and well-known movies in this category. “Hidden Figures” (2016) shows us the brilliant female African-American mathematicians who played a vital role in NASA’s early years. “A League of Their Own” (1992) tells the story of the first female baseball league. Watch the story of former slave turned Underground Railroad conductor turned military commander in “Harriet” (2019). The lesser-known “Queen of Katwe” (2016) takes us to a Ugandan slum and we see a 10-year-old girl transformed by the game of chess.

And finally, the ever-popular inspirational fiction. Probably the hardest category to narrow down because there are so many good choices, we recommend: “Akeelah and the Bee” (2006), about a girl from South Los Angeles fighting her way to the National Spelling Bee; New Zealand’s “Whale Rider” (2002) tells about a girl battling family and cultural barriers to fulfill her destiny as the new chief; in “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002) a young woman from an orthodox Sikh family rebels against her parents to play soccer; and both versions of “Hairspray” (1992 and 2007) will have you cheering on plus-size Tracy Turnblad as she takes on segregationists and fat-shamers while showing off her moves.

We know that for many young women and girls it’s hard to be what you can’t see. Take advantage of this extra family time to watch films with your daughters (and sons) featuring strong female role models. Show them that leadership, bravery and power are not defined by gender and privilege, but by heart and determination!

Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the Founding Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

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