This International Women’s Day the theme is #choosetochallenge, raising awareness about gender bias and helping to forge a gender-equal world.
Many women in the media and film industry continue to face a glass ceiling. Although inclusivity and gender equality is becoming an important facet to awards such as the Oscars, there is still some distance that needs to be travelled for female filmmakers to be fully represented and championed.
Take these t-shirts for instance. We love how their simplicity amplifies voices of women filmmakers and treats them like rockstars.
We wanted to take a moment to celebrate the achievements of women in the film industry who #choosetochallenge the gender imbalances in the film industry and who’s work helps to support the advancement of female filmmakers and leaders.
Without further ado, here’s our round up of some of the most influential women challenging women’s position within film!
Fierce Female Filmmakers
First Oscar-Winning Female Filmmaker
Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director for her film The Hurtlocker (2008). Considering the 1st Academy Awards was presented in 1929, it took nearly 80 years for a woman’s achievements in film to be recognised.
Kathryn started off studying painting, but entered the graduate film program at Columbia University as soon as she graduated. At Columbia, she made her first short film, The Set-Up (1978) but it wasn’t until the making of Blue Steel (1990) and Point Break (1991) when Kathryn became recognised as both a Hollywood brand and auteur.
Her work is known for the manipulation of movie genres and mainstream conventions, and her head-on expression of violent realities and controversial subjects such as gender, politics and racial conflicts, without losing the entertaining value of her films. With her fierce belief in the political power of the film medium and her determination to give victims of injustice a voice, Kathryn’s work is topical, important and socially conscious.
First Black Female Director Oscar Nominee
In 2014 it was Ava Marie DuVernay who got to stand in the spotlights as she was the first black female filmmaker to get nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director and the Academy Award for Best Picture for her feature film Selma.
Ava started off as a journalist and shortly moved into PR, founding several ventures amongst which DuVernay Agency, a public relations firm which introduced her to the film industry.
In 2005, Ava directed her first 12-minute long documentary, inspired by her own mother. Up until today she still occupies the role of a filmmaker, though her portfolio has extended with many other documentaries, feature films, television programmes, commercials, music videos and the very popular Netflix series When They See Us (2019).
She was the first black woman to win the directing award at the Sundance Film Festival (Middle of Nowhere), the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director and the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (Selma). She’s also been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (13th).
Even though her portfolio is extremely diverse the majority of Ava’s work is characterised by her personal mission of “furthering and fostering the black cinematic imagination in an organised and consistent way, and to not having to defer and ask permission to traffic our films: to be self-determining.” (DuVernay, 2014).
First Acclaimed Black Woman Queer Director
Another powerful female filmmaker using the power of the audiovisual form of storytelling to convey controversial topics is Dee Rees. Unlike other influential LGBT female filmmakers, Rees explores sexual expression within an Afro-American context. Being raised in an orthodox, African American family, her coming out was far from easy. However, Rees managed to turn the struggles of her outcoming into a source of inspiration for her very first feature film Pariah (2011). Even though the completion of the film took around 5 years due to funding and formatting difficulties, it is one of Rees’ best-known works.
Most of Rees’ works is characterised by political, ethical and racial messages. Her latest film The Last Thing He Wanted is a political thriller based on a novel with the same title, that premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Her film Mudbound (2017), was inspired by her grandma’s journal, and has been nominated 113 times and won 36 awards.
First Asian Woman to Win Best Director Golden Globe
Chloe Zhao is the second woman and first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for her film Nomadland (2020).
Chloe loved films growing up, and after completing her Bachelors in Political Science, she went on to study film production at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.
Her debut feature film Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) premiered at Sundance and was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Much like her first feature, Chloe utilised a non-actor cast in her second film The Rider (2017) which premiered at Cannes to critical acclaim.
By blending a cast of actors and real people in her films, Chloe creates films that immerse the audience in the reality and truth of her story. By blurring the lines between truth and fiction, Chloe’s films are exciting, honest and innovative.
Chloe is slated to direct the next Marvel Blockbuster Eternals.
First Female Superhero Filmmaker
Someone who pushed the trend of “filmmaking feminism” even further is Patty Jenkins. With the release of Wonder Women in 2017, Patty did not only receive the title of ‘first female director of an American studio superhero film’ but also became the author of the highest-grossing female-directed film of all time, surpassing Phyllida Lloyd, director of Box Office Hit Mamma Mia!.
When she was 20, Patty persuaded the manager of the company she was interning at, to provide her with film training in return for working on set for free. This led to Jenkins operating as a cameraperson for the next 10 years.
Patty was recognised for her talent and ambition and was offered a spot at the American Film Institute which taught her the profession of directing. In 2003, Jenkins directed her first movie Monster with Charlize Theron, which received critical acclaim.
The following 15 years presented a string of rejections for Patty, but made a huge splash with her come-back movie, Wonder Woman – giving her the biggest domestic opening for a female filmmaker. With the film, Patty contributed to raising awareness on one of the UN’s most pursued goals: ‘achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030’.
Recently, Warner Brothers asked her to return for Wonder Woman 1984, which Patty accepted provided that she would receive the same amount of salary as her male counterparts would have gotten for directing the film.
First “Bold Content” Female Filmmakers
As a relatively small video production company, we value the importance of a diverse and all-round team including female filmmakers. We have worked with many different female filmmakers over the years, who have delivered great and influential work. Amongst them is Tamara Rosenfield.
Tamara graduated in film production from the School of Cinematic Arts at USC. She has gone on to win multiple competitions for commercial spots, which brought her to Cannes Lions Awards two consecutive years (2011, 2012). After moving to London she worked with us as a director on many projects for brands and advertising agencies, including Coca-Cola, Jameson, Chevrolet and Lowe & Partners and non-profits such as Akshaya Patra. She was selected for the prestigious SHOOT Magazine New Directors Showcase in 2014 for a Coca-Cola spot she directed in Brazil. The film was screened at the DGA in NYC. She is now a member of the Director’s Guild of America and directed episodes of Chef’s Table Street Food for Netflix.
Another one of our female filmmakers who we greatly value is Sogol Ashar. Sogol Afshar is an Iranian filmmaker, living in London whose powerful and compelling work is born from her love of fine art. She has a strong connection with female empowerment issues which led to the creation of a commercial for the Fawcett Society which was nominated for a 2017 Adcan award.
Finally, we want to give the stage to Charlotte Regan, one of our youngest female filmmakers. Before she became a filmmaker, Regan worked at a scrapyard and as a paparazzi photographer. She had no obsessive interest in film but got involved in directing music videos for friends because of her love for the rap and grime culture. Nowadays she has a diverse portfolio including commercials, branded content, short films and documentaries. Charlotte is not so much fixated on the type of audiovisual storytelling that she creates but more on adding human interest to the stories that she tells. Her documentary Drug Runner is a human interest story following the evolution of a 15-year-old child as he falls into the world of drug dealing. We are honoured to have been able to work with Charlotte Regan on this project, together pushing the boundaries of documentary storytelling. Charlotte has won numerous awards for her work, including the BFI Future Film Award, the BFI New Talent Award, a Cannes Lions YDA Award, and now her second Vimeo Staff Pick for Drug Runner. (Featured photo from Drug Runner above).
Who have we missed? Let us know!
Huge thanks to Anne Bosman for contributing.