Celebrating women in cinema: 11 female directors to remember

female directors
Aminah Barnes

Aminah Barnes

Women everywhere were grateful to Natalie Portman last year. As she stood on stage with Ron Howard at the 2018 Golden Globes, she made a stand for women by highlighting the total dominance of men in the ‘Best Directors’ category. The video of her ad-libbing in her introduction of the “all-male nominees” to the surprise of her co-presenter and audiences went viral. A #TimesUp advocate, Portman has since spoken out about her choice of words, asserting that she didn’t want to insult the male directors who had done great work, but rather call out the lack of female representation and lack of inclusion of very deserving female candidates in that category.

Alongside men, women have always been at the forefront of creativity and talent – they just haven’t always received parallel acknowledgement and attribution. Since the beginning of the Oscars in the 1929, only one woman has ever won the Best Director Academy Award. In 2017, Rachel Morrison was the first female to be nominated for Best Cinematography, and remains the only nominee to date. Though Portman and countless others have attempted to draw attention to the fact, and gender equality has been set in motion through many advancements, we only need to consider this year’s Academy Awards directorial nominees to understand the struggle is far from over. In 2019, Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) and Adam McKay (Vice) fill the ‘Best Director’ category, and evoking Portman, we don’t wish to discredit them or their work, but believe that many female counterparts are being overlooked.

With this year’s International Women’s Day harbouring the theme of #BalanceforBetter, we wanted to pay tribute to the female directors worth noting. From established industry powerhouses to up-and-coming creative talents, here are 11 female directors to look out for. 

Elizabeth Banks

Elizabeth Banks

Having gained fame as an actress in films such as ‘The Hunger Games’ saga (2012-2015), ‘Role Models’ (2008), ‘The 40-Year-Old-Virgin’ (2005), ‘Definitely, Maybe’ (2008) and many others, Banks felt she needed more control and so sought to take a seat behind the lens instead. Now, she is an industry force, having produced the ‘Pitch Perfect’ series and directed ‘Pitch Perfect 2’, and is due to release the reboot of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ in 2019 which she has directed, starred in and co-written.

Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee

The multi-talented Jennifer Lee wrote, co-directed and provided a voice to a supporting character in the highly-acclaimed children’s film ‘Frozen’. The 2013 film won an Academy Award for ‘Best Animated Feature’, and was the highest-earning film with a female director (domesting earnings) until 2017. Lee was Disney’s first female director, having worked on ‘Wreck-It-Ralph’ (2012), ‘Zootopia’ (2016) and various sequels, with the second installment to ‘Frozen’ expected later this year.

Jane Campion

Jane Campion

Just missing out on winning ‘Best Director’ at the 1994 Academy Awards, Campion was pipped by Steven Spielberg for his work on ‘Schindler’s List’. Her film ‘The Piano’ did scoop ‘Best Original Screenplay’ however and won her the ‘Palme d’Or’, which she remains the only female filmmaker to have won. Behind the scenes, Campion proclaimed she couldn’t enjoy the success as she was suffering from a tragic loss of her newborn son. Her experience with female loss has inspired some of her later projects such as ‘Top of the Lake’, but she still feels this is an area only just surfacing (in comparison to male loss), crediting ‘Big Little Lies’ and ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow is THE female director to have triumphed at the Oscars as ‘Best Director’ in 2010, as well as being the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award and a BAFTA Award for ‘Best Director’. While reporters at the time attempted to concentrate on the rivalry between her and her ex-husband James Cameron who was also up for the award for ‘Avatar’ (2009), Bigelow failed to let the spotlight veer from the fact she was making history and leading the way for female filmmakers. Her film ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2008) broke records, but is one of many of her successes having directed ‘Near Dark’ (1987), ‘Point Break’ (1991) and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012).

Mary Harron

Mary Harron

Almost 20-years-ago, Harron popularised the ‘female gaze’ in her work on the cult classic ‘American Psycho’ (2000). Together with co-writer Guinevere Turner, Harron’s film revamps the Easton Ellis novel of which it was based, challenging the norm by showing how pathetic the protagonist is rather than satirising him and making him likeable. Instead the lead character ‘Bateman’ portrayed by Christian Bale never ends up being someone we sympathise with, making ‘American Psycho’ and Harron as a director game-changers.

Michelle MacLaren

michelle Maclaren

‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The X Files’, ‘Modern Family’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ are some of the most popular TV shows of all time, spanning across genres of comedy, sci-fi, fantasy and drama. MacLaren is the talent that binds them, having directed select episodes of each. Though they are all different, she believes in the art of subjective storytelling, seeing each script through her own eyes and filming accordingly. MacLaren has always wanted to be a director, discovering a note she wrote to her grandma at the age of 13 prior to landing the job on ‘The X Files’, and is a great example of following one’s dreams no matter what.

Nancy Meyers

Nancy Meyers

If you haven’t heard of Meyers, you’ll still most likely have heard of her films. ‘It’s Complicated’ (2009), ‘What Women Want’ (2000), ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ (2003), ‘The Intern’ (2015) and many others are Meyers’ work as a top Hollywood director. She notes that when she started, she was the only women on set and the youngest, and today she is still one of the only women on set but now the oldest. Meyers hopes that with the success of each of her films, more women will have a shot at telling their stories, and she believes that the lack of females behind the camera will at least now be noticed thanks to #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

Phyllida Lloyd

Phyllida Lloyd

The queen of theatre, opera and film, Phyllida Lloyd has championed the performing arts thanks to her many projects as a director. Some of her most notable productions include ‘The Iron Lady’ (2011), ‘Tina: The Musical’, and both the West End and film adaptations of ‘Mamma Mia!’ (2008) and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ (2018). She also directed an all-female Shakespeare trilogy (2012-2016), which The Guardian referred to as ‘one of the most important theatrical events of the past twenty years’. Reflecting on her choice to cast only females, Lloyd claimed it to be relevant to a time where gender and identity are being explored.

Reed Morano

Reed Morano

Thanks to her powerful directorial work on episodes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Morano was the first ever woman to an Emmy and Directors Guild Award as director of a drama series. With much of her career also spent as a Cinematographer, Morano continues to grow in her ability to produce impressive films – exciting us for the release of ‘The Rhythm Section’ starring Blake Lively and Jude Law expected out this year.

The Wachowskis

Lilly and Lana Wachowski

Sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski were the masterminds behind many cult action movies. The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), ‘Speed Racer’ (2008), ‘V for Vendetta’ (2005), ‘Jupiter Ascending’ (2015) and Netflix series ‘Sense 8’ (2015) were all created, directed or produced by them, heralding their claim as some of the most renowned and talented filmmakers of this century. Following their gender transitions, the pair not only provide role models to aspiring female filmmakers, but also empowering the transgender community too.

Ava Duvernay

Ava Duverny

After becoming the first African-American woman to win the US Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Duvernay went on to create films that would tribute her heritage. In 2016, she directed ‘August 28: A Day in the Life of a People’, which explored six events of African-American history that occured on this date. She also made the multiple Academy Award-nominated ‘Selma’ (2014) and ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ (2018), the latter of which made Duvernay the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a $100m + budget, and the second ever woman to do so.

There has certainly been more attention to the representation of women in the film industry – from rising numbers of female directors to female-led stories and strong female characters. It is the hope that in the current momentum, more will be done so we can fully achieve gender balance in films and beyond.

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