A Spotlight On Female Filmmakers and Their Growing Success

by Patricia Henderson
Female Filmmakers

Female filmmakers (including Rachel Morrison, the first woman to be Oscar-nominated for cinematography) have been in the spotlight recently. At the same time, women in the entertainment industry are fighting for their rights more vocally than Hollywood ever even dared to fear. Time’s Up, casting couch culture.

With International Women’s Day yesterday (and on the day of A Wrinkle in Time’s release), let’s take a look at some examples of how women have shaped the film industry.

Let’s Start At (Arguably) The Beginning

Alice Guy-Blaché was, at one time, the first and only known female filmmaker in the world. The French-born, Chilean-raised, eventual New Jersey resident retained that distinction from 1896 to 1906. Guy-Blaché wasn’t only a pioneer as a woman, she also explored many new concepts, such as: sound syncing, color tinting, special effects… interracial casting.

That’s right, interracial casting, at the turn of the 20th century. In fact, her movie A Fool and His Money, had a cast comprised almost entirely of African-American actors. Not only that, but the film strayed away from many of the horrid caricatures common in movies of that era. A Fool and His Money is now housed at the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute (AFI).

In total, Alice Guy-Blaché directed over 1,000 films, her first at age 23, by the way. As if all that wasn’t enough, she also co-founded and served as artistic director for Solax, the largest pre-Hollywood movie studio in America. Not bad.

female filmmakers

image via Wikipedia

Other Trailblazers

Over the years, things progressed, albeit slowly. Among the success stories were: Nora Ephron, the late writer of Silkwood, and When Harry Met Sally (among other films and novels). In 1984, the film Yentl earned Barbra Streisand a Golden Globe for best director, the first for a woman (as of this writing, also the last). And let’s not forget Penelope Spheeris, who directed two of the most beloved 1990s comedies,  Wayne’s Worldand Black Sheep.

In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director, for her film The Hurt Locker (which also won Best Picture).  That’s right, it only took about 100 years after the era of Alice Guy-Blaché — we’ve come a long way, baby (note the sarcasm). Things continued on this uphill and winding path, until quite recently, when the glass ceiling was shattered by force.

female filmmakers

image via ABC News

The Times They Are A-Changin’

For better or for worse, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have brought some not-so-great details about Hollywood to the surface. Things that have gone on since the beginning, but that most in Old Hollywood, sadly, accepted as “dues paying.”

There is a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch featuring modern-day actresses speaking on a panel, joined by an actress from the “golden age” (played by Kate McKinnon), detailing horrid treatment she assumes is universal. The others on the panel are, of course, horrified. It is not so much an exaggeration or parody, as it is a commentary.

With the increased exposure that comes from so many women speaking up (and speaking out), the rise of female representation in the movie industry was sort of inevitable.

female filmmakers

image via NBC

Recent Successes

In 2017, we got the big-budget blockbuster, Wonder Woman (arguably the first good female-focused superhero movie), directed by Patty Jenkins. It was well-received by critics and fans alike, despite fears that women would be the only ones watching.

On a much smaller scale, Lady Bird was a big deal, at least it sure was around SacramentoGreta Gerwig, earned Academy Award nominations for both of the hats she wore: screenwriter and director.  Along with Best Picture, and nods to the actresses who portrayed a complicated mother-daughter relationship. Even though they walked away empty-handed at this year’s ceremony, the  success of Lady Bird made no less of an impact.

There was also the sleeper hit (read: not very well-promoted), Mudbound, a film about race relations in post-WWII Mississippi, directed and co-written by Dee Rees. Even though the film was not very talked about, it garnered four Academy Award nods: Best Supporting Actress (Mary J. Blige), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song (“Mighty River”), and Best Achievement in Cinematography (the aforementioned Rachel Morrison).

Not a bad year, movie wise.

female filmmakers

image via AdWeek

On Tap For 2018

So far this year, we’ve seen films such as Annihilation really stir up some excitement for female representation in the sci-fi/fantasy genre (especially the film’s poster, composed entirely of women). Today, however, the highly anticipated, A Wrinkle in Time opens, and it’s the real “holy cow!” moment.

It is a movie where the main heroine is a little girl of color, which is already nearly unheard of. It was written by women (both the source material and screenplay), and directed by Ava DuVernay (who has wanted to make this film since she was a child). That’s a whole lot of progress wrapped into one project. Oprah Winfrey (who fought sexism, racism and fat shaming on her climb to… well, basically royalty at this point) is in it. As is Mindy Kaling, who was repeatedly told there was no market for someone like her in show business.

Well, guess what? There is now.

female filmmakers

image via Empire Online

Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on women in film?  Comment down below!

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marta's film blog March 10, 2018 - 7:06 am

Loved the article!

Patricia Henderson March 10, 2018 - 8:52 am

Thank you very much. :)

Gloria Garrison-Spalter March 9, 2018 - 4:52 pm

What about Dorothy Arzner a an early pioneer for women in film-directing?

Patricia Henderson March 9, 2018 - 5:12 pm

Yes, similarly, she was the only working female director in her era. I also neglected to include Penny Marshall — “A League of Their Own” made a huge impact!

ggspalter March 10, 2018 - 8:57 am

Loved the article and such a need to continue to point out all of the trailblazers and make note of those doing so much right now! I am hoping that festivals like the Bentonville Film Festival created by Geena Davis will grow and continue to educate on inclusion in film/media.

Patricia Henderson March 10, 2018 - 8:55 pm

Perhaps I shall write a follow up someday. :)

Nick Kush March 9, 2018 - 10:27 am

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