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Heroines of Cinema: 6 Female Filmmakers You Should Know

Posted by Kim Moseman on March 30, 2023

Equality in the film industry can sometimes feel a long way off — only 18% of the top 250 films released in 2022 had women in the director’s chair, per San Diego State University’s definitive industry report. To encourage and support more change and equity, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the successes and accomplishments of the women who have already made their mark in Hollywood.

While they’re numerically underrepresented, female directors are making their mark at theaters and on streaming services. The variety and quality of their contributions are impressive, and catching up with the top women in film today is a great idea for any cinephile.

Oscars to blockbusters: The rise of female filmmakers

Recent years have seen more recognition for women on cinema’s biggest stages, including the Academy Award for Best Directing wins by Jane Campion in 2021 for The Power of the Dog and Chloé Zhao in 2020 for Nomadland. Zhao’s fellow nominees included Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell, representing a change in the historically male-dominated award category.

Alongside the awards recognition for top female directors has come the opportunity to play in Hollywood’s biggest sandbox — effects-driven blockbusters. From Zhao’s selection as the director of Marvel’s Eternals to the pair of Wonder Woman movies directed by Patty Jenkins, there’s a growing sense of possibility around a more equitable movie business in the years ahead.

6 female filmmakers to watch

It’s unfair to just focus on future potential when thinking about female directors — some of today’s most exciting movies are being lensed by women. The following six filmmakers come from a variety of creative and aesthetic backgrounds and are responsible for compelling movies spanning genres:

  • Chloé Zhao: Building an impressive filmography of independent films before making her ascent to winning the Best Directing Oscar and seizing the opportunity to direct major tentpole films, Zhao’s ascent since her 2015 feature debut has been dizzying.
  • Céline Sciamma: The French director and screenwriter Sciamma, who made her feature debut in 2007, made a major splash at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival when her historical queer romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Best Screenplay award and was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
  • Sarah Polley: After racking up over 50 acting credits from 2003-2010, Polley pivoted to feature directing and won a 2022 Academy Award for Best Screenplay with her drama Women Talking.
  • Ana Lily Amirpour: Since breaking through with her feature film debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in 2014, Amirpour has made a career out of directing both for the big screen and the small screen, helming episodes of stylistically bold TV series like Legion and Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
  • Ava DuVernay: In addition to an illustrious film and TV directing career that has spanned historical films like Selma and timely documentaries like 13th, DuVernay is a prolific executive producer. She also holds the distinction of being the first Black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Prize.
  • Greta Gerwig: The writer-director behind movies such as Lady Bird, which scored five Oscar nominations, Gerwig also has a long acting resume. Her upcoming Barbie adaptation has built hype through a long list of star-studded casting announcements.

The importance of women behind the camera

Women filmmakers emerging in a greater number of high-profile directing roles can have positive knock-on effects for gender equity throughout Hollywood.

The most recent report studying the number of women in behind-the-scenes roles in the indie cinema world comes with some telling statistics. While only 10% of male-directed indie movies in 2021-2022 had women screenwriters, 67% of movies with a female director also had female screenwriters. The same pattern ed for editors (19% vs. 50%) and cinematographers (10% vs. 34%).

In an industry seeking greater representation for women’s voices, one opportunity can lead to more.

To learn more about the impact of women behind the camera, download Crews Control’s ebook.

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