21 Reasons to Celebrate Women in Cinema


This list is just the tip of the iceberg of women who’ve played a very important role in the development of film.  I barely scratched the surface of American cinema let alone Global cinema. Although all of these women have achieved some very cool milestones, it’s also a great reminder that gender equality (and race and sexual orientation equality) in film and in our global culture is still very much needed.  We have a lot of work to do; work that can only be achieved when we respect, support and uplift each other.  So here’s to celebrating the achievements of the female trailblazers of past, present and the future.

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1. Alice Guy: creating the feature length story arc structure, syncing sound, and being the first female director are just some of her many accomplishments and all before women had the right to vote.


2. June Mathis: an in-demand and highly respected screenwriter that went on to be the first female executive in Hollywood.


3. Mary Pickford:  the legendary actress formed United Artists in 1919 with DW Griffiths, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks.


4. Hattie McDaniel: the first African American to be nominated for and win an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mammy in 1939’s ‘Gone With the Wind’.


5. Hedy Lamarr: This mega starlet was also a brilliant inventor.  In 1942 she patented an idea – Secret Communication System – that later became the crutch of both secure military communications and mobile phone technology.


6. Dorothy Dandridge: in 1954, she was the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in a leading role for ‘Carmen Jones’.


7. Kinuyo Tanaka: This famous actor was the only woman to make feature films in Japan for a long time. There was a strong resistance to permitting women to direct but she used her ‘star status’ to get around it.


8. Safi Faye: Noted for brilliant and legendary work, she is the first African (Senegalise) female director to gain international recognition for her film ‘Letter from the Village’ in 1975.


9. Irene Cara: the first African American woman to win a non-acting related Academy Award. She won Best Music, Original Song for ‘Flashdance…What a Feeling’ in 1984.


10. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad:  this Writer Director is Iran’s best known female filmmaker generating important gender-equality based work such as ‘We are Half of Iran’s Population’.


11. Julie Dash:  she wrote and directed ‘Daughters of the Dust’ which hit theatres in 1991.  It was the first full length film with general theatrical release written and directed by an African American woman.


12. Deepa Mehta: born in India and now living in Canada, this iconic director frequently focuses on female driven stories that challenge cultural perceptions like ‘Water’ and ‘Heaven on Earth’.  (photo: IncMan, Flickr)


13. Halle Berry: the first woman of colour to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2002 for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove in ‘Monster’s Ball’. (photo: Gage Skidmore)


14. Salma Hayek: she produced and stared in ‘Frida’ which was nominated for six Oscars in 2003, including Best Actress making Hayek the first Latin actress to be nominated for an Academy Award.  (photo: Georges Biard)


15. Geena Davis:  this Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actress is a member of MENSA, former Women’s Olympic archery team semi-finalist, and founder of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and See Jane. (photo: Josh Hallet)


16. Larysa Kondracki: her feature film debut, ‘The Whistleblower’, starring Rachel Weisz tells the real-life story of cop Kathryn Bolkovac who joined the Peace Corps and outed the UN for covering up sex trafficking within its ranks. (photo: First Generation Films)


17. Kathryn Bigelow: she is the first woman to win the Academy Award’s Best Director and the Directors Guild of America Award in 2010.


18. Oprah Winfrey: the acclaimed talk show host’s list of achievements include forming Harpo Productions, OWN Network, acting in and producing acclaimed films as well as being the first African American woman to be awarded the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2011.  (photo: Greg Hernandez)


19. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: this smart and savvy director happens to be the helmer of the highest grossing film ever directed by a woman at $663million worldwide for Kung Fu Panda 2. (photo: Karel Chladek)


20. Haifaa Al-Mansour: Saudi Arabia’s first female director wrote and directed her first feature film ‘Wadjda’.  She had to direct the exterior scenes from a van because women are forbidden by law to work in public with men. It was released in the US in 2013. (photo: facebook/wadjdafilm)


21. Brit Marling: deciding not to wait for permission to play the roles she wanted and motivated by the lack of strong diverse roles for women, she co-wrote and stared in two brilliant films  – ‘Another Earth’ and ‘Sound of My Voice’. Both premiered at Sundance in 2011. Her latest film, ‘The East’, has garnered even more acclaim.  (photo: Gage Skidmore)