Meet the female directors challenging the status quo around the world

Posted by for Life

Meet five female directors fighting against the odds to get their stories heard all over the globe. 

Billie Piper says:

I want to shine a light on female directors and the struggles they go through to get their films made. I’m newly into directing but it’s clear we need to champion each other. 

Waad al-Kateab

Syria

Waad al-Kateab brings the realities of the civil war into focus.
Waad al-Kateab brings the realities of the civil war into focus.

She might be more of an ‘accidental director’, but that doesn’t mean Waad al-Kateab’s work is any less powerful. Living in war-torn Aleppo, the journalism student began documenting her life and those of other civilians living through the uprising.

She fled Syria in 2016 and decided to put her videos together to create an intimate documentary. The result is For Sama, a rare look at the war through a citizen’s lens and one of the only films detailing the female experience of conflict. It screened at Cannes, had a theatrical launch in cinemas and al-Kateab now creates content for Channel 4. 

Wanuri Kahiu

Kenya 

Wanuri Kahiu is best known for her 2018 film Rafiki. Not only because it won her multiple awards, but also because of the court battle it sparked. When the Kenyan Film Classification Board tried to ban the story of two women falling in love, arguing that it “promoted lesbianism”, Kahiu was left unable to submit her feature for the Oscars, so she sued for her right to freedom of expression and artistic creativity. 

The judge ruled in her favour and Rafiki was shown throughout Kenya, but the board still prevented the film from being submitted to the Academy. Kahiu went on to found Afrobubblegum, a collective that supports “fun, fierce and frivolous” African art. 

Maryam Keshavarz

Iran 

Susan Sarandon stars in Maryam Keshavarz' film Viper Club
Susan Sarandon stars in Maryam Keshavarz' film Viper Club

US-based director Maryam Keshavarz’s 2011 film Circumstance won multiple awards, picking up accolades at the Sundance and Paris Lesbian and Feminist film festivals among others. It was released in more than a dozen countries, but the story of homosexuality and hedonism was banned in Iran, where Iranian-American Keshavarz is a citizen. She was advised not to travel back to the country where she spent half of her childhood, and received death threats from people who didn’t approve of her depiction of Iran.

Despite it all, she continues to make films exploring important personal stories in turbulent times: her 2018 movie Viper Club stars Susan Sarandon and follows the life of a nurse trying to free her son, a journalist being held hostage by terrorists. Ever defiant, when Keshavarz was asked what her best piece of advice for female directors was, she replied: “Don’t ask permission.” 

Małgorzata Szumowska

Poland 

Małgorzata Szumowska’s bold films often draw controversy as they challenge perceptions: in 2018’s Mug, a man struggles with identity after a face transplant; 2013’s In The Name Of portrays paedophilia in the Catholic Church; and 2011’s Elles explores ideologies surrounding sex work. 

Natalia Almada

Mexico 

The first Latina filmmaker to receive the MacArthur Fellowship in 2012, Natalia Almada was praised for using film “as both an art form and a tool for social change”. Almada focuses on the stories of the unheard: one of her best-known films, El Velador, uncovered the effects of drug trafficking on Mexican society. 

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Photography: Rex Features, Getty Images

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