Welcome to your go-to guide of some of the most impressive female directors in the world right now.
It’s a fact proven by industry statistics and dwindling awards nominations; there are not enough female directors in Hollywood, or the film industry in general.
At this year’s Golden Globes, the achievements of the likes of Greta Gerwig (who directed the best reviewed film of all time, Ladybird) and Patti Jenkins (the woman behind the highest-grossing superhero origin movie ever, Wonder Woman) were ignored as not a single female made it into the best director category.
And although women continue to provide excellent examples of female-made cinema, the amount of female directors given the chance to get this far are horrendously low. In fact, less than 4% of major studio films being released this year are directed by women, the lowest percentage of female-helmed movies in at least half a decade. And women accounted for just 11% of directors working on the top 250 films of 2017.
According to director, producer and writer, Ava DuVernay, there’s one little word that would seriously help improve these odds. Can you guess it? We’ll give you a clue. It starts with Y and ends with S, and essentially would result in a heck of a lot more women being given a chance to show what they can do.
In a moving Twitter thread, DuVernay explained that while creating three seasons of the show Queen Sugar, she said “yes” to 25 female directors who have now continued to work on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and 13 Reasons Why.
Queen Sugar follows the life of three siblings, who move to Louisiana to claim an inheritance from their recently departed father - an 800-acre sugarcane farm. DuVernay created and executive produced the show alongside Oprah Winfrey, and the pair made a conscious effort to give opportunities to women while doing so.
Alongside an image of all 25 women, DuVernay urged TV and film bosses to recruit more women, writing: “Here are the 25 women directors who helmed #QUEENSUGAR over our three seasons. For 21 of them, it was their first episode of television. They’ve since gone on to direct for many shows. They just needed a first YES. To my fellow EPs, as you staff up for fall, consider saying YES.”
DuVernay continued to list more shows that her colleagues had gone on to be a part of, citing “American Crime. Underground. Scandal. Grey’s Anatomy. Power. Ozark. Transparent. 13 Reasons Why” and many, many more.
Finishing her thread on a powerful note, DuVernay posted a GIF showing actor Rutina Wesley holding her hand up to the glass of a prison cell, and the words “I’ll fight with you”.
The progression of this issue is something that we vehemently support, from our must-see list of female directors to reporting on those in the industry that speak out against the male dominated nature of directing. So, we’ve decided to take DuVernay’s lead and hoist the 25 women she has supported on to our shoulders, taking a closer look at their achievements and who they are.
This is a great opportunity to familarise yourself with both emerging talent and directing heavy weights.
Starting with the woman herself, DuVernay is a pioneer in film-making, having been the first woman of colour to achieve several accolades. For her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere, she won the directing award in the US dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, becoming the first African-American woman to ever do so. In 2014, she also became the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her work on Selma.
Most recently, DuVernay directed A Wrinkle in Time, a Disney film centered around a female protagonist, boasting a cast that includes the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon. In doing so, she became the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million, and delivered a powerful message for future generations to our screens.
Neema Barnette has a CV sparklier than a Tiffany’s jewellery counter, having directed cult show Gilmore Girls and The Cosby Show. Barnett is a pioneer in the sitcom world, being the first African-American woman to direct one. She was also impressively the first African-American woman to get a three-picture deal with Sony. She’s won over 10 awards for her work, including several Emmys.
So Yong Kim
Although she was born in Busan, South Korea, So Yong Kim grew up in sunny California, USA. Her first feature film, In Between Days, was loosely based on this experience and earned her the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. In fact, Yong Kim’s work has been shown at the festival three times and she’s also collaborated with prestigious fashion house Miu Miu as part of their ongoing series Women’s Tales.
Victoria Mahoney originally started her career by acting in smaller roles in titles such as Legally Blonde, most recently appearing in front of the camera in DuVernay’s film, Yes. She made her directing debut in 2011 with the semi-autobiographical film Yelling to the Sky, which starred Zoe Kravitz and received credit from the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and the Golden Bear competition.
Mahoney recently made history after being hired as second unit director on Star Wars: Episode IX, making her the first woman of colour to serve as a director in the franchise. According to E News, this means she will be responsible for supplementary footage including establishing shots, stunts, inserts and cutaways. Given the stunt-heavy nature of the Star Wars films, it’s safe to say that the filmmaker will have her hands full.
Tanya Hamilton made her directional debut back in 1997 with a short film entitled The Killers, and has since then racked up an impressive list of TV titles. She directed one episode of The Vampire Diaries in 2016 and an episode of American Crime the following year. So far in 2018 she has appeared in the credits for Seven Seconds, The Chi and Black Lightening - and we’re not even half way through.
Candler has a talent for all things entertainment, having worked as an actor, producer, director, writer and editor. In this list she is one of the directors to have worked most on Queen Sugar, directing five episodes. She also did a stint of two shows on the hit series, 13 Reasons Why.
This woman’s talents seem to have no end. Salli Richardson started out by acting in 1991 film, Up Against The Wall, and since then, she’s had no trouble securing titles under her belt. Although her career in front of the camera can’t be ignored (she has appeared in shows such as House and films like I Am Legend), we’re also loving her directing credentials. From the Netflix hit, Dear White People, to Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, which has a huge young adult following, Richardson is worth her weight in directing gold.
Tina Mabry graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts graduate film program in 2005 and she has gone on to write, produce, edit and direct on more than 20 titles. She worked mostly on films before directing two episodes of Queen Sugar, and since then has lent her talents to shows such as Dear White People and Power.
Cheryl Dunye describes her first steps onto the film scene as part of the “the 1990’s ‘queer new wave’ of young film and video makers”. Until recently working on Queen Sugar, she concentrated mostly on short and feature length pictures that seek to make observations about issues of race, sexuality and identity. Since her TV debut she has directed an episode each for Claws and The Fosters.
Aurora Guerrero is an activist and film maker who has been making short films since 2005. Her foray into TV began when DuVernay gave her a chance to direct an episode of Queen Sugar, and since then she’s directed an episode of TV series Fly.
Maryam Keshavarz is an Iranian-American filmmaker, who is best known for her film Circumstance, which won the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Keshavarz has directed both short and feature length films and documentaries, and can now also add TV work as a string to her bow.
Amanda Marsalis has a jaw-dropping career in photography spanning 20 years, featuring names like Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchette. Having always loved exploring ways to forge intimacy between subject and audience through the camera, her skills translated easily from stills to film. She first started working with DuVernay on the film Echo Park which debuted in 2016, before testing the TV waters on Queen Sugar.
Demane Davis is is a copywriter and director, who is most notably known for the 2001 film Lift, about a family of professional female shoplifters. Recently she worked heavily with DuVernay on Queen Sugar, producing and directing over five episodes.
Julie Dash received her Masters of Fine Art in 1985 at the UCLA Film School and went on to become an innovator on the film scene. Her 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, became the first full-length film directed by an African-American woman to obtain general theatrical release in the USA. She’s worked on some incredible projects, showcasing the stories of the world’s most pioneering women, including Rosa Parks and Tracy Chapman.
Garrett Bradley certainly knows her way around the film world. Since bursting onto the scene in 2009, she’s spent time writing, producing, editing, directing and even costume designing - as well as a stint in the camera and electrical department. She’s worked on a mix of short and feature length films, documentaries and TV series, including Black and Blue and Queen Sugar.
Liesl Tommy is a talented and award-winning director who’s known for drawing on her own experiences to create visceral images on stage. In 2016 she was nominated for a Tony award for her work on the play Eclipse, which starred Lupita Nyong’o and told the story of five Liberian women and their tale of survival near the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. This play was the first to have an all-black and female creative cast and team to premiere on Broadway.
Christina Voros is a director, cinematographer and photographer whose merits include the blockbuster film 127 Hours as well as campaigns with brands such as Revlon and Gucci. She’s been heralded by DuVernay as TV talent, having dipped her toes in the world of small screen directing with Queen Sugar.
Patricia Cardoso was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia before moving to the USA in 1987. She received the first Fulbright scholarship in Colombia for film and, once in California, studied Film Directing receiving a Masters in Fine Art. She was Director of Sundance’s Latin American program for five years and is an active member of the Directors Guild of America. She’s worked on a mix of film and TV shows, as well as exploring her interests in anthropology and archaeology.
Lauren Wolkstein is a NYC-based filmmaker originally from Baltimore, Maryland. She was named one of the top 25 emerging filmmakers through The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Independent Filmmaker Project’s inaugural Emerging Visions program at the 2011 New York Film Festival. She has won two awards at the Sundance Festival, in 2011 and 2013, for The Strange Ones and Social Butterfly, respectively.
Maria Govan is a filmmaker who often draws on her experiences growing up in the Bahamas to create narratives in her work. Her first film Junkanoo: The Heartbeat of a People, celebrated the culture of her home and since then she’s worked on a number of interesting projects including Play The Devil, which explores a relationship between two men set against Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival.
Shaz Bennett is an American writer, filmmaker and performance artist who was one of eight women selected to partake in the prestigious AFI Directing Workshop for Women. She was also selected as one of Fox’s Top 20 Directors.
2018 has been a big year for Christina Choe, who worked with DuVernay on the TV show Queen Sugar, and took her film Nancy (which she wrote and directed) to the Sundance Film Festival. Her entry earned her the festival’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Choe has previously attended industry festivals Telluride and SXSW, and created the docuseries Welcome to the DPRK, which sees her secretly filming her time in North Korea.
Nijla Baseema Mu’min is an award-winning writer and filmmaker whose work is informed by by poetry, photography, fiction, and dance. She was named one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine in 2017 and sees telling the stories of women and girls of colour, who are struggling to find their identity, as an important part of her work.
Rachel Raimist is an award-winning filmmaker who was impressively invited to join the Director’s Guild of America after her work with DuVernay as a director on Queen Sugar. She teaches media production at the University of Alabama, as well as immersive industry-focused travel courses, and counts the biggest themes in her research as “feminist filmmaking, women of color feminisms, hip-hop feminisms, pedagogy, and digital storytelling”.
Ayoka Chenzira is an independent African-American producer, director, animator, writer, and experimental film and transmedia storyteller. She directed a string of short films throughout the Eighties and Nineties such as Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum and Alma’s Rainbow, which celebrate the richness of black culture - something Chenzira is passionate about doing in much of her work.
Images: Getty / Ayoka Chenzira / Rachel Raimist