From Patty Jenkins’ box-office hit Wonder Woman to The Beguiled, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, females in entertainment really made themselves heard in 2017, proving that content created by and for women could not only be critically lauded, but good for business, too. As the Time’s Up movement goes global and a post-Weinstein Hollywood recalibrates, it’s time to look forward to an entertainment industry where women’s voices are celebrated. These are some of the tireless defenders of the female perspective, hustling to get women’s stories told on screen; the ones who make opportunities for themselves when there aren’t enough for the taking and pave the way for the next generation.
Last year, Coppola became the second woman ever to win Best Director at The Cannes Film Festival for The Beguiled. As she accepted the award, she thanked Jane Campion “for being a role model and supporting women filmmakers”. (It was also at Cannes that the film’s star, Nicole Kidman, made the pledge to make a movie with a female director every 18 months, because “we, as women, have to support female directors.”)
Breaking new ground is something DuVernay takes in her stride – she’s the first African American female director to get an Oscar nomination (for documentary feature 13th) and direct a Best Picture-nominated film (Dr. Martin Luther King biopic Selma), and the first woman of color to steer a $100 million studio feature with Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time. Plus, DuVernay is the creator of TV series Queen Sugar, which she executive produces alongside Oprah Winfrey, and in-between these mammoth projects she collaborates with Jay Z.
Gerwig cut her teeth collaborating with filmmaker Noah Baumbach, making insightful indies about young women in New York (and acting in them, too) – see Frances Ha and Mistress America. But it was Gerwig’s first solo venture into screenwriting and directing that won her the glowing reviews (and slew of award nominations and wins) that sent her career stellar: Lady Bird packs wit, heart and wisdom in spades, casting the teenage girl experience in a refreshing, super-relatable new light.
Morano has nearly 20 years’ experience as a cinematographer, but it was her work as a director last year that grabbed everyone’s attention. Helming the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, Morano set the tone masterfully in a series that garnered huge critical and public acclaim. There’s no stopping her now – she has three more directorial features on the horizon, with stars including Diane Lane, Elle Fanning and Blake Lively.
Saudi director Al-Mansour became her home country’s first female filmmaker when she made the critically lauded Wadjda in 2012, the moving story of a boundary-testing girl determined to raise the funds to buy and ride a bicycle (something deemed inappropriate in Saudi culture). This year, Al-Mansour will take on the story of another brave young woman, Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley, for her first Hollywood feature starring Elle Fanning and Maisie Williams.
Rees’ acclaimed semi-autobiographical feature Pariah, about a young woman embracing her lesbian identity, signaled her arrival as a director to know. Her next venture was TV movie Bessie, about legendary blues artist Bessie Smith, which won four Emmy Awards. In 2017, she directed Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige in Mudbound, again borrowing from her own personal history to execute the historical tale of class and racial struggle in America with honesty and intimacy. It’s nominated for three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay.
With 2017’s First They Killed My Father, a historical drama adapted from Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir about Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, actor-turned-director Angelina Jolie has successfully established herself as a director with a unique perspective. The film was a passion project Jolie waited to embark on until her adopted Cambodian-born son Maddox felt ready to be a part of it – the 16-year-old is credited as an executive producer.
For a woman to get a film financed in 2018 is tough; over 20 years ago, it was even tougher. Yet with Sweetie (1989) and The Piano (1993), New Zealand-born writer and director Jane Campion set herself apart as a person capable of rare cinematic feats. Recently she has helped drive TV’s reinvigoration as an innovative storytelling space with Top of the Lake. “The clever people used to do film. Now they do TV,” Campion told The Guardian in July 2017.
Patty Jenkins’ superhero game changer, Wonder Woman, exceeded all expectations to gross an enormous $821 million worldwide. Her work on 2003’s brutal crime biography Monster helped win her the gig, along with stints directing The Killing for TV. As of August 2017, Jenkins was negotiating her fee to direct the 2019 sequel to Wonder Woman, which will reportedly make her the highest-paid female director in Hollywood – a landmark moment in the ongoing equal-pay debate.
Bigelow remains the only woman to win a Best Director Oscar, for her blistering Iraq war thriller The Hurt Locker. Last year she tackled another haunting moment in US history with Detroit, based on the true story of the Algiers Motel incident during the city’s 1967 riots. Her graphic on-screen recreation exposes the police brutality that occurred and still has a provocative relevance. Whatever she does next is bound to prompt more important conversations.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl, starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard and Kristen Wiig, put American actor-turned-director Marielle Heller on the map – the adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel proved that she’s a director able to capture the female perspective with searing authenticity. Her next venture is biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which stars Melissa McCarthy as celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who turned to forgery and thievery when her career fizzled out.
Following her BAFTA-winning film A Way of Life, British director Amma Asante secured her position as a talent with serious grit thanks to the moving period drama Belle, about Britain’s first black aristocrat, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Asante is now helming the interracial World War II romance Where Hands Touch. It’s set for a 2018 release, with voice-of-her-generation actor and activist Amandla Stenberg in the lead role.
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