Of the 325 director nominations for industry awards from 2008 through 2022, 296 were given to male directors and 29 were given to female directors. Nine women accounted for the 29 nominations, and only three women directors from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds received awards recognition.
In a male-dominated industry, it's important to acknowledge the women behind the camera so that their work can be considered and recognized in overall discourse about filmmaking. Check out this list of our favorite female filmmakers. Support female filmmakers by streaming their films!
Ava DuVernay became the first Black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for her film Middle of Nowhere (2012) and the first to direct a live-action film with a production budget of over $100 million. Her successful career has made her the highest grossing Black female director in American box office history.
Despite having first picked up a camera at age 32, Ava DuVernay spared no time in asserting herself as one of the most powerful women in film. Not only is she an Academy Award nominee and an Emmy, BAFTA, and Peabody award-winner, but DuVernay became the first Black woman to direct a live-action film with a production budget of over $100 million (A Wrinkle In Time ).
DuVernay began her career as a publicist but eventually pursued her passion of combining art and activism through film. She made her directorial debut with the documentary This is the Life (2008) and thereafter went on to found ARRAY, a grassroots distribution, arts, and advocacy collective dedicated to supporting films by people of color and women.
In 2012, she released her film Middle of Nowhere, which earned her the Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival. In subsequent years, she directed Selma (2014), 13th (2016), and When They See Us (2019), all of which have received several nominations and awards.
DuVernay makes films that add a dimension to the representation of Black people in film through vulnerability and emotionality. Her desire to amplify the work and voices of underrepresented people is exemplified through her activism and films. Her impressive body of work is nothing short of groundbreaking.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Issa Rae is the co-creator, co-writer, and star of the Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated HBO series Insecure. Feeling a lack of authenticity from portrayals of Black people on screen, Rae sought to present the Black community as non-monolithic and in situations unrelated to racism or trauma.
Issa Rae is an actor, producer, writer, and visionary. After graduating from Stanford University in 2007, Rae felt frustrated with the portrayals of Black women in film. She felt that her voice and the voices of other Black people were missing from the mainstream media.
This frustration led her to start a web series on YouTube called The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. After just two seasons, Rae won the Shorty Award for Best Web Show and was named Forbes 30 under 30 in entertainment.
In 2013, Rae created Insecure, which was loosely based on The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. Two years later, HBO picked up the pilot, and eventually, Insecure became an Emmy award-winner and a Golden Globe nominee.
Rae seeks to present Black people on screen in situations that aren't always related to racism or trauma. Her new reality show, Sweet Life: Los Angeles, gives a fresh perspective on what it means to be young, Black, and ambitious. It follows a friend group of mid-20 year olds living in South LA and pursuing their dreams.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Hannah Beachler is the first Black American to be nominated for an Academy Award in Production Design, which she won for Black Panther (2018). Beachler was also the production designer for Moonlight (2016), which won Best Picture.
Hannah Beachler first collaborated with director Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station in 2013 as a production designer. This opportunity led her to work with him again on Creed (2015) and Black Panther (2018), which won her an Academy Award for Best Production Design. She became the first Black American to earn that title and the first female production designer to work on a Marvel film.
Beachler also worked on visuals for Beyonce's visual concept album Lemonade (2016), which earned her an Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design, and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Production Design.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Geena Davis is an Academy and Golden Globe-winning actor and advocate for gender equality in media. She is the founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a global research-based organization dedicated to creating gender balance and reducing negative stereotyping in entertainment media.
Geena Davis received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Accidental Tourist (1988). Her performance as the first female US President in Commander in Chief (2005) earned her a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series -- Drama. She won her second Academy Award in 2019, the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for her activism in gender parity in film and television.
As the founder and chair of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Davis advocates for women and girls in media. The organization is dedicated to engaging with film and tv creators to increase the percentage of female characters and eliminate gender bias and stereotypes in entertainment media.
In 2015, Davis founded the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), a non-profit dedicated to promoting underrepresented creators and diverse storytellers. The organization champions inclusion in all facets of entertainment media through connecting creators with entertainment industry leaders and corporate change-makers.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Laverne Cox is a four-time Emmy-nominated actor, an Emmy-winning producer, and a leading equal rights advocate and public speaker. Cox is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy and the first trans woman of color to have a lead role on a mainstream scripted television series.
After contacting about 500 agents and casting directors, Laverne Cox landed her first role in an episode of "Law and Order," followed by an appearance in the reality show "I Wanna Work for Diddy." These opportunities led her to produce and star in her own show on VH1 called "TRANSform me." In 2012, she starred in "Orange is the New Black," which catapulted her career and earned her an Emmy nomination and two SAG awards.
Cox can currently be seen in the Golden Globe and SAG nominated film Promising Young Woman (2020) and the Netflix series "Inventing Anna." Her documentary "Disclosure," which she executive produced, is streaming on Netflix and gives a groundbreaking look at the portrayal of transgender characters throughout the history of film and tv.
Cox is the first openly trans person to appear on the covers of TIME magazine, British Vogue, Cosmopolitan magazine, and more.
WHAT TO WATCH:
These women filmmakers have paved the way for others in the industry. In order for their work to be recognized by the industry, they need support from the viewers like you. Stream one of the films on this list!