To note every single inspirational female figure in the film industry would take a lifetime. The silver screen’s rich history is laden with remarkable women, whose innovation, intellect, and artistry has helped render one of the most beautiful and universally-celebrated mediums on the planet.
In celebration of International Women’s Day 2017, we have selected just a finite few from the ginormous assortment, whose contributions to cinema are simply unprecedented. From directors who defied the odds, to producers who put franchises on the map, and everything in between, here are Filmoria‘s choices for some of the most inspirational women in film.
We often recall the great Meryl Streep as the Queen of the Academy, but even she cannot touch the legacy that legendary costume design Edith Head amounted. Across her illustrious career, she was nominated for no less than 35 Oscars, winning an impressive eight. Her beautiful craft can be seen across some of the most iconic studio titles in motion picture history including All About Eve, Roman Holiday, and The Sting, dressing the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Bette Davis. Even more impressive, is that the peak of Hollywood stardom would actually make it a contractual obligation for Head to be involved with their projects; so basically if she isn’t designing, they won’t be performing. If her striking style seems familiar, it’s likely because The Incredibles‘ Edna Mode is an animated homage to this icon of cinema.
A rightful recipient of an OBE, Kentish writer-director Andrea Arnold is one of the most unique voices in postmodern film. Echoing the stark realism of Ken Loach, and contrasting its harsh urban landscape with dreamy, ethereal wonder, she has devised an astonishingly rich filmography. With titles such as Red Road, Fish Tank, and most recently American Honey to boot, Arnold’s understanding of film language, visual metaphors, frame rates, and more ensures her pictures have a bespoke identity, separating her from the pack. Her latest film will likely serve as the one which’ll make her a household name world over, but don’t be fooled by recent successes: Arnold has always been a pioneer of her profession. Plus, she has claimed an Academy Award and an incredible three Jury Prize wins at the Festival de Cannes in her career; something most filmmakers couldn’t even dream of achieving.
There is little doubt that Marlene Dietrich – the deemed “exotic” German actress – was, and indeed still is, amongst the best performers in the history of film. Appearing in motion pictures from their primary foundations in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Dietrich would continue her screen influence until the mid 1980s; a truly towering and evolutionary career indeed. She starred in one of the very first dialogue films ever produced in 1930 – Josef von Sternberg’s masterpiece The Blue Angel – which to this day remains one of the most impressive showcases of female sexuality on screen, and the first picture which saw a women surpass a man’s leading capabilities. Paired alongside Emil Jannings, arguably the most famous German actor of all-time, Dietrich stormed ahead in popularity, securing numerous roles with filmmakers he frequented, and became the new poster face of European cinema in the period.
An auteur whose legacy speaks for itself. Kathryn Bigelow is the only female director in cinematic history to have won the Academy Award for her work. Rather horrifyingly, only four women have ever been nominated for a Best Director Oscar in 88 years, and she is the sole victor for her simply tremendous Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow’s approach to filmmaking is her most admirable and incredible quality: her gender has absolutely nothing to do with the projects she selects, instead the stories. Movies like the vampire horrors of Near Dark, the explosive action of Point Break, and the wartime thrills of The Hurt Locker – titles which many would argue are more masculine in form and appeal – and yet her vital, vigorous touch is what makes them so special. Bigelow’s Oscar win was one of the most groundbreaking moments in awards history, and made all-the-sweeter as she beat her ex-husband James Cameron, who was nominated for his Avatar. Rumour has it her forthcoming Detroit riot-based drama with John Boyega is set for release this year.
Lindsay Mackie and Beeban Kidron
Both maintaining distinguished careers in journalism and practical filmmaking, it’s what Lindsay Mackie and Beeban Kidron mustered after which makes them extremely special to the art form. In 2007, the pair co-founded the charity FILMCLUB, with the desire to show that film can be used as both an educational tool, and a means of inspiring others and engaging with your communities. The success of the foundation can be measured by their incredible range and appeal, with more than 7,000 film clubs in operation across the United Kingdom, reaching some 200,000 participants per week. A whole new generation is finding pleasure in classic films as well as modern blockbusters, and for many it can be their only opportunity for a cinematic experience, whether for reasons of poverty or of complex special needs. Mackie and Kidron’s passion for cinema is more than admirable; it is vital. They are a surging force for the preservation and celebration of celluloid.
A recurring argument in the industry regards the divide between male and female film professionals – be that pay margins, hierarchy et al. It is comforting to know then, that perhaps the most powerful production house in Hollywood – Lucasfilm: home to international behemoth Star Wars – is under the presidency of a women; the great Kathleen Kennedy. The producer and co-founder of Amblin Entertainment with Steven Spielberg, Kennedy is also the Brand Manager for the Star Wars franchise, and oversaw the $4 billion acquisition of the company by the Walt Disney Company a few years ago. She was the leading light on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and now has her sights set on The Last Jedi and the untitled Young Han Solo project. Across a remarkable career, Kennedy has been involved with films equating to more than 120 Academy Awards nominations, and has three of the highest-grossing releases in motion picture history under her belt. Quite simply Incredible.
The widow of the great Michael Powell, one of Britain’s most prolific filmmakers, the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker has rendered an even more impressive career than her late husband. Since the mid-1960s, she has been one of the most important figures in film editing, and remains so to this day. She has edited every single title directed by Martin Scorsese since 1980’s Raging Bull – one of the finest films ever made – and has claimed three rightful Academy Award wins from seven nominations. Schoomaker’s signature touch, particularly in her work with Marty which has spanned more than forty years, enables his drama to unfold with a real meticulousness. Never are Scorsese’s films short, but never do they feel long, and that is largely due to the manner in which his editor arranges sequences; ensuring the precise alternations of shots and frames to keep his work consistently riveting. Ask any film historian about the most important figures in the art of editing, and Schoonmaker will be mentioned; most likely ahead of any male counterpart.
She is arguably one of the most recognisable figures in modern Hollywood, and has remained as such for the past 20 years, but what separates Reese Witherspoon for her peers is her determination for change. She is an actress first, and a producer second; co-founding her production company Pacific Standard which handled acclaimed titles such as Wild and Gone Girl, but in recent years she has been a driving force for children’s and women’s advocacy organisations. Witherspoon took it upon herself to ask studios and fellow producers what they are doing to help develop the female perspective and participation in filmmaking, and has been a guiding light for many prospective and returning figures working in-front and behind the camera. She also kickstarted a campaign entitled AskHerMore, which has been a key voice in representations of women across social media services. We may know and love her for roles in Legally Blonde and Walk the Line, but there is much more to this fantastically talented individual than her star power.