The 10 most influential women in cinema today — Empoword Journalism
Women deserve praise and recognition for their influence and contribution to the world of cinema every day. But what better time to shine a spotlight on the craft of actresses, writers and directors on International Women’s Day?
Despite the progress made, the film industry remains a white, male-dominated space. With diversity quotas implemented by most distributors and film organisations to improve the representation of women in front of and behind the camera, there’s still a long way to go to achieve an equal split of the genders in film and television crew.
In 2021, Women and Hollywood that only 17% of the 250 highest-grossing films were women-directed. And an even smaller six per cent accounted for the number of female cinematographers in 2020. A more glowing representation of women can be seen on screen, with 52% of major characters on streaming programmes being compromised of women.
However, Alison Bechdel’s framework, the ‘Bechdel Test’ where a film or show can only pass if two named female characters have a conversation without mentioning a man for a minimum of two minutes, highlights a broader issue in the industry when this very basic requirement is rarely achieved. Additionally, Laura Mulvey’s ‘male gaze’ media theory, which is the subconsciously sexualised portrayal of women in arts and literature, highlights the need for more women directors, writers and editors.
Here’s a list of my favourite women in cinema today who have paved the path of collective success and inspiration.
Starting off with the masterful director Chloe Zhao. Being the first woman of colour to win Best Picture for her sensational, sombre film Nomadland, which also won 2 Academy Awards, Zhao demonstrated the versatility of women filmmakers by going on to direct Marvel action superhero films Eternals in 2020.
Unapologetically addressing the disparities between black female actresses and their white counterparts, Viola Davis gave a powerful and insightful speech as she received her Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in 2015 for How to Get Away With Murder. “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity,” she stated in response to the limited amount of roles available to women of colour. Davis came from a family of poverty and grew up with an abusive father, lowering her chances of individual success but despite the odds packed against her, triumphed anyway — inspiring young black girls and women to fight for each other’s justice in a society that often neglects them. Her impact on demanding more space for black women to blossom is fuelled by the black women who came before her, emphasising the power of sisterhood and camaraderie.
New Zealand director Jane Campion made history by becoming the first female director to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes for her critically acclaimed film The Piano in 1993. More recently, she directed the outstanding Power of the Dog, which has received the most nominations at this year’s Oscars, and it isn’t without reason. Her impact as a director calls for more female filmmakers to the limelight, as her filmography is nothing short of auteur quality.
The iconic Meryl Streep played one of the most iconic ‘villains’ of all time with Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly. Her presence and skilful acting technique have been known to intimidate casts on set, with Don’t Look Up director Adam Mckay shedding light on Streep’s ability to improvise an endless amount of takes in just one scene. She’s also the actress who holds the record for most Academy Award nominations, anything but surprising.
One of the most significant breakout stars of the decade, Lupita Nyong’o is an Award-winning Hollywood actress who charmed us in 12 years a slave, Black Panther and Jordan Peele’s chilling horror ‘Us’. She addressed the lack of diversity during her Oscar speech in 2014, “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Her work offers exceptional range, and she’s even dedicated time to writing a children’s book on the issues of colourism and embracing black women’s beauty. She continues to break sexist and racist barriers in the industry.
Horror is a genre with the most female representation but arguably the most problematic, with outdated stereotypes and objectifying portrayals of its female characters. However, French director Ducournau reclaims the genre with her most recent body horror, Titaine, exploring themes of gender fluidity and refusing to remain constrained within commercially viable creativity. Whilst her 2021 feature was, in my opinion, wrongfully dismissed by the Oscars this year, the Cannes festival recognised her immense talent and awarded Titane with the prestigious Palme d’Or. Support for women in horror is vital, and Ducournau sets an example for the extremes women can achieve with a filmmaking style that exudes tantalising riskiness.
The breathtaking Regina King is a testament to the sheer talent of black women. Triumphing as both an actress and director, King is one of the most authentic women in today’s cinema. She unapologetically told the stories of black people during the Civil Rights movement in her directorial debut, One Night in Miami, which Venice Film festival selected making her the first black female director to be featured at the festival. King frequently advocates for better black representation in Hollywood, claiming no individualist ideology calling for more spaces for other artists beside her.
In my opinion, English actress Katrin Cartlidge is one of the most underrated actresses in the industry. Sadly dying at the young age of 41, her role as Sophie in Mike Leigh’s 1993 Naked is one of the most impactful performances I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Her entrancing ability to charm the audience with her integrity and wit enhanced every project she was a part of. Her social-political activism went beyond films and continuously advocated against elitism and right-wing ideology, inspiring a better society for those neglected by the government. Her colossal contribution to the world of cinema will forever be credited to by British artists.
After her breakout role as Sophia on Orange Is the New Black, Laverne Cox used her privilege and platform as an actress to advocate for transgender rights. It’s apparent that Hollywood has issues with the representation of marginalised communities, and the same rings true for transgender women. Cox’s activism has been integral in reforming the narrow framework of the entertainment industry and, like most of the women on this list, fights for collective success over individual achievements.
Finishing on a slightly alternative pick, Anna Smith is a British film critic and journalist that deserves mention on this list for her platforming of women in cinema with her podcast ‘Girls on Film’. Film criticism is yet another industry heavily dominated by men, therefore perpetuating the gender imbalance in cinema. When art is reviewed through the same male perspective, the films that receive the most praise inevitably cater to men, fuelling the vicious cycle. However, Anna Smith’s podcast is dedicated to championing female talent and is the noise we need in a space that historically silences women.
Originally published at https://www.empowordjournalism.com on March 8, 2022.