California native Ava DuVernay found success in public relations working at FOX and Savoy Pictures and then opening her own firm, DVA Media + Marketing, before making her debut as a filmmaker. In 2012, she became the first African-American woman to win the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival for Middle of Nowhere, which also earned her the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award. She then directed Selema and the film received Academy Award nominations for best picture and best original song. Her company, ARRAY, focuses on distributing films that are made by or focus on African-American people and female filmmakers.
You can support diverse films through her company Array Now.
Patty Jenkins’ most well-known film might be 2003’s Monster, which she wrote and directed, but her credits also include the cult classic Arrested Development, Entourage, The Sarah Silverman Program and The Killing. The Killing earned her an Emmy nomination for outstanding directing for a drama series as well as a DGA Award nomination for outstanding directorial achievement in movies for television/mini-series and the DGA Award for outstanding directorial achievement for a dramatic series. Her role as the director of DC’s Wonder Woman, to be released in 2017, makes her the first woman to direct a superhero film that has a female lead and the first woman to direct a major superhero film with a summer release date.
Throughout her career Bigelow has collected numerous awards and honors, including becoming the first female to win an Academy Award for best director, the BAFTA Award for best direction, a Critics’ Choice Award for best director and a Directors Guild of America Award for best direction. In 2010, she was named as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by Time magazine. Her body of work includes The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, The Weight of Water, Strange Days and Near Dark.
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After deciding her degree in architecture didn’t allow her enough room for creativity, Catherine Hardwicke studied film at UCLA and worked with a number of successful directors on films such as Tank Girl, Three Kings and Vanilla Sky. Her film Thirteen, which she and actress Nikki Reed wrote the script for in just six days, earned its cast and crew an Independent Spirit Award, an Academy Award and a Sundance Film Festival Award. She also directed Lords of Dogtown, acclaimed for its camera work, and her 2008 film, Twilight, resulted in her achieving the biggest box office opening in history for a female director.
Jennifer Kent spent a number of years acting before she became inspired to pursue directing. Her 2005 short film, Monster, was screened at many film festivals worldwide and she eventually adapted it into 2014’s The Babadook, which received funding by the Australian government and a Kickstarter campaign, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The Babadook, which The Exorcist director William Friedkin said was the most terrifying film he’d ever seen, explores the idea of childhood horrors becoming real in addition to the common struggles of motherhood. Kent has spoken to the media about the need for more women directors in the horror genre.
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In 2003, the film Lost in Translation netted its Director Sofia Coppola the Academy Award for best original screenplay and the nominations for best picture as well as best director – a feat achieved by only three women prior. Additionally, Lost in Translation earned her the awards for best motion picture and best screenplay at the Golden Globes and three BAFTA award nominations. At the 2010 Venice Film Festival, she took home the Golden Lion for the film Somewhere. Her body of work also includes The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and A Very Murray Christmas.
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Ana Lily Amirpour
Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014. The film garnered awards and nominations at the Deauville Film Festival, the Hawaii International Film Festival and the Sitges Film Festival. She has been compared to Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch, was named to Filmmaker magazine’s 2014 list of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film, and was called “The Raddest Filmmaker Working Right Now” by IndieWire magazine.
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The second woman ever nominated for an Academy Award for best director, Jane Campion’s work has been consistently recognized throughout her career. She directed 1993’s The Piano, which earned awards from the Cannes Film Festival, the Australian Film Institute and the Academy Awards. Her 2009 film Bright Star, focused on poet John Keats, was included in the Cannes Film Festival that year and her mini-series Top of the Lake received wide praise and earned numerous awards, including a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award and a primetime Emmy for its lead, Elisabeth Moss, and a primetime Emmy nomination for Campion. In 2013 and 2014, she served as a head juror at the Cannes Film Festival.
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Director Laura Poitras has focused much of her work on bringing information to light in the public eye through documentaries and reporting. Her film Citizenfour earned an Academy Award, while My Country, My Country received a nomination from the Academy. Her film Flag Wars received a Peabody Award as well as awards at South by Southwest, the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Additionally, she has helped produce articles and reports on U.S. intelligence and the NSA, for which she has earned the Polk Award, a Pulitzer Prize and a Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize. The MacArthur Fellow was one of the first supporters of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
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Mexican-born Patricia Riggen first broke out with her film Under the Same Moon in 2007 at the Sundance Film Festival. She directed Lemonade Mouth, Revolucion and Girl in Progress before being asked to direct The 33, which focused on the 2010 Chilean mining disaster that trapped 33 miners in the San Jose Mine for over two months. It was the first film to receive the Colombian Film Commission’s Incentive. In addition to her role as a director, she has also worked as a producer, executive producer, screenwriter and journalist.
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Lesli Linka Glatter
Lesli Linka Glatter was a dancer and choreographer before directing some of the most notable shows on television, including Twin Peaks, NYPD Blue, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Freaks and Geeks, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, ER, Mad Men, The Good Wife, True Blood, The Newsroom and Homeland, among many others. Her extensive body of work has earned and been nominated for numerous awards, which include primetime Emmys, Academy Awards, DGA Awards and OFTA Television Awards. An advocate for diversity, she has served many roles for the Directors Guild of America, including as co-chair of its Diversity Task Force.
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A well-known advocate for women in the film industry, Lexi Alexander was born and raised in Germany, becoming a world champion in karate before moving to the U.S. and playing Kitana in live tour of Mortal Kombat. Her work as a stunt performer led her to acting and directing, and her film Green Street Hooligans earned awards from the audience and the jury at South by Southwest in 2005. She has frequently spoken about sexism in Hollywood and how women are denied opportunities and has also addressed the treatment of minorities in Hollywood. Her body of work includes Punisher: War Zone, Lifted, Arrow, Supergirl and Limitless.
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With a career that spans film, opera and theater, many people know Julie Taymor for her work as the director of the stage production of The Lion King. The musical helped her become the first woman to win the Tony Award for directing. Her work has also earned her a Tony Award for original costume design, the Drama Desk Award for outstanding costume design, an Emmy Award and an Academy Award. Additional honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Dorothy B. Chandler Award in Theater, the Brandeis Creative Arts Award and multiple Obie Awards. Costumes from her production of The Lion King have been made a part of the Smithsonian collection. Her film work includes Frida, Titus and Across the Universe; her opera direction includes The Flying Dutchman, Salome, Grendel and The Magic Flute; and her theater work includes The Taming of the Shrew, Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and The Green Bird.
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Gina Prince-Bythewood attended UCLA’s film school and spent five years writing for television before writing the film Love & Basketball. Her 2008 film The Secret Life of Bees was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Urbanworld Film Festival, and in 2014, she directed the film Beyond the Lights, which was nominated for 16 awards and earned its lead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the Capri, Hollywood Rising Star Award. Beyond the Lights took Prince-Bythewood years to complete because of her insistence on choosing the cast and crew she wanted, which included a large number of women in key positions.
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Her career began with acting as a child, but as a teenager Amma Asante moved to screenwriting and eventually directing. Her production company, Tantrum Films created television shows for BBC2 and in 2004 her feature film, A Way of Life, debuted. Her film received the Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award from the London Film Festival, the Carl Foreman Award at the BAFTA Film Awards and best dramatic feature in world cinema from the Miami International Film Festival among many additional honors. Her next film, Belle, earned The Signis Award at the Miami International Film Festival and was honored by BAFTA.
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Lisa Cholodenko’s career began with short films before she made High Art, which was honored with the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and a National Society of Film Critics Award, and Laurel Canyon, which had its premiere at Directors’ Fortnight. She and screenwriter Stuart Blumberg wrote The Kids Are all Right while she was trying to have a child using an anonymous sperm donor. It was nominated for both an Academy Award and a BAFTA for best original screenplay and a Golden Globe Award for best screenplay. It won a Golden Globe Award for best motion picture for a musical or comedy and earned best screenplay honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Independent Spirit Awards.
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Karyn Kusama began receiving awards for her work early on in her career and worked with filmmaker John Sayles before writing Girlfight at 27 years old. The film was shaped by her own experiences learning to box and training with Hector Roca. The film, which took a number of years to finance, was released in 2000 and was honored with the director’s prize and the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Her body of work also includes Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation, The L Word, Chicago Fire and Casual.
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As a member of the LGBTQ community, Angela Robinson often includes gay and lesbian themes in her work. She has worked on a number of television series, including The L Word, Hung, True Blood, and How To Get Away With Murder, and she created the online series Girltrash! She directed the award-winning short, D.E.B.S., which was turned into a full length feature, as well as Herbie: Fully Loaded and episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Gigantic.
Click here to read an interview with Angela Robinson on The Huffington Post!
Standing out from the start, Dee Rees was a 2008 Sundance Screenwriting & Directing Lab Fellow and her first feature film, Pariah, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and honored with the excellence in cinematography award. It garnered many additional awards, including the Independent Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Award, the Gotham Awards’ breakthrough director award, best short film at the Los Angeles Film Festival, as well as seven NAACP Image Award nominations. In 2008, she was chosen by Filmmaker magazine as one of its 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Her work also includes Eventual Salvation and the award-winning Bessie.
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Though she is often recognized for her acting credits, which include Boston Legal, No Strings Attached, Man Up and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, critics have praised her for her writing and directing. Her short film Worst Enemy was shown at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the Nantucket Film Festival, the Gen Art Film Festival, Aspen Shortsfest and the Dallas International Film Festival, taking home two awards. She then wrote and directed the feature-length film, In A World…, which was screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.
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Jodie Foster’s career in front of the camera started when she was just three years old. In her extensive, 50-year career she has collected more than 55 award nominations and nearly 30 award wins, including two Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards and two Golden Globe Awards. Her directorial debut was in 1991 with the film Little Man Tate and shortly after she founded a production company, Egg Pictures, and produced and starred in Nell. By the late 1990s she was one of the highest-paid female actors in the film industry. In recent years she has turned her focus to directing, including for the television shows Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, which earned her two DGA Award nominations and an Emmy Award nomination. In 2015, she received the Athena Film Festival’s Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award.
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Most known for her films Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay!, the Indian-American Mira Nair brings films about Indian culture and life to wider audiences. She started her career in entertainment as an actor before she transitioned to filmmaking, originally focusing on documentaries. Released in 1988, Salaam Bombay! received numerous awards, was nominated for an Academy Award and was included on the New York Times’ list of The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. Many of her films pushed the boundaries of comfort and her film Monsoon Wedding went on to become the highest grossing Indian film. She was the first woman to ever win a Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival for Monsoon Wedding.
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Jennifer Lee became the first woman to direct a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film with 2013’s Frozen after originally being asked to work on the film as a writer and then becoming co-director. Her collection of firsts also includes being the first woman to direct a feature film earning more than $1 billion in box office revenue, and being the first screenwriter at a major animation studio to transition to the role of director. She has also worked on Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. She wrote the screenplay for Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time (currently in production), which will be directed by Ava DuVernay and star Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o.
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Jennifer Yuh Nelson
After directing the opening to Kung Fu Panda, Jennifer Yuh Nelson made her solo directorial debut with Kung Fu Panda 2, making her the first female to direct a feature-length animated film with a major Hollywood studio. Kung Fu Panda 2 made her one of the first women ever nominated for an Academy Award for best animated feature film and won her the Annie Award for best directing in a feature production. She also directed 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, which was co-produced by China’s Oriental DreamWorks, and worked on Dark City and Madagascar as a story artist.
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Though her roles in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Gone in 60 Seconds or Maleficent may come to mind first for many people when they think of Angelina Jolie, her work has become much more personal in recent years. In 2007, she directed the documentary A Place in Time, and a few years later directed In the Land of Blood and Honey, which focused on a love story set in the Bosnian War and was nominated for a Golden Globe award. She created the film in order to bring attention to the survivors of the Bosnian War after visiting Bosnia as a United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees Goodwill Ambassador and placed high importance on casting actors from former Yugoslavia. She also directed 2014’s Unbroken, which centered on World War II hero Louis Zamperini, and her film First They Killed My Father, based on the memoir of Loung Ung, will debut on Netflix later this year. She has worked extensively on behalf of many causes including the plight of refugees around the world, conservationism, women’s rights, education and more.
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Lorene Scafaria spent many years writing and acting before being hired to work on the film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. She, alongside Diablo Cody, Dana Fox and Liz Meriwether, make up the collaborative writing group nicknamed the Fempire, which received An Athena Film Festival Award in 2012. Scafaria made her directorial debut with the 2012 film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Her body of work also includes directing for television’s New Girl, writing for the soundtrack of Whip It and executive producing Ricki and the Flash.
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Susanne Bier has stood out among the crowd for her entire career and found early success in her home country of Denmark, beginning with Freud Flytter Hjemmefra in 1990. Bier earned an Academy Award nomination for her film After the Wedding before breaking into American films with Things We Lost in the Fire. Two years later, she earned the Academy Award for best foreign language film for In a Better World. She has received high praise as a director for creating works with international market appeal.
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After studying theater at UCLA, Marielle Heller’s debut work, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Though she had first adapted the 2002 graphic novel into a play, the film was viewed favorably by critics and earned her nominations and awards at Sundance and Berlin International Film Festival. As an actress, she appeared in Spin City, Single Dads, MacGruber and Paper Anchor, among others.
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Martha Coolidge served as the very first female president of the Directors Guild of America from 2002-2003. Her early career was focused on documentaries for which she won many awards. Her 1991 film, Rambling Rose, won three Independent Spirit Awards, including for best picture, best director and best supporting actress, as well as Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. She also earned an Emmy nomination and a DGA nomination, both for best director, for the film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999. Her body of work also includes Valley Girl, The Twilight Zone, Out to Sea, Sex and the City, The Prince and Me, Weeds, Psych, Killer Women and many more.
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Marti Noxon’s writing for the cult television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, based on the 1992 film of the same name, won the hearts of its many loyal viewers. She originally joined the series during its second season, became a co-producer in the third season and earned the role of supervising producer on the series by its fourth season. She served as the show’s executive producer for its sixth and seventh seasons. Later, Noxon worked as a producer for Prison Break, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Mad Men, where her work as a writer earned her a nomination for a Writers Guild of America award. She is currently working as a creator for Lifetime’s Unreal and as series developer for Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.
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Andrea Arnold’s first jobs in the entertainment industry were as a dancer and actress before she decided to study directing at the AFI Conservatory. After her short film Wasp won an Academy Award in 2005, Arnold went on to win awards at the Cannes Film Festival for both American Honey and Red Road, which also won a BAFTA Award. Her film Fish Tank also won multiple awards as did her adaptation of Wuthering Heights. She has worked closely with a number of film festivals as a juror, and she recently worked as a director for Amazon Studios’ series Transparent.
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Niki Caro’s 2002 film Whale Rider won and was nominated for dozens of awards. Though the film focuses on a female protagonist who has to prove to the men in her tribe that she can be a leader, Caro said the film is about leadership and how women approach it rather than sexism. Prior to that, Caro had worked on commercial campaigns and the success of Whale Rider led to her breaking into Hollywood. Her next film, North Country, was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
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The multi-talented, French-American Julie Delpy is known as an actor, director and screenwriter as well as a singer-songwriter. She has worked on many films throughout her lengthy career, including Europa Europa, Voyager, Before Sunrise, An American Werewolf in Paris and the critically acclaimed Before Midnight. Her work, especially as a screenwriter and director, has won and been nominated for numerous awards, including two Academy Award nominations, and the self-proclaimed feminist has been outspoken in regards to women’s roles in Hollywood.
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