Last month I challenged myself to post every day on social media about a woman in film history in honor of Women's History Month. I profiled and featured 31 incredible filmmaking trailblazers, and I'm happy that I did.
Among the group, there were Oscar winners, specific industry "firsts," and women who wore multiple hats to get the proverbial job done; among them, 13 actresses, 11 directors, 10 producers, and 6 screenwriters. They also worked in technical departments, artistic departments, and there was even one woman who attempted stunts that her male colleagues refused to try. Some of these women I knew about, but, unfortunately, there were too many that I didn't know before I started my research.
Hollywood's early history is built on the accomplishments and contributions of women and men equally, and I think it's important to remember and acknowledge that history. Without the work of Dorothy Arzner, Alice Guy-Blaché, Anita Loos, Mary Pickford, Lois Weber, or the countless others who came before us and took the medium and made something so unique, we wouldn't have the film industry as it is today. And women like Sara Bennett, Joi McMillon, and Rachel Morrison are continuing to break down barriers with their work and are literally challenging the status quo as we speak.
I'm thankful for the female filmmakers who have come before me and to the women who are working hard to make a difference in the industry now, and am already looking forward to next years Women's History Month celebrations! If you'd like to read more about the women I featured on social media throughout March, I've included extended bios and IMDB links down below.
Anne Bauchens was one of the early pioneering women editors in Hollywood. After moving to New York to pursue a career in acting, she worked for William de Mille and later his younger brother Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille taught Anne how to edit film in 1915, and after 1918 she edited all of his films.
At the time of her retirement in 1956, Anne had edited more than 60 films, including Reap the Wild Wind (1942), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and The Ten Commandments (1956).
BODIL IPSEN Actress & Director 1889-1964
Bodil Ipsen started her acting career on stage at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen in 1909 but eventually moved on to Danish film in 1913, taking on both comedic and melodramatic roles.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Bodil began directing psychological thrillers and is credited with directing the first Danish film noir, Afsporet (Derailed), in 1942. In 1946, Bodil and her co-director, longtime collaborator Lau Lauritzen Jr., received the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival for De røde enge (The Red Meadows).
The Bodil Awards are the Danish film awards given by the Danish Film Critics Association, so named in honor of Bodil Ipsen and fellow actress Bodil Kjer. In her lifetime, Bodil received three Bodil Awards: Café Paradis in 1951, Det Sande Ansigt (The True Face) in 1953, and Tro, håb og trolddom (Faith, Hope and Witchcraft) in 1960.
MYRTLE GONZALES Actress & Singer 1891-1918
Myrtle Gonzales’ career began when she followed her opera mother’s footsteps by singing with local church choirs and at benefit concerts. In her teens, she began acting alongside well-renowned stage actresses Fanny Davenport and Florence Stone.
When major film studios moved from New York to California, the Los Angeles native smoothly transitioned from stage to screen. Myrtle was best known for her role as Enid Maitland in Vitagraph's six-reel feature-length drama The Chalice of Courage (1915) but often played adventurous heroines.
Over the course of her 4-year film career, Myrtle starred in 78 silent films, of which 66 were one- and two-reel shorts with Vitagraph and Universal Studios. Tragically, shortly after her retirement in December of 1917 to start a family, Myrtle died from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
HELEN GIBSON Actress, Producer & Stuntwoman 1892-1977
Helen Gibson was a film actress, vaudeville performer, radio performer, film producer, trick rider and rodeo performer. Helen saw her first Wild West show in 1909 and answered a Miller Brothers 101 Ranch ad for girl riders in Billboard magazine. They taught her to ride, and she started performing with the 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show in 1910.
When the tour was unexpectedly canceled while the group was in Venice, CA, the New York Motion Picture Company hired the entire cast for the winter at $2,500 a week as "cowboy extras," making Helen Hollywood's first professional American stuntwoman.
In 1912, she made $15 a week for her first billed role as Ruth Roland's sister in Ranch Girls on a Rampage. In the 1920s, Helen started her own production company so she could produce films around her stunts. Helen continued acting and stunt-doubling, most notably as Helen Holmes' stunt double in The Hazards of Helen adventure series, until her retirement in 1954. However, in 1961, she filmed her last role in director John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962); she was 69 years old and paid $35.
Over the course of her 50-year career, Helen worked on almost 200 short reel and feature-length films.
HATTIE MCDANIEL Actress, Singer-Songwriter & Comedian 1895-1952
The youngest of 13 children to parents who were former slaves, Hattie McDaniel, even from an early age, showed artistic talent. Although she was initially not allowed to tour with her minstrel father and older brothers, Hattie successfully entered local singing competitions and honed her style of blues singing. From 1920 to 1925, she appeared with Professor George Morrison's Melody Hounds, a black touring ensemble, in Denver, CO, and became the first African American woman to sing on the radio.
After the 1929 stock market crash, work became scarce and Hattie became a a washroom attendant and waitress at Club Madrid in Milwaukee. Eventually, she was allowed to take the stage and soon became a regular performer. In 1931, Hattie moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career. Hattie joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1934 and landed her first breakthrough role in John Ford’s Judge Priest (1934) opposite Will Rogers. Other films soon followed, but Hattie faced criticism from both members of the black community for accepting stereotypical maid roles and white Southern audiences for "upstaging" white lead actors on screen.
In 1939, Hattie won the highly competitive role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1940, making her the first African American entertainer to win an Oscar. However, due to segregation laws, Hattie was not even allowed to the premiere of her own film in Atlanta, GA and nearly missed the Oscars ceremony at the Ambassador Hotel due to its strict segregation policies; she was forced to sit at a table in the back of the room with her escort and manager.
In 1944, Hattie became one of the most outspoken organizers with the "Sugar Hill" legal case to keep the predominantly black West Adams neighborhood residents save their homes. Judge Thurmond Clarke threw the case white neighbors had filed against them out, citing their "full rights guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution."
Hattie continued acting in film, television, and radio productions, becoming the first black American to star in her own radio show, Beulah (1947-1952), until diagnosed with breast cancer. Hattie died in 1952 at the age of 57; although only credited with 80 roles, she worked on more than 300 films.
EDITH HEAD Costume Designer 1897-1981
Edith Head initially pursued a career in education; she received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from UC Berkeley in 1919 and a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920. Her first job was as a language teacher in La Jolla, CA, and after a year she took a position teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls.
Wanting a slightly higher salary, she told the school that she could also teach art, even though she had no formal training. To improve her drawing skills, she took evening classes at the Chouinard Art College.
In 1924, despite lacking any art, design, or costume design experience, Edith was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures; she later admitted to "borrowing" other students’ sketches for her job interview.
Her first costume designs can be seen in The Wanderer (1925), and by the 1930s she had established herself as one of the most successful costume designers in Hollywood. By the 1940s and 1950s, Edith was a particular favorite among many of Hollywood’s leading ladies such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor. She was often "loaned out" by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars. Edith worked for Paramount for 43 years until moving on to Universal Pictures in 1967, most likely to continue working with Alfred Hitchcock, where she stayed until her death in 1981.
Over the course of her 56-year long career, she was nominated for a record 35 Academy Awards and won eight times, and worked on 440 films.
MURIEL BOX Director & Screenwriter 1905-1991
Muriel Box started her career in film working as a "continuity girl" for British International Pictures. In 1935, she met and married journalist Sydney Box, with whom she collaborated on nearly 40 plays with mainly female roles for amateur theatre groups. Their production company, Verity Films, first released short wartime propaganda films, including The English Inn (1941), Muriel’s first directing effort, after which they began producing comedies and dramas.
Their most significant success came in 1945 with the psychological drama The Seventh Veil. Filmed on a relatively low budget of under £100,000, The Seventh Veil was the biggest British box-office success of its year. The film was entered into the 1946 Cannes Film Festival and won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, making Muriel the first woman to win the award.
After WWII, the Rank Organisation hired her husband to head Gainsborough Pictures, where she was in charge of the scenario department, writing scripts for several light comedies. She occasionally assisted as a dialogue director, or re-shot scenes during post-production. Her extensive work on The Lost People (1949) gained her credit as co-director, her first for a full-length feature.
During the 1950s, Muriel became one of England's most prominent female directors and screenwriters, focusing on telling women’s stories and never shying away from controversial topics like Irish politics, teenage sex, abortion, illegitimacy, and STDs and STIs. In response, local authorities banned several of her films.
In 1965, Muriel retired from filmmaking and founded Femina, the first feminist British publishing company. During her career, Muriel is credited with writing 22 screenplays and directing 15 films.
NANCY HAMILTON Actress, Director, Lyricist, Producer & Screenwriter 1908-1985
Nancy Hamilton started her career in theater, having studied dramatic arts at Smith College in Massachusetts and the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1932, Nancy moved to New York, and her first job was as Katherine Hepburn’s understudy in the comedy The Warrior’s Husband (1933).
Nancy wrote sketches and lyrics for the revues New Faces of 1934 (1934), One for the Money (1939), Two for the Show (1940), and Three to Make Ready (1946). Featured in the Broadway musical Two for the Show, Nancy wrote the lyrics to "How High the Moon;" two recordings of this song, Les Paul and Mary Ford (1951) and Ella Fitzgerald (1960) were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Nancy worked as a screenwriter for films studios, most notably adapting her stage work for the screen such as Fools for Scandal (1938) and Du Barry Was a Lady (1943).
In 1954, Nancy directed and produced the documentary The Unconquered: Helen Keller in Her Story. The film chronicles Helen Keller’s life and documents 72-year-old Helen’s visit with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nancy won the 1955 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, making her the first female filmmaker to win that category.
MARY BLAIR Animator, Graphic Designer & Illustrator 1911-1978
After graduating from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, CA, Mary Blair began her art career in the 1930s as a member of the California Watercolor Society. However, in 1933, at the height of the Depression, she took a job in the animation unit of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) rather than pursue a fine arts career.
In 1940, she joined her husband at The Walt Disney Studios and worked on several projects, including early versions of Dumbo (1941), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and the never-produced “Baby Ballet,” part of a proposed second version of Fantasia (1940).
In 1941, she joined the Disney expedition that toured Mexico and South America for three months and painted watercolors that inspired Walt Disney to name her as an art supervisor on Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). Blair’s use of color and stylized graphics influenced many Disney postwar productions, including The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Peter Pan (1953).
After leaving Disney Animation, Mary pursued a career as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator and created advertising campaigns for major companies like Nabisco, Pepsodent, and Maxwell House. She also illustrated several Little Golden Books for publisher Simon & Schuster and designed Christmas and Easter sets for Radio City Music Hall.
In 1964, Walt personally asked Mary to assist in the design of the “it’s a small world” attraction for the World’s Fair. Many of her murals can still be seen at the theme parks in California and Florida.
Mary posthumously received a Disney Legends Award in 1991 and a Winsor McCay Award from ASIFA-Hollywood, the Los Angeles branch of the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation, in 1996 for achievements in film and animation.
LUCILLE BALL Actress, Comedian, Producer & Studio Executive 1911-1989
Lucille Ball’s career got off to a rocky start; while at a drama school in New York, she was often overshadowed and intimidated by the star pupil Bette Davis. However, she stayed in New York City and by 1927 began modeling for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie and Chesterfield cigarettes.
Lucille moved to Hollywood in the 1930s and became a "Goldwyn Girl" in 1933, appearing in the Eddie Cantor film Roman Scandals. In 1937, Lucille earned her first major role in ”Stage Door” opposite Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. Over the course of her film career, Lucille appeared in 72 productions and earned the unofficial title "The Queen of B Movies." She met Desi Arnaz on the set of Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) and the two married within a year.
By the late 1940s Lucille was frustrated by the stagnation of her film career, and Desi encouraged her to try broadcasting. She landed the lead role of Liz in the radio comedy My Favorite Husband (1948-1951), which became the inspiration for I Love Lucy. When CBS executives wanted to adapt the radio comedy into a television sitcom for Lucille, she insisted that it include her real-life husband, Desi. CBS initially refused to show an interracial couple on TV, but when Lucille and Desi put together an I Love Lucy–like vaudeville act to great success, CBS agreed to her terms and cast Desi as Ricky.
Their demands also included the opportunity to create their new program in Hollywood rather than New York, where most TV was still being shot. The pair also took a pay cut so they could shoot the show on film instead of the less expensive and more widely used kinescope. They also retained full ownership rights to the program and ran it under their newly formed production company, Desilu Productions.
I Love Lucy debuted in 1951 and became an immediate success. During the show’s run, Lucille became the first woman in television to be head of a production company, Desilu. Desilu and I Love Lucy pioneered filming methods still used in television production today, such as filming before a live studio audience with multiple cameras and distinct sets adjacent to each other.
After Lucille and Desi divorced in 1960, she bought out his share of the studio, and she successfully lead the studio. Desilu Productions produced television hits like Our Miss Brooks, Make Room for Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible. The studio was eventually sold for $17,000,000 ($125 million today) and merged into Paramount Pictures in 1967.
In 1971 Lucille became the first woman to receive the International Radio and Television Society's Gold Medal. She also received four Emmys, induction into the Television Hall of Fame, and recognition for her life's work from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
INGRID BERGMAN Actress & Producer 1915-1982
Ingrid Bergman’s family had initially wanted her to pursue a career in opera, but she accepted a scholarship to attend the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm, Sweden. However, after a year she left to pursue a career in film after playing an extra in Landskamp (1932). She received a small speaking role in the film Munkbrogreven in 1935 and continued gaining notoriety in Swedish and German films through the 1930s.
Ingrid’s introduction to American audiences came with her starring role in the English-language remake of Intermezzo (1939), reprising her role as Anita Hoffman. Ingrid did not speak English when she arrived in Hollywood, but she worked hard to study her lines. She stayed in Hollywood through 1949, appearing in the films Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), Joan of Arc (1948), and the Alfred Hitchcock films Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Under Capricorn (1949).
From 1949-1957, Ingrid worked mostly with European filmmakers after news broke of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini while filming the neo-realist production Stromboli (1950). Hollywood shunned her, and she didn't appear in an American film until 1956’s Anastasia and won her second Academy Award for Best Actress.
Ingrid continued to alternate between performances in American and European films for the rest of her career, including Cactus Flower (1969), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), and Autumn Sonata (1978). She also performed in several stage plays, including A Month in the Country (1965), The Constant Wife (1973) and Waters of the Moon (1977). In the latter part of her career, she also won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress for The Turn of the Screw. Ingrid received her second Emmy, posthumously, for her role in the TV mini-series, A Woman Called Golda (1982), in which she played Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.
Ingrid died in 1982 on her 67th birthday after an eight-year battle with cancer. With a 50-year long career, Ingrid is still one of the most winningest actresses of all time, winning three Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA Award, and a Tony Award for Best Actress.
LINA WERTMÜLLER Director & Screenwriter
Born in Rome in 1928, Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller enrolled in theatre school against her family’s wishes. After graduation, she toured Europe with a traveling puppet show. For the next ten years, Lina worked as an actress, theatre director, and playwright. Lina met filmmaker Federico Fellini, and in 1962 he offered her the position of assistant director on 8 1/2 (1963). Later in the year, she made her directorial debut with I Basilischi (The Lizards; 1963).
She received international acclaim for her series of films starring Giancarlo Giannini, the fourth and last film being Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties; 1975). The film earned four Academy Award nominations, including Lina’s Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, making her the first woman to be nominated in that category. Another woman would not be nominated for Best Director for 16 years.
In 1985, Lina received the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding work that has helped to expand the role of women in the entertainment industry.Lina’s most recent work, the documentary short Roma, Napoli, Venezia...in un crescendo rossiniano, was released in 2014.
AGNÈS VARDA Director, Editor, Producer & Screenwriter
Born in Brussels in 1928, French filmmaker Agnès Varda attended the Lycée Victor-Duroy and received a Bachelor's degree in literature from the Sorbonne in Paris. Although she had intended to become a museum curator and studied at the École du Louvre, Agnès instead decided to study photography at the Vaugirard school of photography. In 1951 her friend Jean Vilar opened the Théâtre National Populaire and hired Varda as its official photographer, where she worked for ten years.
In 1955, Agnès debuted her first film La Pointe Courte. Film historians point to La Pointe Courte as a forerunner to the La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) movement characterized primarily by films literary-inspired, that are shot on location documentary-style, with portable equipment, and focus on current social issues. Agnès has described her method of filmmaking as cinécriture (cinematic writing or "writing on film"). In 1977, Agnès founded her own production company, Cine-Tamaris so that she could have more control with shooting and editing film.
Over the course of her 67-year long career, Agnès has worked on 22 feature-length films, 21 short films, four television series and seven publications, as well as several international art installations. Agnès has also received numerous awards, most notably a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (1985), the French Academy René Clair Award (2002), the Directors' Fortnight's 8th Carosse d'Or Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Cannes Film Festival (2010), the FIAF Award for her work in the field of film preservation and restoration (2013), and a European Film Academy Lifetime Achievement Award (2014).
In 2015, Agnès became the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and in 2018, she became the first female director to receive an Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to film. At the 90th Academy Awards, Agnès also became the oldest nominee for her documentary Visages Villages (Faces Places; 2017).
MIYOSHI UMEKI Actress & Singer 1929-2007
Miyoshi Umeki moved from Hokkaido, Japan to New York after WWII, and within two years of immigrating to the United States, she starred opposite Marlon Brando and Red Buttons in the film Sayonara (1957). Her turn as Katsumi earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and made her the first Asian actor of either gender to win, and she is still the only Asian actress to earn an Academy Award.
Miyoshi went on to star on Broadway in the 1959 musical and 1961 film adaptation of Flower Drum Song and took on a supporting role in the sitcom The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969-1972).
Although the roles she played relied heavily on stereotypical Western fantasies of Asian women, she was well known in the industry for advocating for other actors’ working conditions and opportunities, particularly Asian American actors like Pat Morita and George Takei.
Following retirement as an actor, Miyoshi and her husband, TV director Randall Hood, ran an editing equipment rental business to film studios and universities until 1976.
Actress, Dancer & Singer
Born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano in 1931, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Rita Moreno moved to New York in 1936. Soon after arriving in New York, Rita started taking dance lessons and when she was 11 years old, she lent her voice to Spanish language versions of American films. At 13, she made her first appearance on Broadway as Angelina in Skydrift, catching the attention of Hollywood talent scouts.
Through the 1950s, Rita acted in small supporting roles in films like The Toast of New Orleans (1950), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and as Tuptim in The King and I (1956). Rita disliked most of her film work during this period because the majority of the roles she was given were hyper-sexualized, uneducated, ”Native girl” stereotypes.
In 1961, Rita landed the role of Anita in the film adaptation of West Side Story; she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Even after winning an Oscar, Rita was still offered mostly stereotypical roles and she didn't appear in another film for seven years until The Night of the Following Day (1968).
In the 1970s, Rita turned to television, appearing in the PBS children's series The Electric Company (1971-1977) and making guest appearances on The Muppet Show, The Love Boat, George Lopez, The Golden Girls, and Miami Vice.
In 1977, Rita won a Primetime Emmy for her performance as Rita Kapcovic in the The Rockford Files. As a result, she became the third person (after Richard Rodgers and Helen Hayes) to have won an Oscar (West Side Story; 1962), a Grammy (The Electric Company soundtrack; 1972), a Tony (The Ritz; 1975), and an Emmy (1977).
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Rita continued acting on TV, most notably in the HBO series Oz as Sister Pete, a nun trained as a psychologist. Rita currently stars on the Netflix remake of the Norman Lear dramedy sitcom One Day at a Time as Lydia Riera.
In addition to her EGOT recognition, Rita has received a Living Legends Award from the Library of Congress (2000), the Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) renamed their Award for Excellence in her honor (2000), a Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004), a National Medal of Arts (2009), the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award (2014), and a Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award (2015).
Actress, Entrepreneur & Humanitarian
Elizabeth Taylor began her career as a child actress in the early 1940s and was one of the most popular stars of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1950s. After moving to Los Angeles, CA, in 1939, Elizabeth’s first breakthrough role came with her portrayal as Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944). In the 1950s, Elizabeth gained critical acclaim for her roles in films like Father of the Bride (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951) and Giant (1956).
Elizabeth appeared in two film adaptations of plays by Tennessee Williams: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role as Catherine Holly. Elizabeth also received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Gloria Wandrous in BUtterfield 8 (1960). In 1963, Elizabeth was paid a record-breaking $1 million to play the title role in the historical epic Cleopatra, the most expensive film made up to that point.
Elizabeth was also one of the first celebrities to take part in HIV/AIDS activism. She co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research in 1985, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991. From the early 1990s until her death, she dedicated her time to philanthropy. She received several recognitions for her work, including the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Thelma Schoonmaker was initially interested in a career in international diplomacy and studied political science and the Russian language at Cornell University in 1957. After graduating in 1961, Thelma interviewed with the U.S. State Department but did not do well because of her strong opinions against apartheid in South Africa. As a result, Thelma began taking art courses.
While at Columbia University for graduate school, Thelma answered an ad that offered on-the-job training as an assistant film editor. She took a six-week filmmaking course at New York University where she met film student Martin Scorsese. In 1967, Thelma edited Scorsese's first feature film, Who's That Knocking at My Door. Since their collaboration on Raging Bull (1980), Thelma has edited every Martin Scorsese film.
Thelma also met filmmaker Michael Wadleigh while at NYU and later edited his documentary Woodstock (1970). Her first major film editing work on Woodstock gained Thelma an Academy Award nomination for Best Editing.
With seven Academy Award nominations, Thelma is the second most-nominated editor in Academy Awards history. Tied with Micheal Kahn, Daniel Mandell, and Ralph Dawson, she also holds the record for the most wins in the category of Best Editing, with three, including Raging Bull (1980), The Aviator (2004), and The Departed (2006).
Educator & Filmmaker
Merata Mita was born in Maketu in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand's North Island in 1942 and had a traditional rural Māori upbringing. She taught at Kawerau College for eight years, where she began using film and video to reach "unteachable" high school students, many of them Māori. The experience eventually led her to a career in film.
Merata’s career spanned more than 25 years, directing and producing documentary films like Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980), Patu! (1983) & Hotere (2001). She was the first indigenous woman and the first woman in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to solely write and direct a dramatic feature film, Mauri (1988).
Merata mentored other filmmakers through film organizations and film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival's Native Film Initiative, the National Geographic All Roads Indigenous Film Festival, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's consortium Pacific Islanders in Communications, and as an educator at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa.
In 2010, Merata was awarded the CNZM (Companion of the Order of New Zealand Merit) in the Queen's New Years Honours List for Her services to the Film Industry.
Actress, Director & Producer
Originally from the Bronx, New York, Penny Marshall moved to Los Angeles to join her brother Garry, a comedy writer, and sister Ronny, a casting director and producer, to pursue new opportunities after her first marriage didn't work out.
By 1971, Penny landed a recurring role as secretary Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple, a show Garry wrote. She also made a few appearances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show before her first big break -- a guest spot on Happy Days as Laverne DeFazio. Audiences responded well to the characters Laverne and Shirley Feeney, played by Cindy Williams, and Garry developed a spinoff series.
Laverne and Shirley ran from 1976 to 1983, and Penny received three Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy nominations for her performance. In addition to writing, starring, and directing some episodes, the Marshall siblings’ mother wrote music for the sitcom and their father played Laverne and Shirley’s brewery boss, Mr. Shotz.
In 1985, Penny's friend Whoopi Goldberg convinced her to direct her first feature film, Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986). Her next feature, Big (1988) starring Tom Hanks, made her the first female director ever to gross more than $100 million at the box office with one movie.
In the 1990s, Penny’s career as a director continued to grow. Her film Awakenings was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 1991. In 1992, A League of Their Own also grossed more than $100 million, making Penny the first woman director with two major blockbusters to her credit.
Penny’s directing credits include Renaissance Man (1994), The Preacher's Wife (1996), and Riding in Cars with Boys (2001). She has continued acting and producing films, including Cinderella Man (2005) and Bewitched (2005). In 2012, Penny released her memoir, My Mother Was Nuts.
In 1991, Penny received a Women in Film Crystal Award, and in 2013, Women in Film and Video presented her with the Women of Vision Award.
Author & Producer
In 1944, Julia Phillips was born in New York City and grew up in Brooklyn; Great Neck, N.Y. and Milwaukee. She attended Mount Holyoke College, where she won several awards for creative writing. After graduating, Julia worked in publishing and worked at Ladies' Home Journal, and then became a story editor in the New York offices of Paramount Pictures. Her career took off when she was hired to find material for Barbra Streisand; she helped secure the rights to Yentl (1983) years before it was made.
Julia co-produced several iconic films of the 1970s, including Steelyard Blues (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The Sting (1973), which she produced with her then-husband, Michael Phillips, and their business partner, actor and producer Tony Bill, won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. She was the first woman to produce a film that won the Best Picture Oscar. In 1977, Taxi Driver was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and received the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival.
Twenty-five years after its Oscar success, The Sting was inducted into the Producers Guild of America's Hall of Fame. In June of 2007, Taxi Driver was ranked as the 52nd-best American feature film of all time by the American Film Institute. In December of 2007, Close Encounters was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Unfortunately, Julia’s drug addiction impeded her ability to work in film; she only worked on two more films after getting clean: The Beat (1988) and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991). However, Julia effectively ended her career in Hollywood after publishing her infamous tell-all memoir You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (1991). It was a New York Times bestseller, but its revelations about high-profile film personalities, Hollywood's drug culture, and "casting couch" practices drew criticism from many of her former colleagues.
Julia continued writing until her death on New Years Day in 2002 after a battle with cancer.
As a child, Ve Neil took an early interest in monster movies and face painting. Her neighbor, makeup artist Leo Lotito, helped foster her early passions for film and makeup. At 18, Ve worked as a costume designer for a rock band that wanted space-age outfits. A trip to a sci-fi convention for inspiration turned into an opportunity of a lifetime when she met Fred Phillips, the man behind the look of the original Star Trek TV series. Fred took Ve under his wing and gave her her first big break -- a job on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
Over the course of her 40+ year career, Ve has worked on more than 80 productions, including Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990), Beetlejuice, (1988), Batman Returns (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire, (1993), Ed Woods (1994), Stephen King's The Shining (1997), and The Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hunger Games franchises. Ve has won three Academy Awards, one Primetime Emmy Award, one Daytime Emmy Award, and four Saturn Awards for makeup artistry.
Since 2011, Ve has served as a judge on Syfy’s Face Off, a reality competition for makeup artists. In 2017, Ve became the Director of Education at Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles, CA. She also hosts a scholarship at Cinema Makeup School called the Neill Legends of Makeup Scholarship for new makeup artists entering the field.
Director, Producer & Screenwriter
After receiving her BA in Film Production from City Colleges of New York in 1974, Julie Dash relocated to Los Angeles, CA. Julie spent two years at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies as a Conservatory Fellow (Producing/Writing) and received her MFA in Film and Television Production from UCLA in 1985.
In 1977, Julie directed the film Diary of an African Nun, which was shown at the Los Angeles Film Exposition and won a Director’s Guild Award for student filmmaking. In 1983, Julie directed the short film Illusions and won the 1989 Jury’s prize for Best Film of the Decade by the Black Filmmaker Foundation.
In 1991, Julie’s Sundance award-winning film Daughters of the Dust became the first feature film by an African American female filmmaker to have a wide theatrical release in the U.S. In 2004, the Library of Congress selected Daughters of the Dust as a national treasure; to date, Julie is the only African American woman with a feature film that has been inducted into the National Film Registry.
Julie has written and directed for BET, CBS, ENCORE STARZ, HBO, MTV, and SHOWTIME, including Funny Valentines (1999), The Rosa Parks Story (2002), and Queen Sugar (2017). She has also directed several music videos for artists Adriana Evans, Keb ’Mo, Raphael Saadiq, and Tracey Chapman.
Julie is also an educator and mentor; she is the Distinguished Professor of Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media at Morehouse College and was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston from 2013-2015.
Originally from Derbyshire, England, Sue Gibson had planned to pursue a career in photography after receiving her first camera when she was 14. Sue studied photography at Newport College of Art in 1970, which influenced her interest in film. She graduated from the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in 1981.
Sue worked as a clapper loader for two years before gaining work as director of photography for commercials, television shows, and films. In 1991, Sue worked on her first feature film, Hear My Song, and won the Evening Standard Award for Best Technical/Artistic Achievement.
In 1992, Sue was invited to join the British Society of Cinematographers, making her the organization’s first female member. She was elected to the board of governors in 2004 and later served as the BSC’s first female president from 2008-2010. In 2010 Sue received the The Cinematographer Award from the Women’s International Film & Television Showcase.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, Sue worked in film and television, most notably Mrs. Dalloway (1997), Amongst Women (1998), Resident Evil (2002), and AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004). In the late 2000s until 2016, Sue mostly worked on television shows and TV movies like Diamonds (2009), Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death (2014) and Death In Paradise (2016), for which she was posthumously awarded The Philips Vari-Lite Award for Drama at The Knight of Illumination Awards in 2016.
Over the course of her 30+ year career, Sue worked on nearly 40 productions. In 2017, her alma mater NFTS created the Sue Gibson BSC Cinematography Award in her honor, a prize celebrating an NFTS Cinematography alum “who has advanced the profession of Cinematography in a significant way.”
Director, Producer & Screenwriter
Jane Campion came from a performing arts family; her mother was an actress, writer, and heiress, and her father was a theatre and opera director. After graduating from Victoria University of Wellington in in New Zealand with a BA in Anthropology in 1975, she enrolled in the Chelsea Art School in London in 1976.
Jane turned to filmmaking in the 1980s, making her first short film, Tissues, in 1980 and graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 1984. In 1986, Jane’s short film Peel (1982) won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival; a decade later, she became the first female and New Zealand-native filmmaker to receive the Palme d’Or for her feature film The Piano (1993). The Piano also received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, making Jane the second woman director nominated for that category. The Piano won three Oscars: Jane for Best Original Screenplay, Holly Hunter for Best Actress, and Anna Paquin for Best Supporting Actress.
Since the 1990s, Jane has adapted several novels into film, including The Portrait of a Lady (1996) and In The Cut (2003). In 2006, she produced the documentary Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story. In 2013, Jane developed the miniseries Top of the Lake and co-directed episodes with Garth Davis. It's sequel, Top of the Lake: China Girl, premiered in 2017. Top of the Lake is Jane’s first television work since 1990’s An Angel at My Table.
Jane was the head of the jury for the Cinéfondation and Short Film sections at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and the head of the jury for the main competition section for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Animator & Director
After graduating with a BFA in character animation from the California Institute of the Arts, Brenda Chapman was a story trainee on the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid (1989). She was also one of several key story artists on Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) and later served as head of story, the first woman to do so in an animated feature film, for Disney's The Lion King (1994).
Brenda joined DreamWorks Animation in the fall of 1994. She was one of a team of three directors who worked on 1998's The Prince of Egypt, making her the first American woman to direct an animated feature film from a major studio.
In 2003, Brenda started working at Pixar, helping to develop Cars (2006) before working on the story for Brave (2012). Brenda developed the film and was announced as its director, making her Pixar's first female director. However, in October 2010, she was replaced following creative disagreements. Brenda became the first female filmmaker to receive an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Brave in 2013.
Brenda returned to Dreamworks to help develop Rumblewick in 2013. Since 2016, she and her husband Kevin Lima have been developing projects for Chapman Lima Productions.
Actress, Author & Activist
Marlee Matlin began her acting career with the International Center on Deafness and the Arts (ICODA) at seven years old playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Even after graduating with a degree in criminal justice, Marlee continued acting.
After appearing in a Chicago production of the award-winning play Children of a Lesser God, Marlee made her feature film debut in the 1986 film adaptation. Children of a Lesser God was the first film to feature a deaf actor in a major role since the silent film You’d Be Surprised (1926).
Marlee’s performance as Sarah Norman earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama and an Academy Award for Best Actress. At 21, Marlee is still the youngest actress to receive an Oscar for Best Actress and is still the only deaf Academy Award recipient in any category; she is also one of four performers to win with a debut performance. Children of a Lesser God was also the first ever female-helmed film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category.
Marlee's work in film and television have also earned her two additional Golden Globe nominations (Reasonable Doubts (1992, 1993) and four Emmy nominations (Picket Fences (1994); Seinfeld (1994); The Practice (2000); Law & Order: SVU (2004). She has also appeared in The West Wing (2000-2006), The L Word (2007-2009), Switched at Birth (2011-2017), No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie (2013), and The Magicians (2017-2018).
As a spokesperson for the National Captioning Institute, Marlee testified at a 1995 congressional hearing and helped get a law passed that requires all TV sets 13 inches or larger to be manufactured with built-in chips to provide closed captioning on their screens. Since 2015, Marlee is also an American Civil Liberties Union's celebrity ambassador for disability rights, focusing on communication barriers between deaf individuals the police.
Marlee has published four books including Deaf Child Crossing (2004) and her autobiography I'll Scream Later (2009).
Actress & Producer
Before becoming an actress, Halle Berry started modeling and entered several beauty contests, finishing as the 1st runner-up in the Miss USA Pageant and coming in 6th place in the Miss World Pageant in 1986.
In 1989, Halle moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. In the 1990s, she moved to Los Angeles and made her feature film debut in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). Halle’s first major film role was in the rom-com Boomerang (1992), alongside Eddie Murphy, which led to roles in films like The Flintstones (1994) and Bulworth (1998).
In the 1999 HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Halle portrayed the first black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and it was a project that she introduced, co-produced and fought for its production. She won several awards for her performance, including a Primetime Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie.
In 2002, Halle won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball (2001), making her the first woman of color to win that category. To date, she is the only African American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar.
In the early to mid 2000s, Halle pursued more action roles, including Bond Girl Giacinta "Jinx" Johnson in Die Another Day (2002), Patience Phillips in Catwoman (2004), and mutant superhero Storm in the film adaptation of the comic book series X-Men (2000) and its sequels, X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
Halle has also worked as a producer, including Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999), Lackawanna Blues (2005), Perfect Stranger (2007), Frankie & Alice (2010), Extant (2014-2015), Kidnap (2017), and the upcoming TV series Surrogates (2018).
Director & Storyboard Artist
Jennifer Yuh Nelson spent her childhood drawing and writing stories. Passionate about art, she and her sisters attended California State University, Long Beach, where Jennifer received a BFA in Illustration.
In 1998, Jennifer started working at DreamWorks Animation as a storyboard artist and worked on the films Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), and Madagascar (2005).
As a fan of martial arts movies, Jennifer specifically asked to work on Kung Fu Panda (2008); she was head of story, action sequence supervisor, and directed the hand-drawn dream sequence. After the success of the first Kung Fu Panda film, Jennifer was chosen to direct its sequel, making her the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio solely. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) was a major critical and international box office success, earning a worldwide gross of $665.6 million, making it the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman, until Jennifer Lee's Frozen (2013). Jennifer held the record for highest-grossing film by a solo female director until the release of Patty Jenkins' film Wonder Woman (2017).
With Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer became the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film since 2007 and to win the Annie Award for Best Directing in a Feature Production. In 2016, she directed the third film in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, and it was the first American animated film ever to be co-produced with a Chinese firm.
Jennifer will make her live-action directorial debut with the film adaptation of Alexandra Bracken’s YA novel The Darkest Minds. The film is set to premiere in summer 2018 and stars Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, and Gwendoline Christie.
Visual Effects Artist
Sara Bennett got her start as a visual effects artist on the film Babe (1998). By the mid-2000s, she was Head of 2D at The Mill. For seven years, she worked as VFX Supervisor on the feature films 28 Weeks Later (2007), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), Les Miserables (2012), and Dredd (2012).
In 2013, Sara became one of five founding owners of Milk, a multi-award winning independent British visual effects company where she serves as a VFX Supervisor and Head of 2D. Milk has won an Emmy for Sherlock (2016), three consecutive BAFTA Craft awards for the BBC’s Doctor Who (2014, 2015), and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2016), and earned seven BAFTA Craft nominations.
In 2016, Sara won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for the film Ex Machina (2014). She is the third woman to ever be nominated for the category, the second woman to win, and the first female VFX supervisor to receive the Oscar. With her 2016 win, Sara was the first woman to win in 23 years.
Over the course of her 20-year career, Sara has worked on over 40 films, including Laura Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), three films from the Harry Potter franchise (2002-2005), The Martian (2015), Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), and Annihilation (2018).
Interested in photography at a young age, Rachel Morrison attended New York University and double majored in film and photography because she couldn't choose between the two. However, by the completion of her degree, she decided to concentrate on cinematography; she received an MFA from the AFI Conservatory graduate cinematography program in 2006.
Rachel started her career in TV; her cinematography work on the 2005 TV documentary Rikers High was nominated for an Emmy Award. Her debut as the primary cinematographer on a feature film came with 2007’s Palo Alto.
Rachel has photographed seven films that have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, including Sound of My Voice (2011), Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012), Fruitvale Station (2013), Dope (2015), and Mudbound (2017).
For her work on the film Mudbound, Rachel became the first woman to win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematographer, the first woman to be nominated for the feature category of the American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement Awards, and the first woman ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
Most recently, Rachel collaborated with director Ryan Coogler for a second time on the MCU film Black Panther (2018), which has grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide, so far making it the highest-grossing film of 2018, as well as the fifth highest-grossing film ever in the United States and 12th highest-grossing film of all time.
Rachel received the Kodak Vision Award at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards in 2013.
Initially interested in a career in journalism, Joi McMillon switched career goals after touring Universal Studios and seeing an editor cut a program for Animal Planet. She attended Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts and met Barry Jenkins and Nat Sanders, with whom she would later collaborate with on the film Moonlight (2016).
Joi’s first editing jobs were with reality television shows like The Surreal Life and The Biggest Loser. Joi became an apprentice editor on Talk to Me (2007), her first feature film. After working consistently as an assistant editor in film and TV on projects like The Sarah Silverman Program (2007), American Violet (2008), Togetherness (2015), and several Tyler Perry films, Joi received her first lead editor role for a feature film with director Berry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
In 2017, Joi became the first black woman to win the Independent Spirit Award for Best Editing and receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing for Moonlight with co-editor Nat Sanders.