Female directors have been around longer than you probably think. This means you might not know who the first female director was, but don’t worry, you will soon enough!
Female directors were more common in the early days of film. Then there was an abrupt halt, making it seem like they all disappeared. However, after a period of mostly male directors, female directors slowly came back into the spotlight. It took a lot of fight to get there. And unfortunately, some people still don’t appreciate a film being directed by a woman.
I am not one of those people. Some of the most beautiful films I have seen were directed by women, so take that, misogyny! I believe that highlighting female directors is very important, which is why I had to make the hard decision of choosing just six to highlight for you.
Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968)
I bet most of you have no clue who Alice Guy-Blaché was. Well, school is in session! Guy-Blaché was the FIRST woman to direct a film. Her solo directorial debut was with the short film La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), which was released in 1896.
IMDb credits her with 453 films, with the last one being made in 1920. For too long, many film classes overlooked Guy-Blaché and she deserves recognition! There is a wonderful documentary on her called Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, and I highly recommend you watch it to learn about how revolutionary she really was.
Films directed by Alice Guy-Blaché that you should watch: Sage-Femme de Première Classe (“First Class Midwife” 1902), A Fool and His Money (1912, which is the oldest known film with an all-Black cast) and A House Divided (1913).
Ida Lupino (1918-1995)
Ida Lupino was known as an actress until 1949, when she had to step in for director Elmer Clifton during the filming of Not Wanted. This started Lupino’s directing career, where she eventually earned 42 directing credits for film and television, even though she was uncredited for Not Wanted.
What made Lupino so special? She was literally the only woman in the Director’s Guild of America in the 1950s, becoming only the second woman to be a part of the boys’ club (Dorothy Arzner was the first).
Lupino created raw films that pushed the envelope during the cookie cutter 1950s. These films are rare gems because they cover a wide variety of controversial topics and explored new themes each time she stepped behind the camera.
Films directed by Ida Lupino that you should watch: Outrage (1950 – this film is unfortunately hard to find, but TCM plays it occasionally), The Hitch-Hiker (1953 – Lupino is one of the few female directors to direct a Film Noir), and The Trouble with Angels (1966).
Agnès Varda (1928-2019)
Agnès Varda’s was extremely influential before and during the French New Wave. In fact, she was one of the few women making films during this time period. American directors like Martin Scorsese have sung praises for Varda and her filmmaking style, which has a realistic, documentary feeling.
Varda’s films always had some sort of beauty to them, whether it be the cinematography or the stories she told. She never held back with the authenticity of her storytelling, adding to the documentary feeling of her films.
Films directed by Agnès Varda that you should watch: Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), Le Bonheur (1965), and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977).
Ava DuVernay (b. 1972)
Ava DuVernay is a director who makes films that seem to transcend time and can resonate with anyone. DuVernay never holds back, pursuing her work fearlessly, which is why a lot of her films are considered masterpieces.
DuVernay celebrates Black characters in her films, which is something not every mainstream director will do. But that’s what makes DuVernay different. Although some might say she is mainstream now, she still has the indie spirit with each and every film she makes. This is special and something that not all directors can achieve after finding commercial success.
Films directed by Ava DuVernay that you should watch: Middle of Nowhere (2012), Selma (2014), and 13th (2016).
Chloé Zhao (b. 1982)
Chloé Zhao’s films make it seem like you are there with her characters. Zhao’s untraditional Midwest stories have a more ethereal feel than most American directors can dream of achieving.
At the time of writing this article, Zhao also holds a seat at a special table. She is only the second female director to win a Golden Globe for Best Director (Barbra Streisand was the first). It took 37 years for two female directors to win this award, but let’s face it, Zhao’s Nomadland totally deserved it!
Next up, Zhao will be directing Eternals for Marvel. We can’t wait to see her take on the MCU!
Films directed by Chloé Zhao that you should watch: Songs My Brother Taught Me (2015), The Rider (2017), and Nomadland (2020).
Janet Mock (b. 1983)
Janet Mock might be the newest director on the list, but she is a powerhouse and making a name for herself in the directing profession. Mock not only serves as a producer for Pose, but has also directed four episodes!
Mock, like every director on this list, isn’t afraid to boldly pursue her artistic vision. She seems to immerse herself into stories and it shows!
I am excited to see she is slated to direct a film about Sammy Davis, Jr. and Kim Novak in 2021. I know Mock will do a wonderful job with this story!
Television Episodes directed by Janet Mock you should watch: Pose “In My Heels” (2019), Pose “Love is the Message” (2018), and Hollywood “Meg” (2020).