By Rachel Birnam
“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies” – Kathryn Bigelow
As actresses, writers, producers, directors, and so much more, women have influenced the film and television industries since the beginning. In honor of International Women’s Month and in light of the recent Oscar Awards, it’s time take a trip through Hollywood history and honor just of few of the many women who have shaped the film and television industries.
Even in the early 1900’s, in the era of silent films and a predominantly male industry, women worked jobs both on and off screen. Lois Weber was one of the forefront female names in Hollywood, as a silent film actress, screen writer, producer, and director. Weber was a pioneer of film; directing, writing, and acting in over one hundred films. With films like Where Are My Children? Lois Weber tackled controversial issues such as birth control and alcoholism. Weber not only paved the way for women in Hollywood, but also served as a mentor to countless young women hoping for a career in the film industry. There is literally nothing this woman couldn’t do.
In the 1920’s, in the midst of the glitz and glamour of the jazz age, women were, unfortunately, underrepresented in Hollywood. Dorothy Arzner was one of the few women successfully working in the field as a film director. Hailing from San Francisco, California, Arzner worked as a director for Paramount Pictures. Her most notable film, The Wild Party, which was set at a women’s college and addressed themes of lesbianism, became the third highest grossing film of 1929.
Laverne Cox, actress and producer, became the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award in an acting category for her work as Sophia Burest in the popular Netflix Series, Orange Is the New Black. Cox is an active LGBT advocate and Glamour Magazine’s 2014 Woman of the Year, who never fails to remind the world that it is okay to be yourself,
“We are not what other people say we are. We are who we know ourselves to be, and we are what we love. That’s OK.” – Laverne Cox
Shonda Rhimes, screenwriter, director, and producer who has dominated the television scene since the debut of Grey’s Anatomy in 2005. Known for her diverse cast and strong leading ladies, such as Scandal’s Kerry Washington, Grey’s Anatomy’s Ellen Pompeo, and How To Get Away With Murder’s Viola Davis, Shonda Rhimes is shattering every television “norm;” addressing racial inequality, gay rights, and feminism in almost every episode she writes. It’s no wonder that Thursday night Primetime television is now known as TGIT, or as I like to say, TGST (Thank Shonda It’s Thursday).
“I work for a woman [Shonda Rhimes], who, because of her courage to step into her light, and step up and own her voice, has provided an opportunity for so many other women to soar in front of and behind the camera … When we step up for ourselves, we create opportunity.”-Kerry Washington
Emma Watson, most commonly known as the brilliantly sassy Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films, has recently become a feminist icon through her work as the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador and her newly launched campaign, HeForShe, promoting gender equality. Watson has traveled around the world; from Bangladesh to Uruguay, promoting education for women. She recently delivered a powerful speech on gender equality at the UN Headquarters in New York, announcing her HeForShe campaign, sparking feminist discussions all across social media and encouraging other celebrities, both male and female, to advocate for gender equality. She recently announced via Twitter that she will be hosting a livestream Q&A on International Women’s Day to discuss feminism. Get your questions ready!
Behind the glamour of Hollywood is hundreds of hard working, powerful, and successful women who are constantly breaking down barriers and fighting for gender equality in the film and television industries. Female celebrities are more commonly using their fame as an outlet to promote feminism and inspire and empower women around the world.