#MakeItHappen: Female directors breaking barriers in Hollywood and beyond

You probably already know this by now, because we haven’t stopped reminding you, but it’s Women’s History Month, which means we’re big upping the ladies we love even more than we normally do. Today in particular happens to be International Women’s Day, which is specifically set aside to celebrate those artists and scientists and scholars and professionals who are underrepresented in their fields — not that 24 hours would ever be adequate time for this. This year’s IWD theme is #MakeItHappen and the following female directors are certainly doing just that—and not without challenges.

According to a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the number of top-grossing women directors has dropped over the past 17 years. Directing is one of those fields where women are few and far between, and not for lack of talent. So today, in honor of both icons and peers who’ve made strides despite not being given enough opportunities, let’s celebrate the women who HAVE recently broken down ‘boys club’ barriers as directors and are making it happen behind the camera.

Jane Campion

Jane was once quoted as saying, “Film-making is not about whether you’re a man or woman; it’s about sensitivity and hard work and really loving what you do. But women are going to tell different stories —there would be many more stories in the world if women were making more films.” Preach it, Jane! Obviously she has a long and stellar list of directing credits to her name, but her most recent triumph was the TV series Top of the Lake in which Elisabeth Moss portrayed a complex and very Campion-esque character: indomitable, flawed, powerful, and vulnerable. So, you know, basically a real-life woman.

Ava DuVernay

Selma scored Ava DuVernay a lot of attention, although not an Oscar nod, which rightly turned into a huge controversy. But this will not be the last we hear of her. Did you also know that she directed more than a few widely acclaimed documentaries and, in 2012, she won the Best Director Prize at Sundance for her feature film Middle of Nowhere, making her the first African-American woman to win the award? Well, now you do. She has reportedly just signed on to direct a CBS drama based on a James Patterson novel.

Lisa Cholodenko

The Kids Are All Right broke through my cynical “movies barely surprise me anymore” mindset because Cholodenko’s main characters make choices that always catch me off guard and leave me wanting more. Her films also rely on compelling ensemble casts instead of just one fully developed protagonist surrounded by a bunch of flat, one-dimensional cheerleaders. She translates entire worlds onto the screen, and if you need more proof, check out her latest TV miniseries: HBO’s sublime Olive Kitteridge and NBC’s The Slap.

Desiree Akhavan

“Don’t wait for someone to enable you,” says Desiree Akhanvan. “Create your own opportunities.” While studying film at NYU, she co-created the comedic web series The Slope, which revolves around a Brooklyn lesbian couple figuring out the power dynamic of their relationship. At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival she was hailed as a breakout star for her debut feature Appropriate Behavior, which caught the attention of Lena Dunham, another awesome lady director who then cast her in a role as a classmate of Hannah’s in season four of Girls. Akhavan is currently in the process of developing a bisexual dating comedy for television.

Jill Soloway

I first noticed Soloway’s name in the credits as a writer and producer of the amazing, hilarious, and heartbreaking Six Feet Under. It seems only appropriate that she went on to mesmerize us by writing and directing 2013’s under-seen gem Afternoon Delight and her Golden Globe-winning AmazonPrime series Transparent. Soloway has created a show that not only explores the complexity of transgenderism but also the dynamics of family in all its dark, hilarious, and even mundane moments.

Lynn Shelton

I realized in my early 20s that I had to stop announcing that I wanted to be an author and just set about becoming one. This is why I consider Lynn Shelton such a role model. In a recent interview she echoed this same sentiment when she said, “I self-generated my work, and never went around asking permission to make it.” Her movies have a largely improvisational feel that is never sloppy and always manage to capture the strange, wonderful secrets of human bonding (Your Sister’s Sister, My Effortless Brilliance, Humpday). Were she ever to be handed the reins on a big studio film, I have no doubt that the results would be profoundly interesting.

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Basketball was the bane of my existence as a kid because I was constantly drafted to play on a team due to my height, but was utterly graceless on the court. Then I watched Love & Basketball and Gina Prince-Bythewood made me fall in love with the game. It was a compelling romance that was also rife with themes of feminism and independence. She went on to direct episodes of The Bernie Mac Show and Everybody Hates Chris before writing and directing two more excellent, emotionally charged feature films: The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014).

Sofia Coppola

Lost in Translation will always have a place in my heart for its simple yet honest portrayal of people looking for a connection. Every few years Sofia Coppola seems to pop up with a film featuring characters, often young and female, who are complex and surprising and contradictory. No one else recognizes the tiny little trinkets, real and metaphorical, that occupy a girl’s life. Next up is a live-action movie remake of The Little Mermaid starring model and transgender advocate Andreja Peji.

Gillian Robespierre

So far Gillian Robespierre has last year’s Obvious Child under her belt, and isn’t that enough? She directed a film that managed to take a controversial subject (abortion) and turn it into a feature that was heartwarming, hilarious, charming, and smart. She has since been tapped to co-write and direct a currently untitled divorce comedy set in New York City for OddLot Entertainment.

Nicole Holofcener

Bow down to the queen of female friendships, and relationships in general. Besides the fact that Nicole Holofcener has directed episodes of Sex and the City and Parks and Recreation, two shows I’ll forever worship, she wrote and directed Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money, and Enough Said, which I feel confident saying was my favorite movie of 2013. I BELIEVE everything about her movies, which is often more fun that being whisked away into a big-budget fantasy.

Pamela Romanowsky

In 2012 Pamela Romanowsky was one of 12 directors chosen to write and direct on The Color of Time, a film based on a poetry collection of the Pulitzer Prize-winning C.K. Williams starring Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain, and James Franco. In 2013, she adapted and developed The Adderall Diaries (based on the book by Stephen Elliott) into a feature film starring James Franco, Ed Harris, and Amber Heard, which will premiere at the Tribeca film festival in April.

Rosemary Rodriguez

Mark my words: Rosemary Rodriguez is somebody to keep an eye out for. Not only has she directed episodes of some of my favorite TV shows (The Good Wife, Empire, Rescue Me), but she’s also written and directed two features: Acts of Worship (2001), a devastating film about addiction, and this year’s Silver Skies, which concerns a group of eccentric retirees about to be evicted from their beloved apartment complex. You heard about her here first.

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