Female filmmakers set the stage for new storytellers


Camila Oliva '24

Female filmmakers inspire women to express themselves creatively.

From its beginning, the film industry has spotlighted men and their accomplishments, overshadowing women’s work and contributions.  Ms. Bessie Mae Kelley and Ms. Alice Guy Blanché, two of the first women to work in film, paved the path for female filmmakers such as Ms. Sofia Coppola and Ms. Greta Gerwig to continue to inspire young women who are interested in a career in the industry.  The 95th annual Oscar Awards highlighted a growing recognition of women and people of color in the film industry, according to The New York Times.  Ms. Ellyn Stewart, Director of Media Studies and Design and Innovation at Sacred Heart Greenwich, discussed the crucial impact female representation in the film industry has on young women. 

In December 2022, Ms. Mindy Johnson, an animation scholar, discovered that Ms. Mae Kelley was the first woman to produce animated films.  Previously, a historian had mistaken her for a cleaning lady in a photograph with early male animators.  Ms. Kelley’s drawings are comparable to those of animator Mr. Walt Disney, according to The New York Times.  While this recent discovery helped historians understand the beginnings of the film industry more fully, it demonstrated that the industry has overlooked women’s work and contributions.  

Ms. Guy Blanché was the first female filmmaker to successfully start a film company.  She was passionate about her work in film, but she was aware that men dominated the industry.  She eventually left her work due to several professional disappointments, according to The New York Times.  Regardless, Ms. Guy Blanché spent years attempting to reclaim her rightful role in film history, foreshadowing the struggles that future women in the industry would have to endure to make themselves famous. 

While Ms. Coppola started her career as an actress for her famous father, Mr. Francis Ford Coppola, her film The Virgin Suicides aided in establishing her individual voice as a filmmaker.  Through her other films, Ms. Coppola expressed her ability to accurately represent the emotions of female adolescence and loneliness, resonating with younger female audiences.  Ms. Gerwig also began her career in the film industry by acting.  After directing her first film, Lady Bird, audiences applauded her for her authentic representation of mother and daughter relationships, according to time.com

Ms. Greta Gerwig and Ms. Sofia Coppola use their films to highlight female perspectives.  Camila Oliva ’24

Through their empowering portrayals of female relationships, both Ms. Coppola and Ms. Gerwig have encouraged young and aspiring women filmmakers to pursue their dreams in film.  Powerful women in the industry such as Ms. Reese Witherspoon and Ms. Viola Davis also took on elevated roles to open more pathways for future women.  These women’s experiences and impacts emphasize the struggle for female independence in a male-dominated industry, as Ms. Gerwig is only the fifth woman to receive a nomination for Best Director at the Oscar Awards, according to time.com.  Ms. Stewart pointed out the importance of women breaking barriers in film. 

“It is important to encourage women to break barriers in the film industry because representation matters,” Ms. Stewart said.  “Different voices and perspectives matter.  Seeing stories shaped and produced by women allows more viewers to resonate with stories that matter to them.”

Ms. Michelle Yeoh becomes the first Asian woman to win in the Best Actress category.  Courtesy of Mr. Todd Heisler for The New York Times

This year at the Oscar Awards, Ms. Michelle Yeoh made history as the first Asian woman to take home the Best Actress award.  Ms. Halle Berry, who became the first Black woman to win the award 21 years ago, presented Ms. Yeoh with her trophy, demonstrating the underrepresentation of women of color at the Academy Awards, according to The New York Times.  Ms. Stewart shared statistics on the major roles women hold in the film industry, reflecting their recognition at major award shows. 

“Women are getting more recognition in the film industry, but there is still a long way to go, especially for women in the top leadership roles,” Ms. Stewart said.  “Recent research by the Center for the Study of Women & Film in Television shows that ‘the percentage of women working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers increased a scant 7 percentage points from 17 percent in 1998 to 24 percent in 2022.  This represents a decline of 1 percentage point from 25 percent in 2021.’”

With emerging actors and actresses such as Ms. Yeoh, the hope is that women and people of color will receive more recognition for their roles, according to The New York Times.  Role models such as Ms. Coppola and Ms. Gerwig have inspired young women to take their place in the film industry.  Ms. Stewart expressed how women can bring change to the industry. 

“Change takes time, and I hope with time that women, including our own talented Sacred Heart Greenwich alumnae, will continue to break barriers in the film industry,” Ms. Stewart said. 

Featured Image by Camila Oliva ’24