In over eighty years, only four women have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009).
The industry is still largely closed to women, especially women of colour. Here are just a few industry names that it’s worth getting to know a little better.
Sometimes, I don’t think there is enough differential made between black people, or people of African descent, working outside of Africa, and people of African descent working in Africa. It is two different experiences.
Ngozi Onwurah was born in Nigeria to a black father and white British mother. Her family fled to the UK when she was two years old to escape the Nigerian civil war. She trained at the National Film & Television School and made her first film, Coffee Coloured Children, in 1988. Her work includes both dramas and documentaries. Her 1991 film, The Body Beautiful, is an autobiographical piece featuring both Onwurah and her mother discussing their lives, hopes and fears. In addition to being a filmmaker, she is also a successful producer and lecturer.
I get questions about what it’s like to be a woman film-maker, and you don’t get that question a lot if you’re a man.
Lynne Ramsay is a Glaswegian cinematographer, screenwriter, producer and director. Her short films have won countless awards including the Prix de Jury at Cannes for Small Deaths and Gasman. Her 2012 short film, Swimmer, was co-commissioned by BBC Films, Film 4 and the organisers of the London Olympics and it earned her a BAFTA. Her best known feature films, for which she also wrote – or co-wrote – the screenplays are Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on Lionel Shriver’s best-selling novel. Tilda Swinton called Ramsay “One of those rare directors who creates the kind of films that just would not be there if she didn’t make them”.
I wanted to show that a female director but, also, even more so, a female at the front centre of the piece could appeal to audiences across the board.
Amma Asante was born in London to Ghanaian parents. She was a child actress, appearing in TV hits such as Grange Hill and Desmond’s, but left acting in her late teens to work in screenwriting. She later founded her own production company, Tantrum Films, and directed her first feature film, A Way of Life, in 2004, a film which deals with poverty and the class system, and which won her critical acclaim. Her second feature film, Belle (2013) is based on the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a woman who was the illegitimate daughter of a British Navy admiral and an enslaved African woman. Asante has been an elected member of the BAFTA Council and a BAFTA Film committee member.
I wanted to have a voice, and I wanted to say something.
Haifaa al-Mansour (pictured) is the first female film director in Saudi Arabia. She studied comparative literature at the American University in Cairo and later went to film school in Australia. Her work often deals with gender issues. Her documentary Women Without Shadows explores the role of women in Saudi Arabia, through a series of interviews with people of varied perspectives. The film was critically acclaimed and won The Golden Dagger for Best Documentary in the Muscat Film Festival. She wrote and directed Wadjda, the only feature-length film made in Saudi Arabia by a female film director. The film deals with the aspirations of a young Saudi girl who longs to transcend gender barriers and was the first film Saudi Arabia submitted for the Best Foreign Language Films Oscar.
No matter what happens to you in your life, all around you there are amazing things.
Born and raised in Kent, Andrea Arnold began her career as a dancer, actress and TV presenter before training in film direction and screenwriting. Her early short films were critically acclaimed and her 2003 short, Wasp, won an Oscar. Her 2007 feature debut, Red Road, won a BAFTA for Outstanding Film. Her 2009 film, Fish Tank, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize and then went on to earn her another Outstanding Film BAFTA. In 2011, she co-wrote and directed an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and was awarded an OBE in the same year.
References include The Guardian, IMDb, Race Relations, The BFI and Screen Daily.
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