Every year, news outlets point to a film or media study to underscore the case that the entertainment industry is overcoming systemic practices of sexism. Last year, the female-led “Ghostbusters” reboot got people excited about the progressive steps studios were taking to end patriarchy in Hollywood. Around the same time, journalists were quick to point to a study that illustrated the growing number of female representation in film and TV. That study was put out by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film from San Diego State University, stating women comprised 29 percent of protagonists in 2016, an increase of 7 percentage points from the previous year. The study also stated that women comprised of 7 percent of directors in 2016, down by two percentage points from the previous year.
In January, FilmSchoolRejects put out a piece titled “66 Movies Directed by Women to Look Forward to in 2017,” the subtitle of which cleverly stated, “Does that seem like a lot? Because it’s really not.” To be fair, 66 is a lot when you consider that most movie-goers probably won’t see a film directed by a woman in any given year. Women comprised of 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic films last year, according to Women in Television and Film. And this is a decline of 2 percentage points from 2015.
When it comes to women’s paucity of achievements behind the camera, there is no better illustration than the Academy Awards. It’s been seven years since Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director for 2010’s “The Hurt Locker” – a feat that took 90 years to accomplish. After Bigelow’s win, no other female has been nominated for Best Director and only four Best Picture nominees have been directed by a woman.
Then there’s “Wonder Woman” coming out later this summer. The film will mark the titular superheroine’s first standalone live-action film. Considering the character was first introduced in the DC comics in 1941 and star Gal Gadot had to preface her debut by first appearing in the testosterone-laden “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the film is beyond overdue. Even director Patty Jenkins’ role was undermined, considering filmmakers like Ivan Reitman and Joss Whedon were set to direct at different points, with Nicolas Winding Refn even rumored to be interested in the project. The idea of a woman helming a woman-led project seemed like an afterthought to the studio.
The fight continues. The need to point to charts and numbers continues. But the misled effort of saying a few percentage points or token casting of filmmakers are signs of progress must stop. We can do better than marginal improvement, and that starts with supporting more women-driven films, especially ones with women working behind the camera.
In honor of the women who pursue their art, despite the odds, here are a few female-centric films, either starring, written or directed by women, that should get some buzz this awards season. Please note: release dates are subject to change.
Director and writer: Margaret Betts
Starring: Dianna Agron, Melissa Leo, Margaret Qualley, Julianne Nicholson
This film about a covenant of nuns in the early 1960s earned Betts the Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Director at Sundance earlier this year. This is Betts’ first feature film, which was also nominated for the festival’s Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. “Novitiate” features a strong female ensemble cast, featuring many young up-and-comers, including Qualley, who some might recognize from Spike Jonze’s mesmerizing KENZO ad. Melissa Leo also stars as Reverend Mother, the matriarch of the film. The Oscar-winning actress is the more notable name in the cast, but actresses like Julianne Nicholson (“August: Osage County”) and Liana Liberato (“If I Stay”) have been flying under the radar for too long.
Release date: TBD
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Writers: Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, John Turturro, Finn Wittrock, Jay Duplass
In 2014, Robespierre rocked the indie world with her feminist comedy “Obvious Child” about a woman falling in love while weighing the options of her pregnancy. The film starred comedian Jenny Slate in a breakthrough role that earned her a Spirit Award nomination. Robespierre teams up with Slate once again for her sophomore debut “Landline,” about a young woman dealing with family issues when she uncovers her father’s infidelities. It will be interesting to see if the pair can achieve the same level of comedy and poignancy they did the first time.
Release date: July 21
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Writers: Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, Tim Lovestedt
Starring: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Edie Falco, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford
Cowperthwaite is best known for her SeaWorld exposé doc “Blackfish,” which somehow failed to earn an Oscar nomination, but was nominated for a BAFTA in 2014. The film went on to spark a cultural revolution that forced the company to begin phasing out its popular orca shows. Cowperthwaite returns with another animal story with “Megan Leavy,” based on the true story of a marine corporal’s journey to adopt the combat German Shepherd she trained with during her deployment in Iraq. “Blackfish” might have missed out on the awards, but Mara might attract a good amount of press for her performance. The actress was nominated for an Emmy in 2014 for her role as Zoe Barnes on Netflix’s “House of Cards.”
Release date: June 9
Check out the trailer here.
Director and writer: Sofia Coppola (based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst
This remake of the 1971 Western/thriller classic has gotten many people’s attention. For starters, the original Clint Eastwood version isn’t exactly known for being a feminist story. In the Don Siegel-directed film, young women living together in a boarding school turn against each other, fighting over Eastwood’s character, before they become hostile scorned females. The tale is patronizing to say the least, but Coppola’s involvement makes matters interesting. She’s known for portraying misunderstood women on the fringes of society, who feel trapped in their environment. It seems she’s attempting to revisit these characters to give them a second chance.
Release date: June 30
Check out the trailer here.
“The Big Sick”
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Real-life married couple, Gordon and Nanjiani, decided to turn their story into a romantic comedy for the big screen. The film received an overwhelmingly positive reception when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was quickly picked up by Amazon Studios, making it one of the biggest sales at the film festival. In the film, Nanjiani plays himself with Zoe Kazan playing the part of Emily, and depicts the couple’s early days when they first met. This is Gordon’s first time writing for film, but she has previously written for “The Carmichael Show” and “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail,” which she also executive produces with Nanjiani, for Comedy Central.
Release date: July 14
“The Bad Batch”
Director and writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi
Amirpour made a name for herself in 2014 with her first feature “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” – a black-and-white Iranian horror/drama about a woman who stalks men at night. “The Bad Batch” seems to focus on Waterhouse’s character, Arlen, a girl who wanders through a Texas wasteland and has grizzly encounters with cannibals and a cult leader. Judging by the trailer, Amirpour is using a lot of the same elements that made her first feature unforgettable – a lights show, great music, cannibalism, survivalism and a strong female lead. This will also be Waterhouse’s first starring role; the model-turned-actress’ previous films include “Insurgent” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
Release date: June 23
Check out the trailer here.
Director: Amanda Lipitz
This doc centers around an all-girls high school’s dance step team in Baltimore. The film caused a bidding war when it premiered at Sundance, where it also took home the Special Jury Prize for Inspirational Filmmaking, earlier this year. Fox Searchlight ended up buying it for over $4 million. Deadline described the purchase, stating the film “drew bidders like few docs do.” This is pretty incredible, especially considering this is Lipitz’s first documentary feature. The director has previously worked on Broadway, producing “Legally Blonde The Musical.”
Release date: Aug. 4
“Battle of the Sexes”
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming, Sarah Silverman
The film has accumulated awards buzz ever since husband-and-wife team Dayton and Faris announced they were working on a film about the true story of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Carell). Faris and Dayton previously co-directed the dysfunctional-family comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” which was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in 2007. Most recently, the couple co-directed the Zoe Kazan-scripted film “Ruby Sparks” (2012) about a man who imagines the ideal girlfriend. “Battle of the Sexes” will be Stone’s first feature after her Oscar-winning performance in last year’s “La La Land.”
Release date: Sept. 22
Very little is known about the film. What is known is Aronofsky’s proclivity for directing actresses who have gone on to win big at the Oscars. His 2000 anti-drug film “Requiem for a Dream” earned star Ellen Burstyn an Oscar nomination. He helped Marisa Tomei’s comeback when she earned a nomination for “The Wrestler” (she won her first Oscar in 1993 for the Joe Pesci classic “My Cousin Vinny”). Then in 2011, Natalie Portman took home her first Academy Award, a Best Actress Oscar, for “Black Swan” (she also took home the Golden Globe and BAFTA that same year). Lawrence has been nominated for four Oscars in the last six years, including a win for Best Actress for “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2013. “Mother!” could be her fifth.
Release date: Oct. 13
Director: Dee Rees
Writer: Virgil Williams, Dee Rees, Hillary Jordan (novel)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke
Dee Rees made a huge impact on the 2011 Sundance Film Festival where she premiered her first feature “Pariah,” a drama about a black teen struggling with her sexual identity. She even managed to impress Spike Lee, who served as executive producer on the film. In 2015, she directed the musical bio “Bessie” for HBO about legendary blues singer Bessie Williams, which went on to earn 12 Emmy nominations and nabbing four, including Outstanding Television Movie. This year, she returns to the big screen with “Mudbound,” a post-World War II drama, based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 debut novel.
Release date: TBD
“The Mountain Between Us”
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Writers: J. Mills Goodloe, Charles Martin, Chris Weitz (novel)
Starring: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Dermot Mulroney, Beau Bridges
Any film with Kate Winslet automatically has Oscar potential. The Oscar winner has been nominated seven times, most recently for her performance in the Danny Boyle film “Steve Jobs.” In “The Mountain Between Us,” she teams up with Hany Abu-Assad, whose 2005 film “Paradise Now,” about two men who embark on a suicide mission in Tel Aviv, made him a fearless filmmaker – and a controversial one. Winslet co-stars with “Luther” star Idris Elba in the film, which revolves around their two characters having to bond in order to survive after a plane crash.
Release date: Oct. 20
Director and writer: Lisa Langseth
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Eva Green, Charlotte Rampling
This is Alicia Vikander and director Lisa Langseth’s third collaboration together. The Swedish duo previously worked on Langseth’s two other films “Hotel” (2013) and “Pure” (2010). The Oscar-winning actress will not only star but make her producing debut with “Euphoria,” a film about two sisters (Vikander and Eva Green) who travel across Europe. This is the first film from Vikander’s Vikarious Productions, but there’s sure to be many more to follow.
Release date: TBD
From the cast to the filmmakers to the title itself, “Lioness” is teeming to the brim with awesome female energy. Ellen Page plays a U.S. Marine sent to Afghanistan to speak to Afghani women in order to gain intelligence about their husbands’ involvement with the Taliban. The film’s director, Reed Morano, is best known for her cinematography credits which include “Frozen River,” “The Skeleton Twins” and Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade.” She directed her first film, “Meadowland” in 2015, starring Olivia Wilde, which earned Morano a Best Cinematography nomination at the Spirit Awards the following year. In the absence of a trailer or any screenshots, it’s safe to say the film will look beautiful.
Release date: TBD
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Writer: Haifaa Al-Mansour, Emma Jensen, Conor McPherson
Starring: Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Maisie Williams, Bel Powley, Tom Sturridge
“Mary Shelley” will bring the real story of Frankenstein to life, which was the romance between its author and her poet lover that inspired the classic novel. Elle Fanning will star as the eponymous legendary writer opposite Douglas Booth, who will play the influential English poet Percy Shelley. The film is helmed by a legend herself. Al-Mansour became the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia when she directed her first narrative feature “Wadjda” in 2012. Al-Mansour directed the exterior scenes in “Wadjda” from inside a van, using monitors and walkie-talkies to communicate to cast and crew because of the austere rules against women interacting with men in public. If anyone can understand horror and fear, it’s Al-Mansour.
Release date: TBD
“Where Hands Touch”
Director: Amma Asante
Writer: Amma Asante
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay
This will be director Amma Asante’s second film debuting this year. “A United Kingdom” starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike premiered earlier this year in the U.S. Both films deal with race and interracial relationships during fragile times in history for these subject matters to be playing out. These themes were also found in her 2013 film “Belle,” which quickly launched off star Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s film career. In “Where Hands Touch,” Amandla Stenberg (“The Hunger Games”) will play a mixed-race German girl who falls in love with a Hitler Youth (George MacKay) during World War II. Although “A United Kingdom” didn’t get much buzz, “Where Hands Touch” is expected to do far better and is rumored to be getting an awards-friendly release date.
Release date: TBD
“Lady Bird” will be Greta Gerwig’s first return to the directing chair since 2008, when she co-directed and co-wrote the mumblecore classic “Nights and Weekends” with one of the famous founding members of the genre, Joe Swanberg. She went on to write and star in several indie hits, including “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America.” Recently, she starred in Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie” and “20th Century Women” alongside Annette Benning, both films nominated at the Academy Awards earlier this year. Gerwig returns to her roots in “Lady Bird.” The comedy follows a young woman as she returns home to Sacramento – Gerwig’s personal hometown and a location she also utilized in “Frances Ha.” This sounds like Gerwig’s most personal project yet.
Release date: TBD