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Women Behind the Camera: Looking Ahead

by Sarah Soliman

This Women’s History Month, we’re honoring the many women behind the camera who are a vital part of film history. Throughout March, The Marquee has highlighted an array of women filmmakers whose contributions to cinema have been vital and unique. As March comes to a close, let’s look at what the future has in store.

In the past few years, discussions around women filmmakers have worked their way into mainstream conversation. Blockbusters like Wonder Woman (the third-highest grossing film in the US in 2017), Black Widow, and The Eternals were all helmed by women. In 2021, Chloé Zhao became the second woman to win the Oscar for Best Director and Julia Ducournau became the second woman whose film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

2022 is shaping up to bring us some landmark achievements by women filmmakers as well. At the Sundance Film Festival in January the Grand Jury Prize went to Nikyatu Jusu’s The Nanny, making her the second Black woman whose film won top prize at the festival. At the Independent Spirit Awards earlier this month, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby received the John Cassavetes Award, which is given to films made for under $500,000. Also at the Indie Spirits, four of the five Best Director nominees were women, and Maggie Gyllenhaal won the award. Her directorial debut, The Lost Daughter (available on Netflix), won Best Picture.

Nanny (dir. Nikyatu Jusu)

We’re sharing this post on the morning of the 94th Academy Awards. Jane Campion is the frontrunner for Best Director, and the race for Best Picture seems to be between Campion’s The Power of the Dog (streaming on Netflix) and CODA (streaming on Apple+), directed by Sian Heder. This is the first time in Oscar history that the two Best Picture frontrunners are both directed by women. In the running for Best Cinematography is The Power of the Dog’s Ari Wegner, who is only the second woman to ever be nominated in the category. The first was Rachel Morrison, who was nominated in 2018 for her work on Mudbound (made by the exceptionally talented Dee Rees and available on Netflix). There’s still plenty of ground to cover before there’s equity for women working in many roles off-screen, but it’s always heartening to see credit and attention going to women currently in these roles.

In the coming year, there’s a lot to look forward to. The highly anticipated adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing is being helmed by Olivia Newman, whose debut feature film, First Match can be seen on Netflix. Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of the rom-com classic Love & Basketball and the terrific but underseen romance Beyond the Lights (free on YouTube with ads), has The Woman King — a historical epic starring Viola Davis — out this fall. Olivia Wilde, whose directorial debut Booksmart (available on Hulu) was a hilarious coming-of-age comedy, has her sophomore effort, Don’t Worry Darling, with stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles. Karen Maine, who wrote the screenplay for the Jenny Slate comedy Obvious Child and made her directorial debut with Yes, God, Yes (streaming on Netflix), has Shakespeare retelling Rosaline coming to Hulu this year.  

Maggie Gyllenhaal at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards

And some 2022 releases are available to watch right now. Pixar’s latest film, Turning Red, was made by Domee Shi, whose short film Bao won an Academy Award. Both films are currently on Disney+. Josephine Decker, a filmmaker known for low-budget, experimental work, adapted the YA novel The Sky is Everywhere for Apple+. Right out of the Sundance Film Festival, two of the fest’s most talked about films are streaming: Hulu has Mimi Cave’s Fresh, about a young woman whose new boyfriend has an unimaginable motive behind dating her, and Amazon Prime has Mariama Diallo’s Master, starring Regina Hall as the first Black Head of College at an elite university, where disturbing and unexplained occurrences start happening. 

UCLA recently released their annual Hollywood Diversity Report, and, as you might expect, there was good news and bad news. Women are making gains in leadership roles, but still aren’t represented in the same numbers as men, especially when it comes to big-budget filmmaking. What is undeniable though, is that women have always been present behind the camera. And once you start looking, there’s a treasure trove of films made by women to discover.