Not like it was ever really hidden before, but the 2015 Academy Award nominations certainly pushed the lack of diversity in Hollywood onto center stage. There was an inexplicable whitewashing of nearly every category and for the 83rd time in 87 years, no women were nominated for Best Director. In those 87 years, only one woman has ever taken home a trophy in the category and that was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for the film The Hurt Locker. According to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and major Hollywood studios, it seems there are virtually no women directing movies — and nothing could be further from the truth.
Despite how the Academy Awards make it appear, there are female directors out there working against odds almost never in their favor. The gender distribution in film school is pretty much equal and independent festivals like Sundance screen a significant number of films headed by female directors each year, yet only seven percent of all directors working on the top 250 films of 2014 were women. Moreover, the overall number of female directors making movies has actually declined over the past 17 years.
Such statics are disheartening, but thankfully there are women who simply ignore them and continue to demonstrate the power and importance of a female mind behind the camera. These directors provide a strong source of inspiration for women everywhere trying to break into any field historically dominated by the opposite sex. And, just like their counterparts in politics and activism, each female director also proves a great fashion example for any professional women. These directors know how to use fashion to their advantage, establishing a formidable feminine authority worth celebrating.
Perhaps the Academy's greatest and most frustrating oversight in 2015 was a Best Director nomination for Selma director Ava DuVernay. The film indeed received a nomination for Best Picture, but the omission of DuVernay's name in the directing category (and lead David Oyelowo's name in the Best Actor category) points to some pretty unjust truths about the current state of Hollywood — especially because, well, the film was nominated for Best Picture. It's a clear sign of both the racial and gender discrimination that pervades the American film industry.
But even though an official recognition of her work would have been significant, Ava DuVernay doesn't really need an Academy Award nomination to prove she has made important contributions to cinema. So many aspects of her story are inspirational that it's difficult to narrow down the list to just a few. It could be the fact that DuVernay began her career at age 32. Or, it could be the unapologetic pride with which she embraces her intersectional identity. Take, for example, the following excerpt from an Interview profile:
"Some black filmmakers will say, 'I don't want to be considered a black filmmaker, I'm a filmmaker.' I don't think that. I'm a black woman filmmaker...my films are through my lens, and I think it's valuable and fine and worthy to be seen by everyone. So I don't have any problem with this. I like talking about all the amazing black independent filmmakers that are on the scene — there are a good number that are doing great work. And I love talking about the issues that we deal with as women filmmakers, 'cause there's so many."
In an industry that undeniably favors white men, such candidness and confidence prove incredibly inspiring.
With her growing list of accomplishments, DuVernay's fashion certainly comes secondary. That doesn't mean, however, that it isn't worth mentioning. DuVernay consistently kills it on the red carpet. Be it in the vibrant floor length, cinched waist, red dress worn to the Selma premier or in the stunning structured Zac Posen gown worn to the 2015 Golden Globes, DuVernay proves that dressing like a director doesn't always mean a baseball cap and jeans.
Director of Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring, Sophia Coppola may be one of the most well-know directors, male or female, in Hollywood. Continuing the legacy of father Francis Ford Coppola, Sophia Coppola crafted a voice all her own, making films with complex characters of both genders — something that studies of women on film prove isn't always the case. As a 2014 study from San Diego State's Center for Women in Television & Film demonstrates, females accounted for only 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 grossing films of 2014 and only 30 percent of speaking roles. With stats like that, characters like Scarlett Johansson's Charlotte, Kirsten Dunst's Marie Antoinette, and Emma Watson's Nicki provide welcome respite from the average male-dominated cinema experience.
Moreover, like all women on this list, Coppola uses fashion to her advantage, never forgoing her classic sense of style. Of course, one would expect nothing less of a woman who calls Marc Jacobs a best friend, and is constantly cited as the designer's main muse. Whether walking the red carpet or strolling down the streets of Paris, Coppola always stuns in tailored, feminine-yet-edgy ensembles as inspiring as her work on screen.
"Film-making is not about whether you're a man or a 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."
By directing films that create incredibly enthralling and intricate narratives, Jane Campion herself is living proof that women do, in fact, tell different and equally important stories on film.
And, like all other women on this list, Campion has told such stories dressed in a wardrobe that speaks to an admirably unapologetic individuality. That is to say, while Campion certainly does not disregard fashion on the red carpet (see: structured leather jacket and sunglasses above), she nonetheless dresses in a manner that forgoes trendiness in favor of a timeless and undeniably authoritative feminine beauty that utilizes style to establish a distinct creative power.
Director of Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees and Beyond the Lights, Gina Prince-Bythwood definitely defies the notion that women cannot direct both well-made and popular films. Moreover, each of those movies features actresses in lead roles full of complexity and dimension. Take, for example, the character Noni in Beyond the Lights. A Brixton girl turned R&B superstar, Noni's transformation and eventual self-revaluation provides commentary on what it means to be a young woman in a hyper-sexualized entertainment industry. And, when asked by The Hairpin to consider her films within a feminist context, Prince-Bythwood said the following:
"I would consider myself a feminist. I wouldn’t say I make feminist movies, but my mindset influences what I write and what I direct. It’s interesting that there are so many different definitions of feminism, but for me, being in this male-dominated career, it’s bizarre to me there aren’t more females. Talent has no gender. It makes no sense. And I don’t get it and I am asked all the time why it is and I couldn’t tell you. But I know when I walk on set that’s my set and I don’t care that there may be a ton of male gaffers and grips. Respect me as the boss."
Such an inspirational mantra extends into Prince-Brythwood's fashion, one that's informed with an obvious sense of style mixed with authority. In ensemble like the black trench-leather pant-nude bootie combo she recently wore to the Athena Film Festival, it becomes clear that yes, she's a fashionable woman and yes, she ought to be respected as the boss.
There are a lot of cool things about Lake Bell, one of the coolest being that Bell went from actress to actress/writer/director, in the process making a film that speaks to sexism in Hollywood. Entitled In a World... her directorial debut focuses on a woman trying to break the voice-over industry, attempting to make a name for herself in a field even more male-dominated than directing. In doing so, Bell provides a commentary on Hollywood in a myriad of ways. First off, she provokes some deeper thinking about voice-over — it's always a man speaking on commercials and movie previews, but it's doubtful anyone ever really gives that a second thought. Secondly, she presents a female protagonist whose main story line and end-game isn't to end up with the man, but to end up with the job. Thirdly, as the lead/writer/director, Bell is living proof that women can, in fact, perfectly execute what the Academy Awards seem to think is a man's job.
Another really cool thing about Lake Bell is her undeniable confidence, something that certainly translates well into her sense of fashion. A reliable style star on the red carpet, Bell shines in bold colors and glamorous silhouettes, once again proving that with a striking femininity comes an even more striking authority that demands respect.