Pioneering Women Filmmakers – A Series – Part 3

The Contemporary Visionaries of American Film


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…Women were the driving force behind Hollywood and the movies. This is the third part of a series paying homage to contemporary women filmmakers who broke the glass ceiling and wrote and directed the films that took 86 years from pioneer Lois Weber’s day to achieve. Hollywood is still run by men but these women prove that it may be a man’s world but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl. Thanks, James Brown for the lyric.

  • In 86 years, only four women have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar. Only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has won.

  • Women filmmakers nominated for the Best Director: 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).

  • Sofia Coppola was the first American woman to ever be nominated for Best Director for the 2003 movie, “Lost in Translation.”


Kathryn Ann Bigelow ( born November 27, 1951) is an American director, producer, and writer. Her films include the vampire Western horror film Near Dark (1987), the action crime film Point Break (1991), the controversial science fiction action thriller Strange Days (1995), the mystery thriller The Weight of Water (2000), the submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), the war film The Hurt Locker (2009), the action thriller war film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and the short film Last Days of Ivory (2014). The Hurt Locker won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Picture, won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and was nominated for the 2009 Golden Globe Award for Best Drama.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Ann Bigelow

Bigelow’s trilogy of action films — Blue Steel, Point Break, and Strange Days —  are looked at by critics as rethinking the conventions of action cinema while exploring gendered and racial politics. In her career, Bigelow has become recognizable as both a Hollywood brand and an auteur.

Married to director James Cameron from 1989-1991, she and Cameron were both nominated for Best Director at the 2010 82nd Academy Awards, which Bigelow won. Yay, Kathryn!

Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola

Sofia Carmina Coppola (born May 14, 1971) is an American screenwriter, director, producer, and actress. In 2003, she received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the comedy-drama Lost in Translation and became the third woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. Her nomination for Best Director made her the first American woman in history to be nominated in that category, and the third woman overall, after Lina Wertmüller and Jane Campion. In 2010, with the drama Somewhere, she became the first American woman (and fourth American filmmaker) to win the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Her father is the director, producer, and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola.

She made her feature film directing debut with The Virgin Suicides (1999). It received critical acclaim upon its premiere in North America at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and was released later that year. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s brilliant and makes you think about parenting skills or the lack thereof.


African American Women Filmmakers

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

(January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960)

Better known for her work as a novelist, Zora Neale Hurston could be, according to an essay by academic Gloria Gibson, the first African-American woman filmmaker. The film footage, which includes Children’s Games (1928), Logging (1928), and Baptism (1929), appears to be from her work as a student of anthropology under the guidance of famed anthropologist, professor, and mentor, Dr. Franz Boas of Columbia University.

A graduate of Barnard College (B.A. in anthropology in 1928) and a Guggenheim fellow, Hurston traveled back to a South similar to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida (one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated in the United States) to capture a variety of short takes of African-American life. Ethnographic in nature, the films reflect a focus of folklorists of that time period who believed that “…cultural performance and beliefs must be expeditiously collected and documented because they would soon be gone forever” (Gloria Gibson).

During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Hurston was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she suffered a stroke. She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. Sadly, her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973 when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried and decided to mark it as hers.

Our future:

Ava DuVernay – Current/future generation screenwriter/director – She would have been the first black woman nominated for best director in Oscar history, and just the fifth woman, following Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Instead, she’s been added to the list of female directors who have seen their films get nominated while they’ve been snubbed.

Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay

Ava Marie DuVernay (born August 24, 1972) is an American director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the Best Director Prize for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma, DuVernay is the first black woman director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With Selma, she is also the first black woman director to have their film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In 2015, it was announced that DuVernay would be writing, producing, and directing her next project, Queen Sugar which is an upcoming American drama television series, created, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay alongside Oprah Winfrey. The series is based on the novel of the same name by Natalie Baszile.The series is set to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network. 

Women filmmakers are essential to the stories and voices of Hollywood. We’ve made some progress but we still have a long way to go!

Pioneering Women Filmmakers – Lois Weber

The Early Visionaries of American Film: A Series – Part 2

star wars galaxy

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…Women were the driving force behind Hollywood and the movies. This is the second part of a series paying homage to the women who broke the glass ceiling and wrote and directed the films that gave birth to the “Golden Age” of cinema and the motion picture industry.  Unfortunately, when the men realized the gold mine films were becoming, the women faded away thanks to the Hollywood studio system. Well, as the saying goes, “that’s the way they do you.”

Lois Weber (June 13, 1879 – November 13, 1939)

Florence Lois Weber was an American silent film actress, screenwriter, producer, and director, who is considered the most important female director the American film industry has known and is one of the most important and prolific film directors in the era of silent films. Along with D.W. Griffith, Lois Weber was the American cinema’s first genuine auteur, “a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie”. In that spirit, Lois Weber utilized the motion picture to put across her own ideas and philosophies.

Weber brought to the screen her concerns for humanity and social justice in an estimated 200 to 400 films, of which as few as twenty have been preserved, and she has been credited by IMDb with directing 135 films, writing 114, and acting in 100. Weber was also one of the first directors to come to the attention of the censors in Hollywood’s early years.

During the war years, Weber achieved tremendous success by combining commercially successful scripts with a rare vision of cinema as a moral tool. At her zenith, few men, before or since, have retained such absolute control over the films they have directed – and certainly no women directors have achieved the powerful status once held by Lois Weber. By 1920, Weber was considered the premier woman director of the screen and author and producer of the biggest money-making features in the history of the film business.

Among Weber’s notable films are the controversial “Hypocrites”, which featured the first full-frontal female nude scene in 1915; the 1916 film “Where Are My Children?”, which discussed abortion and birth control, and was added to the National Film Registry in 1993; and what is often considered her masterpiece, “The Blot” in 1921.

In 1913, Weber and husband Smalley collaborated in directing a ten-minute thriller, “Suspense”, based on the play Au Telephone by André de Lorde, which had been filmed in 1908 as “Heard over the ‘Phone” by Edwin S. Porter. Adapted by Weber, it used multiple images and mirror shots to tell the story of a woman (Weber) threatened by a burglar (Douglas Gerrard). Weber has been credited with pioneering the use of the split-screen technique to show simultaneous action in this film, According to film historian Tom Gunning, “No film made before WWI shows a stronger command of film style than “Suspense” which outdoes even Griffith for emotionally involved filmmaking”. “Suspense” was released on July 6, 1913.


Suspense” – Split Screen

In 1913 Weber was one of the first directors to experiment with sound, making the first sound films in the United States, and was also the first American woman to direct a full-length feature film when she and husband Phillips Smalley directed “The Merchant of Venice” in 1914, and in 1917 the first woman director to own her own film studio.


In Part 1 of this series we talked about the accomplishments of director Frances Marion. Lois Weber discovered and inspired director and screenwriter Frances Marion.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, on February 8, 1960, Lois Weber was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll discuss contemporary female filmmakers and their viewpoint on Hollywood and the world in which we live.

Pioneering Women Filmmakers

The Early Visionaries of American Film: A Series – Part 1

star wars galaxy

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…Women were the driving force behind Hollywood and the movies. This is the first part in a series paying homage to the women who broke the glass ceiling and wrote and directed the films that gave birth to the “Golden Age” of cinema and the motion picture industry.  Unfortunately, when the men realized the gold mine films were becoming, the women faded away thanks to the Hollywood studio system. Well, as the saying goes, “that’s the way they do you.”


Frances Marion 1918

Frances Marion 1918


Frances Marion was a trailblazer. becoming one of the most powerful screenwriters of the 20th century. With a career that spanned decades, she became the first female to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1930 for the prison life film The Big House, starring Robert Montgomery, Wallace Beery, and Chester Morris. Her research included visiting San Quentin for the atmosphere and lingo of the inmates. The movie gave audiences their first experience of hearing prison doors slam shut, tin cups clanking on mess-hall tables and prisoners’ feet shuffling down corridors.



Frances also received the Academy Award for Best Story for The Champ in 1932. The tearjerker chronicled the relationship between a washed out boxer (Wallace Beery) and his young son (Jackie Cooper). Marion was credited with writing 300 scripts and producing over 130 films.



Born Marion Benson Owens (November 18, 1888) in San Francisco, California, she worked as a journalist and served overseas as a combat correspondent during World War I. On her return home in 1910, she moved to Los Angeles and was hired as a writing assistant, and actress by “Lois Weber Productions”, a film company owned and operated by pioneer female film director Lois Weber. (more on Lois Weber in Part 2 of the series)


Lois Weber

Lois Weber – Film Director

Frances was quite beautiful and could have been an actress but preferred to work behind the camera. She learned screenwriting from Lois Weber and went on to become the highest paid screenwriter, woman or man. Hollywood moguls competed for her stories and stars of the day Mary Pickford, Lilian Gish, Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valentino brought her characters to life on the screen. From 1919 – 1939 her star was ascendant, born at the right place and the right time, honing her craft during one of the most liberating eras for women in film.



When Marion met Mary Pickford (actress, producer, screenwriter) they became best friends with Marion writing screen adaptations of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Poor Little Rich Girl for Pickford. As a result of the commercial success of “The Poor Little Rich Girl” in 1917 Marion was signed as Pickford’s “exclusive writer” at the salary of $50,000 a year, an unprecedented arrangement for that time.

Pickford was the celebrated “America’s Sweetheart” and in 1919 together with her swashbuckler actor husband Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., director D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation) and “The Tramp” Charlie Chaplin established “United Artists” pictures. These four were the leading figures in early Hollywood and this was their stand for independence against the powerful studio system. Mary was also  one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


In 1921, Frances Marion directed a film for the first time with Just Around the Corner. That same year, she directed her friend Mary Pickford in one of her own scripts entitled The Love Light. Their relationship was more than just writer and star, they were collaborators and the friendship between Pickford and Marion lasted more than 50 years.

Married four times, Frances Marion had two children with third husband, actor Fred Thomson. This was her longest marriage, lasting from 1919 until Thomson’s sudden and tragic death from a Tetanus infection in 1928. Frances’ great friend Mary Pickford had introduced them. Frances said it was love at first sight.


Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

Fred Thomson and Frances Marion

For many years she was under contract to MGM Studios, but, independently wealthy, she left Hollywood in 1946 to devote more time to writing stage plays and novels. Frances Marion published a memoir Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood in 1972.

Frances died on May 12, 1973 leaving a legacy of innovation, independence and inspiration for future aspiring female writers. The documentary, Frances Marion: Without Lying Down,” is an insightful profile of her life and achievements in Hollywood.


Without Lying Down

Mary Pickford and Frances Marion


Narrated by “Pulp Fiction” actress Uma Thurman and Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, who gives voice to the screenwriter’s own words taken from her letters, diaries. and memoirs. The documentary also features footage from more than twenty of Marion’s movies, with commentary by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow, and film critic Leonard Maltin.

I was fortunate enough to catch it on Turner Classic Movies and it was very enlightening on women’s roles in Hollywood. It’s also available for purchase at I highly recommend checking it out!

  frances marion lying

“I’ve spent my life searching for a man to look up to without lying down.” Frances Marion


It took more than 60 years before women were once again present in meaningful numbers at every level of film production.






Oscar Michaeaux – The Czar of Black Hollywood 🎥

oscarmicheaux oscarmicheauxdirector

Oscar Devereaux Micheaux

January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951

Probably not well known but a very important artist and groundbreaker in the early days of cinema, Oscar Micheaux was definitely a man ahead of his time. He was the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the twentieth century and the most prominent producer of race films. He produced both silent films and “talkies” as a film director and independent producer of more than 44 films.

Micheaux’s movies were a challenge to racial segregation and an alternative outlet for black moviegoers. He is thought to have written, produced and directed more than 40 films from 1919 to 1948.

In response to D.W. Griffith’s outrageous and racist depiction of African-Americans in his landmark film“The Birth of a Nation” (1915) Micheaux produced “Within Our Gates” (1920). It is considered an important expression of African-American life in the years immediately following World War I when violent racist incidents occurred throughout the United States, but most frequently in the South. Produced, written and directed by Micheaux, it is his second and the oldest known surviving film made by an African-American director.

Lost for decades, a single print of the film, entitled La Negra (The Black Woman), was discovered in Spain in the 1970s. In 1992, “Within Our Gates” was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.

On his style:

Micheaux said,

“My results…might have been narrow at times, due perhaps to certain limited situations, which I endeavored to portray, but in those limited situations, the truth was the predominate characteristic. It is only by presenting those portions of the race portrayed in my pictures, in the light and background of their true state, that we can raise our people to greater heights. I am too imbued with the spirit of Booker T. Washington to engraft false virtues upon ourselves, to make ourselves that which we are not.”


Micheaux died on March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina, of heart failure. He is buried in Great Bend Cemetery in Great Bend, Kansas, the home of his youth. His gravestone reads: “A Man Ahead of His Time”.




January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

Selma is a 2014 American historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James BevelHosea Williams, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis. The film stars actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Carmen Ejogoas Coretta Scott King, and rapper and actor Common as Bevel.


At first, I was skeptical on how this history would be portrayed. I didn’t want a melodrama about Bloody Sunday and those on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. But, Director, Ava DuVernay did an incredible job and for me, the film should be included as part of the historical record.

Selma was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. In your living room. In your face. The first march took place on March 7, 1965, organized locally by SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC’s Selma Voting Rights Movement. State troopers and county posse men attacked the unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas after they passed over the county line, and the event became known as Bloody Sunday. Law enforcement beat activist Amelia Boynton unconscious, and the media publicized worldwide a picture of her lying wounded on the bridge.

Selma had four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Actor, and won for Best Original Song. It was also nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.

Whether you know the history or just learning, I consider the film Selma essential viewing for a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.  A Movement which we must always remember and never forget as …

The Struggle Continues.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.




In Memoriam

R.I.P. David Bowie

The loss of David Bowie truly touched my heart. I’ve followed and loved his music since 1972 with the release of the album  – “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”.

“Starman” from the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

“If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie”. – Dean Podesta

I’m appreciative of this tweet because I found it calming and it put Bowie’s passing in perspective. A true innovator. He will be missed.




Shining stars we lost in 2015.

R.I.P  All you shining stars!



Happy New Year! 🎊

Thinking about what film to feature for this post I posed the question, what movie could entertain and at the same time set a positive attitude for the new year?


Looking through my film collection, I came across “Legally Blonde” (2001) and thought, yeah, this totally fits the bill. A fabulously positive tale about sorority queen Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) and her awesome dog “Bruiser”, who discovers her inner feminist and realizes she’s smarter, has her own power and possesses more heart than her stupid ex-boyfriend – Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis).

Legally Blonde

I admit when I first heard of the film I figured it was light weight and would be so-so, but boy was I wrong. The message of “Legally Blonde” (Be True to Yourself) will always be relevant and the film can be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to young girls and women the strength and determination of a focused woman!

Graduated Harvard Law with Honors

When Elle is dumped by Warner, (her stupid ex-boyfriend) she decides to apply to Harvard Law (where he’s attending) and win him back. This isn’t just some pipe dream. Although she graduated with a Fashion Merchandising degree from UCLA, she studies around the clock for her new goal, taking the Law School Admission Test which she scores 179 on, one point below the highest possible score.


A perfect example of what I love about Elle’s style is that her law school application is chock full of personality. She creates a video essay demonstrating her unique qualifications (including, she was in a Ricky Martin video) and her resume is pink and sweetly scented. Proving you don’t have to change the essence of who you are to accomplish your goals.

Even though her initial motivation to attend Harward was wack, that path eventually led her to chart a new destiny for herself. Affecting how people perceived her (dumb blonde) into smart, original, diehard friend who doesn’t give up and encourages others to do the same. Like with her manicurist friend Paulette. Elle helps Paulette gain custody of her dog back from her ex-husband, and she also helps her seduce the delivery man on whom she has a crush.

Hadn’t watched “Legally Blonde” in quite some time so I’m so glad I posed the question to myself – what’s a good positive new year movie? This film definitely qualifies and I love Elle, Bruiser and the enduring message of empowerment and friendship!


Gotta Love Her!