Women have always been a driving force behind the camera in Hollywood films. Although it was not until 2010 with Katheryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" that a female director won an Academy Award, women have consistently provided a combination of important issues and escapism through their movies. While much attention is focused on increasing opportunities for women to direct movies in the 21st century, it is worth pointing out that female-driven cinema has been commercially successful since the dawn of the medium.
Alice Guy-Blaché began directing a long string of successful silent films in 1896. Initially based at the Gaumont Film Company in France, she moved to the United States in 1910 and established the Solax Company which, although short-lived, was among the most successful production companies before the Hollywood studios. Guy-Blaché notably mentored another early female director, American Lois Weber, who was one of the first directors to experiment with sound. Weber also was the first to directly take on a woman's issue with her 1917 film about birth control, "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle."
By the 1930s, however, gender differences in Hollywood were becoming more pronounced behind the camera. Coinciding with the rise of "talkies," there was a fair amount of upheaval throughout the industry as the creative shift was made to a new style of filmmaking. In spite of the significant contributions of women as directors, writers or producers during the silent film era, very few continued their careers in the new, male-dominated industry. Dorothy Arzner was the only female director to survive the transition leading a prolific career, making approximately 20 films between 1927 and 1943.
Women continued to be a force in international films throughout the 1940s, and by the 1950s women were making a comeback in the United States, as well. Their collective contribution continued to rise steadily throughout the following decades, often garnering critical praise for experimental or socially aware films. Even though the movies directed by women were often popular and commercially successful, the number of women directing films remained small compared to their male counterparts.
A brief list of current female directors to watch
Ana Lily Amirpour ("The Bad Patch")
Amma Asante ("A United Kingdom")
Elizabeth Banks ("Pitch Perfect 2")
Drew Barrymore ("Whip It")
Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty")
Anna Boden ("Mississippi Grind")
Niki Caro ("The Zookeeper's Wife")
Gia Coppola ("Palo Alto")
Sofia Coppola ("The Bling Ring")
Julie Delpy ("Lolo")
Ava DuVernay ("Selma")
Jodie Foster ("Money Monster")
Sarah Gavron ("Suffragette")
Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight")
Sian Heder ("Tallulah")
Patty Jenkins ("Wonder Woman")
Sam Taylor Johnson ("50 Shades of Grey")
Angelina Jolie ("First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers")
Jennifer Kent ("The Babadook")
So Yong Kim ("Lovesong")
Mira Nair ("Queen of Katwe")
Meera Menon ("Equity")
Jocelyn Moorhouse ("The Dressmaker")
Reed Morano ("Kill Your Darlings")
Jennifer Yuh Nelson ("Kung Fu Panda 2")
Kelly Reichardt ("Certain Women")
The current state of women directors in Hollywood
In spite of the available talent, Variety reported that in 2014 roughly 15 percent of all movies released were directed by women. A study conducted by the University of San Diego revealed that women directed only 13 percent the 700 top grossing movies, and merely 7 percent of the 250 top grossing films.
More telling is an analysis done by Slated that examined over 1,500 feature films that were released theatrically between 2010 and 2015. This analysis shows a strong correlation between female directors and lower budgets, as well as fewer screens for initial releases. Movies budgeted under $25 million that are directed by women show on an average of one-third the number of screens compared to movies made by male directors in the same budget range. Of all the films made during this five-year period, only 8.8 percent were directed by women.
Hollywood remains biased toward male directors by restricting the theatrical distribution of female-helmed movies. This may begin to change as audiences seek out material directed by women. Organizations such as the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media are making a vocal push for change, and as more movies by women garner critical acclaim the gender disparity is breaching public awareness.