Why Women in Genre Filmmaking are So Important, and Five Directors to Know

Gina Prince-Bythewood Becomes First Black Woman To Direct Superhero Film
Twentieth Century Fox

The concept of genre can be a difficult thing to pin down in filmmaking, as genres are extremely flexible and have changed throughout the history of cinema. Each genre of film, from the science-fiction to the western, has its own unique characteristics regarding the movie’s plot and characters that make it distinguishable from each other. Over time, these characteristics become so ingrained in their genres that they are instantly recognisable. For example, viewers can automatically tell that a movie is considered a neo-noir if the protagonist is a cynical antihero or the film itself centres around an inner conflict involving revenge or paranoia.

Unfortunately, much like other aspects of filmmaking, genre filmmaking is mostly considered to be a boy’s club of sorts. According to the diversity and inclusion website Women and Hollywood, the disparity between female-directed standard fare and genre filmmaking is extremely evident:

“By genre, the largest percentage of women, relative to men, worked on documentaries (33%), followed by action features (27%), dramas (26%), comedies and sci-fi features (20%), animated features (18%), and horror features (11%).”

Women directing films of all genres and mediums is a huge step forward in terms of representation in Hollywood. However, women should also be able to be known for more than documentary and drama features. We should be able to direct action-packed adventures, horror films filled with splatter and gore, and science fiction pieces that take the audience to galaxies far, far away. Luckily, there are already a number of women who are taking this important step. Here are five important female genre filmmakers to know and just why they are so important for not only women directors, but Hollywood as a whole.

Ida Lupino

A black and white image of Ida Lupino, taken around the 1940s. She is a young white lady with short curled hair, holding up an old-fashioned box camera to her right eye, a slight smile on her face.

Although she is mainly seen as a prolific actress, English director Ida Lupino was also a highly influential figure in the development of film noir, as well as being the only female director to be featured on the original Twilight Zone series. It just had to be a shame that some of her works had to go uncredited, such as the 1950 B-Movie Outrage. However, her most famous credit is arguably 1953’s all-male action noir The Hitchhiker, which many film noir historians to an influential example of the genre due to its uncommon desert setting.

Amy Holden Jones

A black and white image of Halle Berry and Amy Holden Jones on the set of The Rich Man's Wife in 1996. Holden Jones, right, a white woman around 40, wears a thick dark sweater and a gilet over it, and a dark Speedo baseball cap. She has her arms folded and is intently watching something out of the frame. The actress, Berry, a Black woman around 30, stands beside Holden Jones, wearing a pale trench coat over a buttoned up plaid shirt. She is also gazing off-camera.
Caravan Pictures

The slasher films of the 1980s, although highly influential to the horror genre, are usually seen as synonymous with the exploitation of women and the male gaze. Many female characters in traditional slasher films are only seen as another tick on the body count for the main villain, sans the Final Girl. However, Holden Jones’ 1982 slasher flick The Slumber Party Massacre brought a fresh new perspective to the scene. Despite having some rather egregious shots of our naked protagonists (it was produced by Roger Corman under his New World Pictures company), the movie and its two sequels gave the horror genre something that was it was lacking in until then: fully-developed female characters that defied the misogynistic stereotypes established in slashers.

Gina Prince-Bythewood

An image of director Gina Prince-Bythewood making The Old Guard. She is a Black woman aged 50, wearing her long curly hair pulled back in a low ponytail. She is wearing an olive green waterproof coat and a pair of over-ear headphones around her neck. She is focused on something off-camera.
Aimee Spinks/Netflix

Although she broke out in Hollywood with her romantic dramas, director Gina Prince-Bythewood has recently received worldwide recognition for her Netflix action adaptation The Old Guard. With the Charlize Theron flick, she has shown to have a keen eye for directing fight scenes that are not only incredible to look at, but also integral to the plot. She is also known for her rich and complex way of developing her characters, which can be seen in her non-action films such as her directorial debut The Secret Life of Bees. As the first Black female filmmaker to direct a comic book or graphic novel adaptation and the historical battle epic The Woman King in development, Prince-Bythewood shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Ana Lily Amirpour

An image of director Ana Lily Amirpour. Amirpour is an Iranian-American woman in her 30s, with short brown hair and a fringe that is messy in a cool way. She wears a black suit jacket over a white top, and a pair of headphones slung around her neck. She is looking directly into the camera, poised, and the background is a blurry nighttime street with bright lights.
BlueCat Screenplay Competition

If you remember the sight of an Iranian vampire stalking the streets or an outlaw with a prosthetic leg, you have probably seen one of the films from acclaimed director Ana Lily Amirpour. Having done nearly everything from television to shorts for the high fashion brand Kenzo, Amirpour has a distinct filmmaking style that is impossible to replicate by anyone other than herself. Perhaps nothing shows her range of styles and inspirations quite like a 2015 interview she conducted with the Criterion Collection, where she cites the works of David Lynch and Alex Cox as some of her favorites. She also is not afraid to get bloody, as her 2016 film The Bad Batch has some truly brutal scenes involving limb dismemberment and cannibalism. Although not everyone will be a fan of her work, Amirpour has proven herself as one of the most original voices currently working in Hollywood.

Nia DaCosta

An image of director Nia DaCosta at Tribeca Film Festival on the red carpet. She is a Black woman around 30 years old, and her black hair is put up in twist braids tied in a bun at the back of her head. She is wearing a sparkly gold blazer and large gold dangly earrings. She smiles warmly into the camera.
Patrick Lewis/Starpix/Shutterstock

Very few directors can make a sizable impact on the independent circuit with just their debut feature. One of these directors is Nia DaCosta, whose crime thriller Little Woods released in 2018 to widespread acclaim. Her cited inspirations of Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese were on full display in Little Woods’ portrayal of two estranged sisters engaging in cross-border drug trafficking in order to save their deceased mother’s house. However, she will be making her horror debut with September’s highly anticipated Candyman reboot starring Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Teyonah Parris, which now brings a focus to gentrification to the timely legend of Daniel Robitaille. Now, with the announcement that she will be directing the upcoming 2022 blockbuster Captain Marvel 2, DaCosta has shown to be one of the most versatile filmmakers currently working today.

by Erin Brady

Erin (she/they) is a Florida Woman majoring in Media Studies with a minor in Film, expected to graduate in 2021. She is the arts and entertainment editor for her college’s newspaper, as well as both an academic and personal essayist on horror and other types of genre films. She has been called ‘a fine young lady’ by Karen Allen and is an avid fan of David Lynch, John Waters, and David Cronenberg. She can be found rambling while using the same four reaction photos on Twitter at @erinbr4dy.

1 reply »

  1. Every important film releasing in the present year and a half period has been backed by women, from THE OLD GUARD, REVENGE , THE SPINSTER, RADIOACTIVE, BLACK IS KING so I am personally elated to know that the male bastion isn’t the only bulwark operating in Hollywood anymore. Your article only paves the way for the future.


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