When the Oscar nominations were announced in January 2023, some of the most glaring omissions were films made by and starring women, including Sarah Polley’s Women Talking; Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, with a cast led by Viola Davis; Chinonye Chukwu’s Till, starring Danielle Deadwyler; and Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, which was France’s selection for international film. 

Following the nominations, the organization Women In Film, Los Angeles condemned the Academy for omitting women filmmakers. “Once again, Academy voters have shown that they don’t value women’s voices, shutting us out of the Best Director nominations,” they said in a statement.

It took 82 years for the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker), 11 more for the second woman to win (Chloé Zhao for Nomadland) and just one more for the third (Jane Campion in 2021, for The Power of the Dog). But 2023’s announced field of directing nominees is all male.

But there are so many talented female directors out there and their contributions to the film industry need to be centered in movies,  as they need to be in all areas of life. Here are just 13 of them, all trailblazers whose extraordinary visions are changing the industry.

1. Alma Har’el 

Most famous for her award-winning films Bombay Beach and LoveTrue, Alma Har’el creates narrative work that plunges deep into the heart of imagination and creates surreal, dreamy, poetic meditations. 

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Har’el began her film career as a photographer and video artist, mixing live video content for concerts which then led to directing music videos. Filmmaker Magazine said her music video for Sigur Rós “Fjöger Piano”, starring Shia LaBeouf, contains a “truthful fusion of fantasy and reality” after naming her one of their 25 new faces of cinema.

In 2016, Har’el founded advocacy nonprofit Free The Bid, a pledge which asks advertising agencies and brands to promise to include a woman director on any triple-bid commercial project — and it’s had huge success with pledged agencies reporting hiring increases of women directors of up to 400%.

What to watch:

Bombay Beach

The rusting relic of a failed 1950s development boom, the Salton Sea is a barren Californian landscape and symbol of the failed American Dream. Alma Har'el visits this poetically fertile terrain and finds there a motley cast including a bipolar seven-year-old, a lovelorn high school football star, and an octogenarian poet-prophet. Together they make up a triptych of American masculinity in its decisive moments. Rent it on Dogwoof.


This genre-bending documentary brings Har’el’s signature poetic imagery and fascination with performance in nonfiction to real stories that demystify the fantasy of true love. Using an atmospheric blend of follow-along footage, artful camerawork, and scenes depicting the past, present, and future of her subjects, Har'el follows these three complicated, real-life relationships as they unfold in distinct corners of the country: Hawaii, Alaska, and New York. Watch it on Dogwoof.

2. Chloé Zhao

The reflective, closely observational films of Chloé Zhao made her a darling of the American indie scene, but she’s also since dipped her toes into Marvel’s cinematic universe directing Eternals in 2021. A Chinese-born filmmaker, Zhao was the second woman to win the Oscar for Best Director and the first woman of color to win it. 

What to watch:


A woman in her sixties, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. Starring Frances McDormand as the story’s protagonist, this is the masterpiece that won Zhao her Oscar. Watch it on Disney+.

3. Jessy Moussallem

Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Jessy Moussallem pursued her passion for storytelling at the film school of the Lebanese Academy of Arts. Her diploma short film won first prize at the European Film Festival and since then she’s gone on to do big things with several commercial spots for brands such as Levi’s, SNCF, Acadomia, and Médecins du Monde.

What to watch:


Moussallem wrote and directed this music video for pop band Mashrou’ Leila. Roman includes a cast of 100 women in an ode to the strength and grace of Arab women, challenging stereotypical perceptions of Middle Eastern women.

Heart of Sky

Part documentary, part fiction, Heart of Sky is an unconventional music video for Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons. It’s a moving portrait of the farming communities that cultivate and harvest Lebanese Red hashish in the closed world of the Bekaa valley, between the mountains of eastern Lebanon. 

4. Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley isn’t just an actor and a director but a renowned political activist. At the age of 12, child actor, Polley, attended an awards ceremony while wearing a peace sign to protest the first Gulf War. Disney executives asked her to remove it, and she refused.

What to watch:

Women Talking

Moving like a bullet, the film finds its subject in a group of isolated Mennonite women who gather to determine whether to fight or abandon their male abusers. It was Oscar-nominated for best picture and for Polley’s adapted screenplay. 

5. Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow was the first ever female director to win an Oscar. Born in 1950s California, Bigelow is known for her incredible visuals and heart-pounding action sequences. In 2008, she co-created The Hurt Locker, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Director.

What to watch:

The Hurt Locker

During the Iraq War, a sergeant assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds with his squad mates due to his maverick way of handling his work. An American war thriller, The Hurt Locker is an uncompromising look at the lives of soldiers serving in Iraq. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video

Zero Dark Thirty

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks in New York, Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping and suspenseful watch. Watch it on YouTube.

6. Ava Duvernay

Ava Duvernay was the first Black woman to receive the Sundance directing award. She’s the mind behind 13TH and When They See Us which both explore themes of racial discrimination and injustice in the US. She is also a champion for representation of women and people of color in the industry.

What to watch:


In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the US justice system. Watch it on Netflix.

When They See Us

Based on a true story, When They See Us is the story of five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they're falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Watch it on Netflix

7. Charlotte Wells

Charlotte Wells is a Scottish director and producer whose shorts have screened at festivals worldwide. Her second film, Laps, won a Short Film Special Jury Prize for Editing at Sundance Film Festival and Special Jury Recognition for Narrative Shorts at SXSW Film Festival 2017.

What to watch:


Aftersun is the mesmerizing debut from Wells that graced almost every major international film festival in the six months after it debuted in Critics Week in Cannes. To find a recent comparison for this kind of acclaim, you’d have to look back to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight back in 2016.

Inspired by Wells' experiences as the child of young parents, the film is set in the ’90s and stars newcomer Francesca Corio as Sophie, an 11-year-old girl on a package holiday to Turkey with her father Calum (Paul Mescal). Watch it on MUBI.

8. Gina Prince-Bythewood

Gina Maria Prince-Bythewood is an American film director, screenwriter, and creative genius behind the historical drama, The Woman King. After the film was snubbed by the Academy Awards, Prince-Bythewood penned an essay in The Hollywood Reporter in which she called the season “an eye-opener” and that “the Academy made a very loud statement, and for me to stay quiet is to accept that statement.”

What to watch:

The Woman King

A historical epic inspired by true events that took place in the Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries, The Woman King follows a group of all-female warriors as they protect their kingdom against a foreign enemy that's determined to destroy their way of life.

9. Chinonye Chukwu

Chinonye Chukwu is a Nigerian-American film director and the first African-American woman to win the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

What to watch:


Based on the true story of Mamie Till-Bradley, an educator and activist who pursued justice after the murder of her 14-year-old son Emmett in August 1955, Till is ​​a profoundly emotional and cinematic film. 

10. Maria Schrader

Maria Schrader is a German director whose 2007 film Love Life and 2020 miniseries Unorthodox have won a host of awards including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series.

What to watch:

She Said

The New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor publish a report that exposes sexual abuse allegations against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The shocking story also serves as a launching pad for the #MeToo movement, shattering decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault and harassment. A harrowing but powerful watch. 

11. Jane Campion

Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion DNZM is a New Zealand filmmaker best known for writing and directing the critically acclaimed films The Piano and The Power of the Dog, for which she has received two Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards.

What to watch:

The Power of the Dog

Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home his new wife and her son, Burbank torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. The Power of the Dog is a revisionist Western psychological drama that packs a punch. Watch it on Netflix

12. Sofia Coppola

As a member of a filmmaking dynasty that included such heavy-hitters as father Francis Ford Coppola and other Hollywood luminaries, writer-director Sofia Coppola entered the scene with her role in The Godfather Part III before becoming an Academy Award-winning filmmaker with Lost in Translation in 2003. 

What to watch:

Lost in Translation

Written and directed by Coppola, Lost in Translation is the story of a faded movie star and a neglected young woman who form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

The Virgin Suicides

In an ordinary house in 1970s American suburbia live five beautiful sisters. A story of love, repression, fantasy, and death, The Virgin Suicides is a haunting portrayal of American adolescence that will stay with you long after the closing credits. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

13. Alice Diop

Raised in a Paris banlieue, documentary-maker Alice Diop was thrust into the spotlight thanks to her Venice prize-winning first feature, Saint Omer, based on the true story of a woman accused of killing her baby. “I make films from the margins,” she says, “because that’s my territory, my history.”

What to watch:

Saint Omer

Named after the northern French town where it is set, Saint Omer is inspired by the 2016 trial of Fabienne Kabou, a young woman originally from Senegal, charged with killing her infant daughter by leaving her on a beach. Diop attended the trial, fascinated after reading about Kabou. 

Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

13 Trailblazing Female Directors You Need to Know

By Tess Lowery