top of page
  • Writer's pictureA Wild Lass

Powerful Women in Film and Television

The other day I was sitting in my living room and realizing that almost all the art I own was created by women. I have a piece by Grace Snively, a modern artist and entrepreneur out of Illinois. There is a piece of my own art. There is a homemade farmhouse sign made by a mom I knew when the kids were little. Even the blanket I had on my lap was made by my great grandma.

So many industries have female artists that don’t get credit or appreciation for their work, though, specifically women in film and television. I dug a little deeper and just scratched the surface of these historical adventurous women who should have made a bigger splash than they did. Take a look below!

*Disclaimer: Some of the links you see may be affiliate links. All that means is if you click through and end up making a purchase, I’ll earn a commission.

Uncredited Women Who Revolutionized Hollywood

While Donna Reed is perhaps best known for her role as Mary Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, and for her performance in From Here to Eternity, much of her work to revolutionize Hollywood actually happened during production of her television show, The Donna Reed Show. She was an uncredited producer and writer of the show, and made a lot of the decisions regarding filming. The show was the first ever family sitcom to portray a mother as the lead character. Reed also received many known credits and accolades in her career, including winning an academy award and receiving several Emmy and Grammy nominations.

Lucille Ball also spent her early career uncredited, working in a chorus line, as a model, on the radio, and as a Goldwyn Girl in Roman Scandals. She went on to take many smaller roles in B movies, and for a while seemed destined to stay a B actress. Eventually she gained popularity and went on to play many of the characters we know and love. She revolutionized the film industry, the first woman to run a major television studio. She worked nearly her entire life, much of it as a divorced woman, only quitting acting four years before her death in 1977.

For an exhaustive historical account of uncredited women in film, visit the Women Film Pioneers Project.

Incredible Firsts for Women in Film and Television

The first woman ever to win an Oscar was 22-year-old Janet Gaynor in 1929 for Best Actress, and she was also the youngest best actress winner until 1987 when 21-year-old Marlee Matlin won the award.

Helen Galaghan was the first female actor to become an elected official. She was elected to and served three terms in the House of Representatives for California’s 14th district, and spent her political career working for race equality, gender equality, and championing many controversial issues. Galaghan was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and had an affair with Lyndon Johnson (imagine if those relationships were all she was known for, despite her other accomplishments?).

Here are some other notables:

  • First woman to direct a film: Alice Guy-Blache, 1895

  • One of the first openly gay women in film: Dorothy Arzner, 1897-1979 (also invented the boom mic, which revolutionized film during the transition from silent films to movies with sound)

  • First black woman nominated for Best Actress: Dorothy Dandridge, 1954

  • First pregnant Oscar winner: Eva Marie Saint, 1955

  • First three female Hollywood star winners: Olive Borden, Louise Fazenda, and Joanne Woodward

  • First EGOT winner: Barbra Streisand

  • First female Best Picture winner: Julia Phillips, 1973

  • First black woman Best Actress winner: Halle Berry, 2002

  • First female film director in Saudi Arabia: Haifaa al-Mansour, 2012 (who directed via walkie-talkie because she couldn’t be seen in the street)

Do you remember the year Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director? That was in 2010, for 2009’s The Hurt Locker. Yes, you read that right. Say it again for the people in the back: 2010 was the first time in history that a woman has ever won an Oscar for Best Director.

This list is far from complete. Women have done so much more than makeup and costumes for movies. If you’re curious about this, please spend some time reading other blog posts about women in film and TV, like this one and this one. You can also check out my cousin’s blog; she has a degree in film and works as a producer in Chicagoland.

Modern Powerhouse Women in Film

Jessie Graff is an incredible stunt woman and competed on American Ninja Warrior for several years. She was injured and worked so hard to come back stronger than ever. She’s one of my favorite adventurous women.

Did you know Gal Gadot filmed Wonder Woman while several months pregnant? She had to film with a green screen/suit to hide her belly.

Hollywood Reporter has more; check out their list of the 20 most influential women in global media today.

The Job Ahead

These days there is more support for women in film and television. If you work in this industry, there are professional networks like WIFT to help you find the resources and connections you need. There are production companies like Hello Sunshine, started by Reese Witherspoon, committed to telling the stories of women.

But that doesn’t mean we’re finished, or that we’ve arrived. Keep on blasting through brick walls and taking on every challenge that comes your way.

If you need some daily encouragement, be sure to follow us on socials and check out these other free tools and resources we’ve created for adventurous moms and busy professional women:

(This is a tool to help you find books with characters who share a name with your child)

*Disclaimer: Some of the links you see may be affiliate links. All that means is if you click through and end up making a purchase, I’ll earn a commission.

bottom of page