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From first female director to first female lead, here are the achievements of women in film

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Mar 13, 2023 7:36 pm

One of the most powerful and widespread ways in which women can display their strengths is through entertainment. This is a commendable feat, considering the industry did not offer many positive representation and opportunities for women in the early days.

Previous studies explored how women were seldom given the chance to work as actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers in Hollywood after the 1920s, rooted from factors such as men hiring other men. Women were only given a chance to shine by fellow women with more power in the business.

In the Philippines, while actresses were given prominent roles in theatrical works, female filmmakers and leaders weren't so abundant. But times have changed, and over the years, women have begun to take on more important roles in the industry.

Let's look back at the women who have reached great heights in film both here in the Philippines and around the globe.

First female director
Royal Belgian Film Archive

When it came to taking charge of a cinematic piece, it was mostly men who were sitting on the director's chair. But in 1896, a French woman named Alice Guy-Blaché helmed her first moving picture titled La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy), a brief fantasy tale centering on a strange fairy who can produce and deliver babies out of cabbages.

This one-minute black-and-white film cemented her as the first woman director, as well as generally being the first director to film a narrative story. Since then, she soared to become a pioneer of the French and American film industries and went on to lead more than 1,000 films.

In the Philippines, there's Brigida Perez Villanueva and Carmen Concha. While Concha is considered as the first Filipina female director, with three feature films made in a span of a year, Villanueva came before her and has the distinction of directing the last silent film in the Philippines.

Unfortunately, none of Villanueva's films survived the times.

A film by Carmen Concha / IMDb
First female lead in a movie

There's no better way to kickstart your career in showbiz than leading the cast in a theatrical work.

Canadian-American actress Florence Lawrence, also known as "The Biograph Girl," is credited as one of the first motion picture stars. Throughout her career, she garnerned an extensive portfolio in the film industry after starring in over 300 films, as well as becoming one of the first women to lead a US film studio.

First Filipino movie star in Hollywood is a woman
Wilfredo Pascual

It's not amiss to say that many Filipino celebrities would want to shine under the international spotlight, even just for a little bit. Take Liza Soberano for example. The 25-year-old actress is set to star in her first Hollywood movie titled Lisa Frankenstein, having long expressed her desire to pursue an acting career in America.

Before Soberano, however, the first Filipino to actually star in Hollywood was a Cebuana named Elena Jurado. According to an extensive research of writer Wilfredo Pascual, Jurado auditioned for an Arabian film story called White Hands in 1922 for a minor role as a dancer.

However, when the film's lead actor, Hobart Bosworth, saw her skills in dancing, he was "astonished" and "mesmerized" by her. This sentiment was also shared by reporters in the US, who were all impressed by Jurado despite merely having an extra role.

First black woman to win the Oscars

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A post shared by Halle Berry (@halleberry)

If women in general are already swimming through tough currents trying to get recognized in the film industry, what more for black actresses? In fact, the Academy Awards has been mired with controversy for their #OscarsSoWhite scandal, prompting people to call for greater diversity in the Oscars and put more attention towards people of colour and marginalised groups.

Even though the prestigious award show started handing out recognitions since 1929, it wouldn't be until 72 years later in 2001 that they awarded the Best Actress in a Leading Role award to a black woman—Halle Berry for her role in Monster’s Ball, an HBO epic biopic.

First Filipino actor to be nominated in two international awards is a woman

Dolly de Leon—that's the name that Filipinos won't forget anytime soon after she made the country proud for being the first Filipino actor to be nominated at two prestigious international award shows: the British Academy Film Awards and the Golden Globe Awards—all thanks to her breakout performance as the cleaning woman Abigail in Triangle of Sadness, which critics described as "scene-stealing."

This is perhaps long overdue, as the veteran actress had been in the industry since 1991, but had only taken minor roles in films and TV shows. 

First woman to direct a Marvel film

Superhero films are what audiences are gobbling up in this day and age, almost always topping the charts and accumulating millions in the box office. One studio that's dominating this genre of films is Marvel, with ten films having surpassed the billion dollar mark. But did you know that they never had a woman take the director's chair in their films until 2019?

After twenty films and ten years, the studio finally hired a female director for one of their projects, Captain Marvel, which also has the distinction of being the first female-led superhero in their collection of films.

Anna Boden, along with her filmmaking partner Ryan Fleck, helmed the Brie Larson action flick. During a set visit with reporters back in May, Boden talked about what it's like being the first female director of a Marvel film.

"It amazes me that I am the first female director to be doing one of their films. But I just kind of try to tackle it like I would any other job. The more I think about that stuff, the less focused I am. One of the things that I love about this movie is what an amazing collaboration it is between super powerful women and super awesome women," she said.