Tell us the story of Hollywood, and we’ll tell you the story of women. Funny women, strong women, smart women, beautiful women, savvy women, women who knew and know how to get things done. When the going got tough, these women got going — and made Hollywood history in the process. These 10 women — actors, directors, producers, writers, icons — created and continue to create spaces for women of all colors and walks of life to succeed after them.
Both in front of and behind the camera, these women have navigated the shark-infested waters of the entertainment industry and come out on top while paving the way for the next generation of artists and media mavens. They have all built upon each other’s successes to create a more level playing field. We still have so far to go, but with these women as inspiration, we’ll take it all over soon.
Hattie McDaniel made history on Feb. 29, 1940, as the first black woman to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy, Scarlett O'Hara's housemaid, in Gone with the Wind. Sadly, she and the other black actors in the cast had not been allowed to attend the film's premiere in Atlanta, Georgia, and she had to accept her award at a segregated hotel.
April 30, 1997, was a monumental day for Ellen DeGeneres. She came out to Oprah Winfrey during the fourth season of her sitcom The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and became the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character on television. She has gone on to win 30 Emmy Awards, 20 People’s Choice Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honor.
When Katharine Hepburn's career took a sharp downturn in 1938, she refused to be pushed to the back burner by her studio. Instead, in the 1940s, she bought out her contract, got her hands on the rights to The Philadelphia Story and sold those rights to MGM for $250,000 and the promises she would star and have the ability to veto any producer, director, screenwriter or cast member.
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director with The Hurt Locker. Her other war-based films, such as K-19: The Widowmaker and Zero Dark Thirty, proved a woman could find both critical acclaim and box office success in a genre traditionally dominated by men.
Best known as the goofy housewife on I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball became the first woman to head a major Hollywood studio when she bought out her ex-husband, Desi Arnaz, from their company Desilu Productions in 1962.
Throughout her long career, Meryl Streep has proven that a female actor could be highly successful and respected without having to settle for rom-coms or playing the sexpot girlfriend. Since her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1978 for Deer Hunter, Streep has been nominated for a record 21 Academy Awards (she's taken home three). On top of that, in the past 40 years, Streep has received 31 Golden Globe nominations and won eight — that's more nominations and competitive wins than any other actor.
Olivia de Havilland
A star of classic Hollywood, Olivia de Havilland sued Warner Bros. in late 1944 to get out of her contract and wound up ending the studio system forever. At just 24 years old, she broke the bondage between actors and studios and leveled the playing field.
In the midst of revolutionizing television with her 25-season talk show, Oprah Winfrey's business savvy helped her build a multimedia empire and become the first multibillionaire black person in North America. Her business model? Helping others. Pure and simple.
With the success of Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes quickly became a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood — and she quickly parlayed that into an entire industry of her own. She currently produces no fewer than 12 TV shows, has created three herself and has her own culture-based dot-com.
As a writer and director, Ava DuVernay has opened doors for many other women in Hollywood, including having 17 women direct 29 episodes of the first two seasons of Queen Sugar. Her documentary 13th won four Emmy awards just last year.
Leave a Comment