Ten years ago, Kathryn Bigelow broke the glass ceiling when she directed the six-time Oscar-winning war drama "The Hurt Locker" starring Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie. Not only was the film a critical success, but it won Kathryn the Oscar for best director — an award that had never before gone to a woman. In honor of the the film's 10th anniversary in June 2019, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at more women who've made history in Hollywood. Keep reading for more…
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Kathryn Bigelow might have been the first woman to win a best director Oscar but did you know that Dorothy Arzner was Hollywood's first female director? The pioneer filmmaker began her career in 1919 during the era of silent movies and was the only female director of her time. By 1929, Dorothy — who was also a film editor and screenwriter — was asked to direct Paramount Pictures' first-ever sound film, "The Wild Party," starring early screen siren Clara Bow. In 1943, Dorothy directed her final film, the aptly titled "First Comes Courage," before retiring from Hollywood.
The lovely and talented Jennifer Lopez — aka Jenny from the block — is a dancer, singer, actress and a groundbreaking star. This triple threat made history in 2001 when she simultaneously starred in a No. 1 movie and had a No. 1 album, making her the first woman in Hollywood to do so. Her film "The Wedding Planner" was released just three days after her sophomore studio album, "J.Lo," hit stores.
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The first African American woman to be nominated for and win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel, who took home the award for best supporting actress for her work as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind" in 1940. Not only was Hattie the first African American woman to earn the distinction, but she was the first African American entertainer of any gender to both be nominated for and win the coveted award. At the time of her victory, Hattie almost missed out on accepting her statue due to the venue enforcing a strict segregation policy. After her death in 1952, Hattie's Oscar went missing, but her legacy as a groundbreaking entertainer lives on today.
The pay gap between men and women is particularly obvious in Hollywood, where actresses and female filmmakers have historically earned less than their male counterparts. But in 1988, Penny Marshall — the former star of "Laverne & Shirley" — helped bridge the gap when she became the first female director to help a film that earned more than $100 million at the box office. The movie? "Big" starring Tom Hanks. Penny's success proved that women directors had the talent and capacity to make blockbuster Hollywood hits, paving the way for future female directors to aim even higher.
Penny Marshall might have been the first woman in history to direct a $100 million-grossing film, but Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay earned the distinction of being the first black woman in Hollywood to achieve the same level of success. Her 2018 film, "A Wrinkle In Time" starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, earned a reported $132 million at the worldwide box office. Highlighting the lack of black women directors in the industry, Ava said this of joining such an exclusive club: "Lovely room to be in. But I can't wait for more sisters to be here too."
Although the pay gap between men and women is still real in 2019, in 1963, leading lady Elizabeth Taylor helped make it a little smaller when she became the first actress to command more than $1 million for a film role. The movie was "Cleopatra," which ended up being a box-office flop, but it also paved the way for other talented actresses to ask for and earn more money for their work.
Though known for playing youthful, waifish characters on the silver screen, actress Mary Pickford was so much more than an early Hollywood film star. Beginning her movie career in the era of silent films and later transitioning to "talkies" in 1929, Mary became the first actress to sign a $1 million contract and the second woman to earn a best actress Oscar. Not only that, but she was also a key figure in the formation of the movie production studio United Artists along with friends Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks.
Making history is in actress, activist and producer Laverne Cox's DNA. Not only was Laverne the first openly trans woman of color to land a leading role on television — thanks to the casting geniuses for the popular Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black" — but she was the first to win a Daytime Emmy as an executive producer for her work on the 2014 documentary "The T Word." Proving barriers only exist to be knocked down, Laverne continues to be a trailblazer in Hollywood, landing prominent TV and film roles while advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, representation and respect.
Throughout Academy Awards history, there's been a trend of ignoring the contributions of entertainers and filmmakers of color in Hollywood, which makes Japanese-American film star Miyoshi Umeki's 1958 best supporting actress Oscar win truly monumental. Miyoshi won the award for her first feature-length American film, "Sayonara" co-starring Hollywood legend Marlon Brando, making her the first Asian actress to do so.
In 1962, Puerto Rican-American dancer, singer, TV, film and stage star Rita Moreno made history when she became the first Latina to win a best supporting actress Oscar, for her performance in the iconic musical "West Side Story." Rita is also the first Latina EGOT winner thanks to her Emmy, Grammy and Tony wins too.
Oprah Winfrey is one of those rare enigmas in the world who makes us feel lucky to be in her orbit. Long known for breaking barriers and destroying stereotypes, Oprah — who began her career in the 1970s anchoring a nightly news show before transitioning into a world-famous talk show host, celebrity, producer, philanthropist and more — has made history throughout her long career both in front of and behind the camera. Some of this famed media mogul's biggest achievements in Hollywood include being the first black woman to produce her own daytime talk show, the first black woman to have a nationally syndicated talk show, the first black woman billionaire and the first black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe Award for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment" — just to name a few.
Although she passed away in 1981, Edith Head is still considered one of the most famous film costume designers in history. Not only was this talented seamstress and designer known for dressing the biggest stars in Hollywood in elaborate, breathtaking fashions for more than 50 years, but she also happens to be the woman with the most Academy Award wins ever. Edith, who took home eight coveted statues for costume design on films such as "Sabrina" and "A Place in the Sun," is also the fourth most awarded person (male or female) in Oscar history.
Speaking of Oscars, film and TV star Meryl Streep happens to hold an impressive record as the performer with the most Academy Award nominations for acting — of any gender — in history. As of 2019, Meryl has earned an impressive 21 Oscar nominations and taken home three statues in her more than 40 year acting career. Although silver-screen star and four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn still holds the record for the actress with the most wins, Meryl's incredible roster of nominations has turned her into something of a Hollywood legend.
One of the only women on our list who made history for her bad behavior is former actress-turned-Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Known as something of a tyrant amongst Tinseltown's elite, the extravagant hat-wearing Hedda garnered a reputation as a career- and marriage-destroyer, exposing celebrities she believed were communists, homosexuals or otherwise "immoral" thanks to industry connections made while working as an entertainer. Hedda's influence was undeniable and her column, which later became a popular radio show, was instrumental in creating the famed "Hollywood Blacklist" of 1947 that ended the careers of more than 500 entertainment and business professionals accused of belonging to secret communist cells, effectively blocking them from gaining future work for decades.
At a time when the South was still segregated, one talented African American actress managed to rise above the discrimination and become one of Hollywood's most sought-after stars. Though known for films like "Bahama Passage" and "Bright Road," it was Dorothy Dandridge's role in the 1954 romantic musical "Carmen Jones" that earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress — the first ever for an African American star. Although Dorothy didn't win the award, she opened the door for future actresses of color to be recognized for their talent.
Interestingly enough, the first time an African American woman would actually win the Oscar for best actress wasn't until 2002 — 43 years after Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman to earn the nomination. The winner was none other than Halle Berry, who took home the statue for her performance in the 2001 drama "Monster's Ball." What makes her win even more special is that just three years earlier, Halle actually played Dorothy in the TV movie biopic about her life, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge."
More than two decades ago, comedienne and daytime TV host Ellen Degeneres made history when she became the first openly gay woman to star as an openly gay character on primetime television. On April 14, 1997, Ellen made national headlines when she appeared on the cover of Time magazine with the headline "Yep, I'm gay." Just two weeks later, Ellen's character from her hit ABC sitcom, "Ellen," also came out during its fourth season — to a viewing audience of nearly 42 million people. Both the show and Ellen faced immediate backlash, with viewers and advertisers accusing her and the network of "promoting homosexuality." By Season 5, the series had been canceled and Ellen spent the next few years unable to find work. Thankfully, this resourceful, resilient and groundbreaking woman was able to rise from the ashes and return to television, becoming one of America's most beloved talk show hosts.
On Nov. 22, 1968, African American actress Nichelle Nichols and her "Star Trek" co-star, William Shatner, made TV history when their characters, Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk, shared the first interracial kiss ever aired on American network television. It was the year that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and just one year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of interracial marriage in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia. Nichelle, who was also one of the first black women to be featured on a major television series, shared that she'd almost left the show for Broadway before that kiss ever happened, but it was MLK Jr. — a fan of the show — who encouraged her to stay, saying, "You have opened a door that must not be allowed to close… you changed the face of television forever… For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people."
Proving we still have a long way to go, in 2019, Sandra Oh became the first Asian American actress to earn an Emmy nomination for best lead actress, for her work on the award-winning series "Killing Eve." Although Sandra didn't win, she'd already made history earlier that year when she both hosted the Golden Globes and won the award for best lead actress in a drama. Not only was she the first Asian American actress to ever host the Globes, but she also became the first to ever win more than one Globe thanks to her 2006 victory during her days on "Grey's Anatomy."
Actress Marlee Matlin made history in Hollywood in 1987 when she became the first deaf person and second person with a disability to ever win an Academy Award. Seen here holding her statue, Marlee won the Oscar for best actress in the film "Children of a Lesser God." Since Marlee's groundbreaking win, sadly, there has only been one other Oscar awarded to a person with a disability — actor Dan Keplinger, who has cerebral palsy, won for best documentary short subject in 2000. Dan — who was at the Oscars the night his name was called — was unable to accept his award due to the stage not being wheelchair accessible.
Indian American actress, writer, producer and director Mindy Kaling might be a relatively fresh face in Hollywood — she landed her first onscreen role in 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"– but she's already a groundbreaking star. When her now-canceled series "The Mindy Project" first aired in 2012, Mindy became the first woman of color to star in a show that she created. Serving as the show's writer, creator, executive producer and star, Mindy proved it was possible to have and do it all, on her terms.
Lucille Ball might be best remembered as the star of the 1950s comedy series "I Love Lucy" but behind the scenes, this red-headed trailblazer was so much more. A year before her popular show aired on network television, Lucille and her then-husband, Desi Arnaz, opened their own studio, Desilu Productions. The studio would later produce their award-winning series and others including "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Star Trek." They also pioneered new techniques for filming for television, including the multi-camera setup and incorporating a live studio audience. When Desi and Lucy divorced in 1960, Desi sold Lucy his shares of the studio, making her the first woman in history to own a production company.
In 2017, actress and writer Lena Waithe broke new ground when she and comedian Aziz Ansari won the Emmy for best comedy writing for their Netflix original series "Master of None." The particular episode for which the pair won was titled "Thanksgiving" and focused on Lena's character Denise's journey as a gay woman in the black community — a struggle that Lena is familiar with as an openly lesbian actress, writer and producer. Until her historic win, no other African American woman had ever received an Emmy for comedy writing.
Haters be damned. Brie Larson might have ruffled feathers when she took on the role of superhero and savior in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Captain Marvel," but ticket sales proved she was the perfect person for the job. After her movie made an astonishing $1.1 billion worldwide, Brie earned the distinction of having starred in the highest grossing film with a female lead ever made. She helped it beat the former first-place record holder, "Wonder Woman" starring Gal Gadot, which earned $821 million at the worldwide box office.