Begun in 1909, International Women’s Day—celebrated on March 8 each year—both salutes the achievements of women worldwide and identifies the work that still needs to be done. Fueled by the energy of the current #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, this year’s theme, #PressforProgress, keeps the momentum for full equality moving forward.
To commemorate this global event, we’re recognizing some remarkable women whose upcoming projects and past triumphs have made Focus Features the groundbreaking studio it is today. These six women—three directors and three actresses—have not only created cinematic masterpieces, but have pushed to create opportunities for women working today and in the future.
Sofia Coppola | A unwavering film artist
It is no wonder that Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation tops the list of Indiewire’s 25 Best Films Directed By Women of the 21st Century. This wistful comedy of two strangers in Tokyo—Bill Murray is an actor in Japan for a whiskey commercial; Scarlett Johansson’s hanging out while her photographer husband is on a job—dazzled audiences in 2003 and won Coppola an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Entertainment Weekly was astonished by “the precision, maturity, and originality with which the confident young writer-director communicates so clearly in a cinematic language all her own.” She has continued to craft beautifully made, deeply personal films. Her 2010 film Somewhere translates her own experience growing up in Hollywood to a father/daughter tale. And for her recent drama The Beguiled—with a cast including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning—she took a classic Civil War novel, rewriting "the story from a female point of view."
Dee Rees | A voice for the future
In 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, Focus Features saw in Dee Rees’ debut feature Pariah a new voice that needed to be heard. Newsday noted that “There's a toughness to Pariah that matches the toughness of its heroine …and also reflects the artistic toughness of its director, Dee Rees, in refusing to embrace easy sentiment or cliches.” Still tough, Rees has gone on to create other powerful stories about being a woman and African American, both for TV (with Bessie) and film (with her Academy Award-nominated Mudbound). For her, there is more than just her career at stake. On the eve of Pariah’s release, Reese told Women and Hollywood, “I hope some little black girl in Nashville, Tennessee will have this story she can go to. She won’t be consigned to the traditional depictions of sexuality and gender that is given to them generally.”
Niki Caro | Reimagining history
In bringing the story of one extraordinary woman to the screen in The Zookeepers’ Wife, director Niki Caro and her team also showed the difference a team of remarkable women working together could make. Adapted by Angela Workman from Diane Ackerman’s nonfiction book of the same name, the film focuses mostly on Antonina Zabinski (played by Jessica Chastain), a woman who risked her life and family to save Jews escaping the Nazis by transforming the Warsaw Zoo into a shelter. Caro wanted to tell this Holocaust story with an important difference. As she told Screencrush, “every detail and every part of the filmmaking is consciously feminine.” From the producers to the cinematographer to the stunt person, women ran the film’s creative teams. And the difference was tangible. For The San Francisco Chronicle, “The Zookeeper’s Wife achieves its grandeur not through the depiction of grand movements, but through its attentiveness to the shifts and flickers of the soul.”
Charlize Theron | Strength in front of and behind the camera
In Atomic Blonde, the Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron smashes the mold of the male spy as easily as she breaks her opponents' bones in this tough-and-tumble action film. Set in Berlin just weeks before the Wall comes down, her adrenalin-filled performance goes beyond kicking and fighting. “As tough and cool as her Broughton is, she’s not soulless,” notes Time Magazine. “It hurts to see her take a punch. But oh, how good it feels to see her throw one!” As one of the film’s producers, Theron also put her muscle behind developing the screenplay, picking the director, and crafting her character. “I’m trying to break these forms of how women ought to behave in movies,” Theron explains, adding, “Maybe they shouldn’t behave at all.” In her upcoming film Tully, written by Diablo Cody, Theron demonstrates another form of courage by bringing to the big screen the often untold story of motherhood.
Saoirse Ronan | A strong, complex woman
When Saoirse Ronan appeared in Joe Wright’s 2007 epic Atonement as Briony Tallis, the calculating girl whose little lie turns everybody's life upside down, people paid attention. Rolling Stone exclaimed, “Ronan is the film's glory. Note to Oscar: This is acting of the highest order.” Clearly the Academy paid attention, nominating the 13-year-old ingénue for Best Supporting Actress. Four years later, Ronan demonstrated both her acting and karate chops as the teen assassin in Joe Wright’s action thriller Hanna. Now up for her third Oscar nomination in Lady Bird, Ronan has lived up to her own imperative about the necessity for “men and women [to] see strong, complex women onscreen.” As the title character in Josie Rourke’s upcoming Mary, Queen of Scots, Ronan will take on one of the strongest, most complex women in history.
Keira Knightley | Capturing the full range of experience
Having made four Focus features, Keira Knightley is one of our favorite stars. Starting with her starring role in Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride & Prejudice—for which she received an Academy Award nomination—Knightley reunited with the director for his 2007 Atonement and later for Anna Karenina in 2012. That same year she showed off her lighter side in Lorene Scafaria’s apocalyptic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Moving from a bright, headstrong young woman in love to a wife and mother fighting for her identity, Knightley has captured with remarkable grace and emotional fire the full range of the human experience. And as a woman, she made sure her performances rang personally true. “I think it’s about time that we saw the world through women’s eyes,” Knightley recently told Variety. “If we are silenced and you don’t see our stories, then we are put in danger.”