This month celebrates women’s achievements and contributions to every factor in life, from healthcare, tech, governments to education, the economy, and the entertainment business.
Women have been part of the driving force in the entertainment industry since its inception. They have held many vital roles in front and behind the scenes and continue to do so today. For example, French pioneer filmmaker, Alice Guy-Blaché, became the first woman to ever produce a film back in 1902. Though the project would be considered a short by today’s Hollywood standard, the impact of Blaché’s work has been impactful since then.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we praise the accomplishments of these producers in Hollywood who are making innovative and ingenious strives in television and movies today. In addition, these producers create thought-provoking programs that cover relatable topics and push for inclusion in front and behind the camera.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Inglewood, Issa Rae is a clear example of an artist revolutionizing entertainment. The producer/writer/actor began her career while attending Sandford University. At the same time she was attending college, Rae used her gifted talent as an artist to create music videos and write and direct plays. After earning her Bachelor’s Degree in African and African-American studies, Rae produced her web series Awkward Black Girl on Youtube in 2011.
The comedy program followed Rae as J as she interacts with co-workers and loves interests who place her in uncomfortable situations. The producer said that one of the main driving points of the show was to address how people of color are viewed as unrelatable and wanted to dispel that assumption.
The show was a viral hit and opened the door for Rae to produce her show into a series for HBO. Now called Insecure, the program went on for five seasons, won numerous accolades, including an AFI Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a Peabody. Rae’s production company, Hoorae Media, would go on to produce several movies and other television shows and inked a new five-year overall deal with Warner Media in 2021. If that wasn’t enough, she was also awarded in 2022 the key to the city of Inglewood, California, for bringing attention to the town’s culture and artistic merits. At the event, the Mayor of Inglewood, James T. Butts, proclaimed Rae’s “outstanding contributions to our culture” during his speech and called her “a living legend.”
Though Megan Ellison comes from a wealthy family, she started behind the scenes as a boom mic operator on the short film When All Else Fails. She began financing low-budget independent movies after studying between 2006 and 2010 at the University of Southern California. Ellison became a big player in the moviemaking industry when she helped produce the Cohen Brother’s remake of True Grit. The film’s success got a lot of attention for the young producer, who was only 24-years old at the time.
She created Annapurna Pictures and produced commercial and critical hits like 2012 Zero Dark Thirty—directed by Kathryn Bigelow—and Paul Thompson Anderson’s The Master the same year. Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix has called Ellison “the Han Solo of filmmaking” and continued the statement with, “you think it’s all over, and she comes to save the day.” In addition, she became the first female producer to earn two different Academy Awards nominations for best picture in 2014 for Her and American Hustle. To this day, she works closely with critically acclaimed directors in hopes that their artistic vision stays intact and showcases the high caliber of art in cinema.
Mindy Kaling began receiving a lot of attention for her comedic performance on the hit NBC show, The Office, but this playwriter started as an intern on the late-night program Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Then, she spent time behind the scenes of Crossing Over with John Edward—which Kalin described as “depressing” and found herself performing as a stand-up comedian.
Kaling found success as an actor and writer when she joined the American adaption of the successful British show, The Office. Her role as Kelly Kapoor and talent as a writer allowed her to become a full executive producer on the show in season 8. In addition, part of Kaling’s contract renewal with Universal Television allowed her to produce her show called The Mindy Project which she starred in and wrote on.
Kaling has been described as a pioneer for Indian-American women in Hollywood. Her presence in front and behind the camera displays a level of representation lacking in entertainment. The producer has created several programs for Fox, Hulu, NBC and is currently producing a Muslim rom-com for Amazon Studios through her Kaling International production company.
The actress/producer is only seventeen years old but has already made a significant impact on Hollywood. Marsai Martin started acting at the age of nine on Kenya Barris’ Black-ish—which is still airing. Her performance with the cast garnered many awards and nominations from NAACP and the Screen Actors Guild. However, television would not be her only medium to dominate.
The young actress made her film debut in 2016’s Amazon Studios original film An American Girl Story—Melody 1963: Love Has to Win. By 2018, she was included in Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Teens. The Amazon movie and Black-ish success led her to star in the big studio 2019 film, Little. The movie was made for Universal Pictures and allowed Martin to become an executive producer at the age of thirteen years old—this made her the youngest person and youngest African-American to produce a movie.
That same year, Martin created her production company, Genius Productions, a first-look production deal with Universal and made her the youngest person to do so.
Celia Costas has been working in the Hollywood industry since 1978. The soon-to-be producer started as a production assistant, location manager, and production manager during the 80s and 90s. She later co-produced successful movies such as the Howard Stern biopic, Private Parts, and the Danny Boyle horror film, 28 Days Later. In addition, she gained recognition as a solo producer by winning two Emmy Awards for the HBO miniseries Angeles in America and the television film Warm Springs.
Costas would continue being a big Hollywood player by producing serval movies for the Miramax production company and recently helped create Tick, Tick…Boom! that’s nominated for the 2022’s Best Actor Oscar for Andrew Garfield. In addition, Costa has recently joined the advisory board of the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York, where she helps inspire filmmakers.
Dede Gardner might not be a recognizable name, but the producer has brought forth some of the most thought-provoking films in recent years. Gardner always had an interest in movies dating back to her youth. While attending Columbia University, the young woman worked in location management and the art department of some minor films. She would later work at a small agency when she had a run-in with actor Brad Pitt who had just begun his production company, Plan B Entertainment.
In a 2013 interview with IndieWire, Gardner commented on her connection with Pitt. She states, “I knew he was a kindred spirit when we talked about the company, and we had a lot of crossover with our ideas: wanting it to be a safe harbor for filmmakers, a place where people might come where the energy and the protection felt singular.”
The connection between the two landed Garnder as president of Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment. The production company reached moderate success initially, but it was 2013’s Three of Life‘s AMPAS Best Picture nomination and 12 Years A Slave AMPAS Best Picture winner that kicked up Gardner’s creditability as a producer. Her second Best Picture win for 2016’s Moonlight made her the first woman to be awarded two Oscars for Best Picture.
Her films have focused on race, politics, and the economy. Garner’s produced film, Minari, injected a fresh take on searching for the American Dream through the perspective of immigrants.
This producer got her start in acting at a very early age. America Ferrera acted in plays and community theater throughout her youth throughout Los Angeles. She began her journey into stardom in 2002 and has had steady work in front of the camera since. Her notable work was 2005 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants which she won an Imagen Award. The Imagen Foundation is an association that encourages and recognizes the positive depictions of Latinos in the entertainment industry. In 2007, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people globally.
Her big break as an actress came when ABC Studios adapted the Colombian telenovela, Yo soy Betty, la fea, into the multi-season show Ugly Betty. Later, the producer launched her Take Foundation Productions and signed an overall deal with the network. Ferrera’s success allowed her to be an executive producer on the TBS show, Superstore, and Netflix’s Gentrified. She is now working with Universal TV after signing a first-look deal.
How often do we come across a producer who cornered the market on primetime television and renamed it Shondaland? Shonda Rhimes is a Chicago, Illinois-born television producer, screenwriter, and author making big waves in television for decades. After graduating from USC, she came to Hollywood as a screenwriter who worked as an office administrator and, later, a job center counselor to make ends meet. Rhimes finally got her big break when she co-wrote the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and wrote Crossroads, grossing $60 million. However, it wasn’t until she created Grey’s Anatomy in 2005 that cemented her as a talented producer and destined for greatness.
The success of the ABC show opened the door for Rhimes to produce other shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder that dominated the network’s primetime block, giving her the chance to create the production company called Shondaland. As a result, her programs tend to feature a prominently mixed culture of actors and actresses from all walks of life.
Rhimes continues her success by signing a major multiyear deal with Netflix—totaling up to $100 Million—in the hopes of bringing more culture and diversity onto the streaming platform.
The independent director got her start in 2009 with the short film, The Atlas Mountains. Her next film, 2015’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me, showcased life on an indigenous reservation and a relationship between Lakota Sioux siblings that is rarely seen on film. Zhao’s filmmaking style is documentarian-like, which brings the audience closer to the topics and characters. That artistic talent would continue in 2017’s The Rider. The Zhao-produced film took a new Western theme approach from the viewpoint of a Chinese immigrant. The renowned movie would only bring her to higher fame in Hollywood.
The critically acclaimed of The Rider pushed her to her next movie, Nomadland, which made her the second woman in history to win an Oscar for directing. Zhao’s skill as a producer on these two films allowed her to create Caviar Productions. The production company’s focus is on making independent films and artistic-laced commercials that push the limits of filmmaking.
Television writer and producer Nahnatchka Khan started as a staff writer on the Disney Television Animation show Pepper Ann and moved up to executive producer on three episodes and producer on three more. The children’s show’s premise follows a 12-year-old girl raised by her single mom, which hadn’t been done when it premiered in 1997. The program was a stepping stone onto Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle, where she honed her skills as a writer.
After that, Khan wrote for Seth McFarlane’s American Dad and later became an executive producer before producing her show Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. Her high level of success came in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat. Kahn’s Fierce Baby Productions spearheaded the show, the first network sitcom to feature an Asian family since 1994’s All-American Girl.
At the 2018 Emmy Awards, Kahn commented using an Asian family to tell new stories:
“Having a range of perspectives allows you to tell stories through a different lens and approach things from fresh angles. If you’re straining everything through the same filter, you’re always going to wind up with the same product,”
In addition, the multi-talented producer was honored for her contributions to the Asian Pacific American community, specifically through this show, by East West Players during their 50th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. In 2019, Kahn signed a four-year deal with Universal Television and currently produces the semi-autobiographical NBC show, Young Rock.
Countless other women producers are working in Hollywood and the independent film market. Many of these creative minds strive to innovate and inspire future generations of filmmakers. These women show no signs of slowing down, and hopefully, they will continue to break new grounds in entertainment across the world.