After Congress passed a law in 1987 designating March as Women’s National History Month, each year a new theme is proposed to bring attention to different challenges still faced by women. This year, 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment which provided women the right to vote, the theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote.” We are celebrating the spirit of making sure that every voice is counted by acknowledging the wide range of remarkable film artists, from composers and songwriters to cinematographers and production designers, that make a movie possible.
Focus kicks off 2020 with three remarkable female directors with different stories about women’s lives. Each of these films is brought to life with the help of some exceptional female artists. Autumn de Wilde’s sparkling EMMA. is based on Eleanor Catton’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel and features dazzling production design by Kave Quinn. Writer/director Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always not only has two stunning performances by Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder but also showcases the much-admired work of cinematographer Hélène Louvart and composer Julia Holter. Featuring a bravura performance by Carey Mulligan, Emerald Fennell’s raucous thriller Promising Young Woman (in theaters on April 17) boasts stunning costumes by Nancy Steiner and sparkling art direction by Liz Kloczkowski. For March’s Women History Month, we salute five women whose work is essential viewing for any movie lover.
Alexandra Byrne | Costume designer for Mary Queen of Scots and EMMA.
For nearly three decades, Academy Award®-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne has brought historical and literary characters to life with her impeccably researched and gorgeously realized outfits. In Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA. and Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots (for which she was nominated for an Oscar®), Byrne mixes fashion and fabric to bring the director’s vision into focus. In costuming Saoirse Ronan as Mary, for example, Byrne’s gowns, according to The New York Times, “bring a splash of bright color into the dark, brooding atmosphere, much as her temperament flavors the dreary affairs of state with wit and charisma.” In EMMA., Bryne’s fashionable concoctions in “sugar-almond tones of blush pink, daffodil yellow and ice blue” make the film “as confident and gorgeous to look at as a tower of exquisitely rendered petits fours," exclaims Time Magazine.
Cynthia Erivo | Star and songwriter for Harriet
Harriet, Kasi Lemmons’ powerful historical pageant, brings to the screen the remarkable achievements of the freedom fighter Harriet Tubman (played by Cynthia Erivo). Nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Actress and Best Original Song, Erivo provided both the very heart and soul of the film. RogerEbert.com posits that “Erivo’s performance might very well become a definitive one” for the way she “captures Tubman’s shining spirit and courage with compassion.” As a talented musician, Erivo also gave voice to the movie’s emotion with her anthem “Stand Up” (co-written with Joshuah Campbell). “I had gone on a journey with this piece,” she explained about writing the song. “I knew how much it meant to me and to everybody.”
Abi Morgan | Screenwriter for Suffragette
Women fighting for their right to vote was the very subject of Sarah Gavron’s historical drama Suffragette. Mixing real people, like activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), with imagined characters, like Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), Abi Morgan’s screenplay weaves a rich tapestry of fact and fiction to illustrate the complexity and urgency of this issue. “Witnessing the drama through the eyes of ordinary, if militant, suffragettes," explains Morgan, “we were always trying to serve the historical through the fictional.” Having written screenplays for such fact-based dramas as The Iron Lady and The Invisible Woman, Morgan knew exactly how to bring history alive. “The particular struggle in England is so painstakingly detailed…and written with meticulously researched pathos by Abi Morgan, that being won over by the honesty and triumph displayed by the women depicted in it is inevitable,” notes The Observer.
Ellen Kuras | Cinematographer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s ingenious screenplay and inventive direction is often praised, but, as IndieWire points out, “Ellen Kuras’ cinematography is the glue holding together writer Charlie Kaufman’s narrative insanity and director Michel Gondry’s ephemeral visual poetry.” For over 30 years, Kuras has lent her cinematic talents to bring into focus the visionary imaginations of such directors as Sam Mendes, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris, and Michel Gondry. For Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kuras was instrumental in transforming Gondry’s handcrafted film aesthetic into cinematic alchemy, going back, as she explains, “to early cinema, where magicians were using live-action practical effects in order to change time and space.”
Sarah Greenwood | Production designer for Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina, and Darkest Hour
As Joe Wright’s longtime collaborator, Sarah Greenwood has been nominated for Academy Awards® for her outstanding production design on Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Anna Karenina, and most recently Darkest Hour. Greenwood’s attention to architectural detail and historic accuracy has allowed her to bring novels to life and reimagine history in exciting new ways. For her work on Pride & Prejudice, Variety noted, “Scenes barely sketched in Austen’s dialogue-heavy, description-light prose leap fully detailed onto the screen, thanks to Sarah Greenwood’s terrific production design.” For Darkest Hour, she imbued every architectural detail with a vibrant sense of historical importance, making sure that, as Screen Daily wrote, “the crepuscular Cabinet War Rooms are as much a character in this story as any of the corpulent, besuited men who debate the future of the country.”