This Women’s History Month we want to amplify pioneering filmmakers of color in film. Throughout the history of film, women and nonbinary folks have blazed a path forward carving a way for younger generations.
1. Esther Eng (b. 1914 - d. 1970)
Esther Eng, a Cantonese American filmmaker was born in San Franciso, California in 1914. She is known as one of the first Chinese women to become a filmmaker and achieved acclaim in Hong Kong and Hollywood bridging the worlds of Western and East cinema. Despite the barriers facing women and Chinese people during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Eng was undeterred from making her mark on the world of film. She worked predominantly as a director, distributor, producer, and screenwriter, receiving credits in at least half a dozen films. Eng was also openly queer, dressing masculine and publicly dating several women in her lifetime. Although her films have been lost, the impact of her work cannot be understated is one of the most prominent filmmakers of her time known for her adept range of navigating and earning the respect of a white and male-dominant industry in her early 20s.
2. Fatimah Asghar
“I think it’s important for us to keep making stories that actually have nuanced portrayals of the communities that we come from, and also break the burden of needing our voices to be ‘representational’ and instead just be able to be.”
Multi-hyphenate South Asian artist, Fatimah Asghar’s style and range are eclectic and ever-expansive across film and poetry. They are the author of the award-winning poetry book “If They Come For Us” which explores themes of Partition violence, nationhood, and identity. Asghar was a writer on Disney+’s “Ms. Marvel” series with it’s mostly South Asian cast portrayed the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They also received an Emmy nomination for “Brown Girls”, a web series she wrote and co-created about the lives of queer women of color. As a filmmaker, she’s directed music videos for musicians like Jidenna and Jamila Woods delving into imagery that centers on women of color’s sensuality and desire. Her most recent short film “Retrieval” funded by the Sundance Uprise Grant and the Islamic Scholarship Fund looks at the aftermath of sexual assault and the process of healing from trauma.
3. Tazbah Rose Chavez
“I also hope that within the industry, [Reservation Dogs] changes the perception of casting and storytelling and that these are the kinds of stories that can be told by Native women, performed by Native women and directed by Native women, and that these stories are viable and they’re interesting outside of a non-Native audience.”
A citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, Tazbah Rose Chavez is a triple-threat performance poet and television writer-director. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in American Indian Studies, Chavez thought she would attend law school to fight legal battles to win Native land rights. But Chavez found her calling as a storyteller writing and directing episodes for the critically-acclaimed Native-led series “Rutherford Falls” and “Reservation Dogs” as well as directing episodes of HBO’s “Sex Lives of College Girls”. With the lack of Indigenous representation in writers’ rooms, Chavez has been pushing for access and representation and previously served as the co-chair of the Writers Guild of America West's Native American and Indigenous Writers Committee. Previously Chavez was a filmmaker in AT&T’s Hello Lab Filmmaker Mentoring Lab where she created the short film “Your Name Isn’t English” which was executive produced by Taika Waititi.
4. Julie Dash (b.1952)
“Whenever I do a film, it has to take us one step further to making the world safe for everyone.”
In 1991, “Daughters of the Dust” made history when it was the first film directed by a Black woman to be theatrically released in the U.S. Julie Dash, born in Queens, New York, graduated from UCLA’s film school in 1985, quickly earning her reputation as one of the foremost filmmakers of her time. “Daughters of the Dust” distinguished itself from the blaxploitation-era films that Dash had studied in college, by elevating the histories of African American women with grace and elegance. The influence of Dash’s cinematography can be seen in popular culture today including Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” with the imagery of Black women in white dresses graceful and ephemeral while surrounded by water. Dash has continued to work on other television shows including directing episodes in season two of “Queen Sugar”. She currently teaches film at several historically Black colleges in the U.S. including Spelman College, Howard University, and Morehouse College.
5. Tanya Saracho
“It is a political act to put brown bodies, gendered bodies, on stage and on the screen. Each omission or inclusion makes a political statement.”
Born in Los Mochis, Mexico and raised in Texas, Tanya Saracho had her start as an award-winning playwright before diving into television through ABC’s diversity program. She has written for shows like “Devious Maids”, ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” and HBO’s “Girls” and was the creator and showrunner of the award-winning Starz series “Vida”. “Vida”, set in East L.A. and centering on the lives of two Latina sisters, made waves in queer Latinx representation with Saracho’s intentional choice to hire only Latina/x creatives behind the camera. The show employed all Latinx directors for its three seasons and was profiled in Vulture as the first show to hire an all-Latinx writers’ room. Saracho has been an advocate for Latina women's storytelling and co-founded Teatro Luna which was Chicago’s first and only all-Latina theatre ensemble.