Of 16 nominated screenwriters at this year’s 90th Academy Awards, only four were women. That’s a major step up from last year, when Allison Schroeder was the only woman nominated, for co-writing Hidden Figures. And while there’s plenty of attention on the lack of female directors being recognized, it’s also important to acknowledge the gender disparity in nominated screenwriters.
Though some argue that women aren’t nominated as frequently because they aren’t given as many opportunities to write, there’s actually a long history of female screenwriters who broke down barriers in their genres, from horror to comedy to … whatever The Shape of Water was.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – Frances Goodrich
This sentimental Christmas classic is often referred to as “Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life,” but without the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and her husband, Albert Hackett, Capra’s wonderful old Bailey Building and Loan would’ve gone the way of Pottersville. Goodrich has 48 writing credits dating back to 1931, including the original Father of the Bride, Easter Parade, and In the Good Old Summertime.
Halloween (1978) – Debra Hill
Famed horror director John Carpenter is inextricably linked to Halloween—he’s even producing a 40th anniversary followup with Jamie Lee Curtis, to be released later this year. But you might not know that Carpenter co-wrote the screenplay with the late Debra Hill, his then-girlfriend and longtime producing partner. Though Halloween has frequently been labeled as anti-feminist thanks to its “final girl” trope and supposed moral commentary on female promiscuity, Hill told Entertainment Weekly in 1997 that she laughed off critics who saw the film as chauvinistic.
Superman (1978) – Leslie Newman
Husband-wife team Leslie and David Newman co-wrote all three Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, from 1978 to 1983. Newman is the only credited female screenwriter in any Superman franchise film, and her take on Lois Lane is decidedly more feminist than more recent adaptations. “I identify with Lois Lane because it’s possible to be madly in love with a guy and want to settle down, and still want to have a career,” she told People Magazine in 1981.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – Leigh Brackett
Leigh Brackett is the only woman credited with writing any Star Wars film—and most of her initial script got scrapped by Lawrence Kasdan when George Lucas hired him to tighten it up. Her original draft, which put more emphasis on the series love triangle and the complex relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, can be read at the Lucasfilm archives in California and the Jack Williamson Special Collections library at Eastern New Mexico University.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) – Melissa Mathison
E.T. wouldn’t be in Elliot’s heart without screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who designed the beloved out-of-this-world character and penned the film’s most memorable lines. Nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay in 1983—one of only two women nominated that year—Mathison said that director Steven Spielberg insisted she remain on set throughout shooting. “I suspect that if Steven had been surrounded by men, they would have said, ‘Oh come on, this is getting soft,’ whereas everyone kept telling him, ‘It’s fine, don’t worry, everything is going to be alright,’” she told The Guardian.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Nicole Perlman
Co-written with director James Gunn, Guardians was Perlman’s first screenwriting credit. Though she wasn’t involved in the sequel, she co-wrote the Brie Larson-starring Captain Marvel, set for release in March 2019. Two other women helped pen the script: Disney-Pixar’s Meg Lefauve and Tomb Raider reboot writer Geneva Robertson-Dworet.
The Shape of Water (2017) – Vanessa Taylor
Guillermo del Toro took home Best Director at the 90th Academy Awards for directing The Shape of Water, which also won Best Picture, but the script, nominated in the Original Screenplay category, was co-written by Vanessa Taylor, who has also written for television series like Game of Thrones, Everwood, and Alias. Her next project is adapting J.D. Vance’s best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, for producer Ron Howard.
Though women’s achievements in screenwriting through the decades can’t be diminished, I’m looking forward to the day when women’s stories don’t have to be attached to male co-writers to be recognized as classics.
(featured image: Warner Bros./Lucasfilm)
Georgi Presecky is a features editor for FF2 Media, an online publication that supports female filmmakers. She is a recent college graduate with a degree in public relations and social media from Lewis University in Illinois, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Lewis Flyer. http://ff2media.com/
Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Have a tip we should know? email@example.com