10 Hollywood Women of the Moment in 2019

10 Hollywood Women of the Moment in 2019

It’s been a great year for women across all media, both in the public eye and behind the scenes. Musicians including Lizzo and Billie Eilish rule the music charts, there are more female TV directors than ever, and it’s been a great year for female directors with films from the likes of Gurinder Chadha, Greta Gerwig, Alma Har’el, Marielle Heller, Lorene Scafaria, Lulu Wang and Olivia Wilde. While this list could be much longer, Variety is highlighting 10 individuals who reflect this fantastic year for women.



Actor, Rapper

A Good Rap

Prior to 2018, Awkwafina was best known for the comedic rap song “My Vag.” By her own admission, she had no plan. “I started at a time when I really had nothing to lose. I was this lost 20-something in New York, and I put a video on YouTube, and it was the biggest thing that I ever probably did in my life.” Cut to 2019, she’s got two blockbuster hits behind her (“Ocean’s Eight” and her scene-stealing turn in “Crazy Rich Asians”) and is now earning Oscar buzz for her first dramatic role in “The Farewell” as a woman whose beloved grandmother is dying of cancer, but whose family is keeping it a secret from her. The actor admits to being somewhat intimidated by the role. “When approaching it, reading it, there were things I was unsure of, but then there were things that I was very sure I knew — that I could understand what she was going through.”

She’s sure to have another blockbuster under her belt with the December sequel “Jumanji: The Next Level.” She is also bringing her talents to the Comedy Central series “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens,” in which she also serves as a writer and executive producer.

— Jenelle Riley


Deborah Dugan

President and CEO, Recording Academy

The Music Leader

For the first time in its 62-year history, the Recording Academy appointed a woman as president and CEO this year. Dugan assumed the role Aug. 1 with an impressive CV that spans from Wall Street attorney to EMI Records executive to president of Disney Publishing Worldwide. Dugan’s previous position was as CEO of (RED), the nonprofit co-founded by Bono. Under Dugan’s watch, some $600 million was raised to fight AIDS.

Dugan arrives to what’s traditionally been a male-led organization, and one that in recent years has been criticized for not having enough women in its top ranks. The Recording Academy has also been under fire for its lack of racial and gender diversity, particularly when it comes to the Grammy Awards, whose categories are overdue for a refresh and further expansion. The Academy has begun addressing these issues through a diversity task force, and Dugan looks to take further steps to modernize its customs. Even Bono gave a vote of confidence, issuing a statement commending Dugan and the Recording Academy for “cracking a new future.”

— Lily Moayeri


Marielle Heller

Actor, Director, Writer

Actor’s Director

Last year, Heller’s second feature film as director, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, earned raves and Oscar nominations for actors Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. This year, Heller finds herself back in the race with another movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring the beloved Tom Hanks as the beloved kids’ show host Fred Rogers.

When told this might be the first time a woman has had back-to-back movies in the Oscars race, Heller responds: “That’s interesting. I think you’re probably right. Women and non-binary people have a harder time getting their movies made generally, so it makes sense. I know I’m very fortunate and am where I am because of the countless women who fought and pushed the door open for me for generations.”

Heller, who broke through writing and directing the 2015 feature “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” has also directed episodes of “Casual” and “Transparent.” She’s also an actor, having appeared in films both silly (“MacGruber”) and serious (“A Walk Among the Tombstones”).

As a filmmaker, Heller says: “I’m drawn to material by my heart — something has to move me deeply. Making movies is pouring your whole self into a project and it’s not worth doing unless you love the story. And for me, it’s all about characters. Characters who aren’t represented enough. Characters who connect me to my own humanity. I’ve joked that Mr. Rogers was the one man who could make me want to make a movie about men. The truth is I have loved getting to show a different version of masculinity on screen.”

— Jenelle Riley


Brie Larson

Actor, Director, Producer

A Marvelous Year

The Oscar-winning actor kicked off the year starring in the first female-led Marvel movie, “Captain Marvel,” before reprising her role in “Avengers: Endgame.” Between those two films, her feature directorial debut, “Unicorn Store,” hit Netflix in April. Larson has long been an advocate for others, active in the Time’s Up movement and advocating for more diversity in film criticism.

She’ll next be seen in “Just Mercy,” playing Eva Ansley, who co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative. At Variety’s Power of Women event, Larson spoke about what she learned from Ansley. “When I was prepping for the film, I asked Eva how she keeps going in the face of so much working against her and she said, ‘If all I can do is bring a little hope to someone, that’s enough. No one needs to feel alone.’ I’ve been chewing on that sentiment for a year now, and here’s what I’ve begun to practice with that: Every interaction is a chance to bring hope.” She added, “So I ask: where can you gain to listen and where can you bring hope? We all have busy lives, but I can guarantee you that you can do more.”

— Jenelle Riley


Shannon McIntosh


Getting Things Done

McIntosh was introduced to Quentin Tarantino at Miramax and, in her words, “He quickly found I was someone who could get things done.” She adds, “We’ve had that relationship since ‘Pulp Fiction,’ and when you’ve worked someone that long, there’s a trust that you earn and he respects.” She went on to serve as executive producer on “Death Proof” and “Django Unchained” and a producer on “The Hateful Eight” and his recent hit, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

“Once Upon a Time” has grossed more than $371 million at the box office, but beyond the monetary, has struck a major chord with filmgoers who embraced Tarantino’s revisionist history of old Hollywood. “When you get someone like Quentin with something so close to his heart you know you’ll have a very authentic experience on the screen and I think that’s what resonates with so many people.”

McIntosh just signed a four-picture venture with Evolution Pictures for martial-arts action movies . “I think it’s a market that’s been under served in recent years and there is an enormous fan base here.”

— Jenelle Riley


Janet Mock

Director, Producer, Writer

Media Mogul

In June, Mock became the first black trans woman to sign an overall deal (with Netflix, for three years and an undisclosed amount of money). The writer, director and producer of FX’s “Pose” will expand her reach, not only on other Ryan Murphy co-created ventures (such as “The Politician,” of which she already directed an episode), but also create new series and films of her own. While Mock has always been an outspoken advocate for inclusive and expansive representation on-screen, she is also passionate about seeing such initiative be taken behind the camera.

“I want to see more people of color, more women, more LGBTQ folk as writers and directors, as grips and PAs, as hair stylists and costume designers, as set dressers and caterers,” she says. “I want the people I work with everyday to represent the colorful world we live in.”

— Danielle Turchiano


Sandra Oh

Actor, Producer

Power Player

Oh has been making headlines for a while now, from her history-making Emmy nomination in 2018 as the first performer of Asian descent to be nominated in the lead drama actress category (for her titular role in BBC America’s “Killing Eve”), to her buzzy co-hosting gig at last year’s Golden Globes, to her second consecutive Emmy nom. She was also the first performer of Asian descent to pick up the dramatic actress statue and to step on stage to host at the Globes. But what is less talked about is how she was also elevated behind the camera to co-executive producer of “Killing Eve.”

“These experiences are extremely high, so you actually have to work to get grounded,” Oh admits. While she acknowledges that it can be scary to “do something that you don’t know how to do, when the opportunity comes up, how can you say no?” Aiding her leaning into the theme of power that is in play in “Killing Eve,” and the power Oh has come into as both a performer and a producer, she says has been “a considerable meditation practice and a creative practice. I spend a lot of my time in that world.”

— Danielle Turchiano


Charlize Theron

Actor, Producer

The Chameleon

In a single year, Theron showed her range as an actor by playing both the president of the United States in “Long Shot” and Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell.” On top of that, her production company, Denver and Delilah, was behind both films.

Of producing, Theron says she particularly enjoys working with writers. “To be able to sit with a great writer and talk out a thought and have them put into words; it’s like a magic trick I can’t figure out.”

While “Long Shot” was a raucous comedy that teamed her with Seth Rogen for big laughs, it also showed the isolation and vulnerability of a female political candidate. She then transformed into the divisive Kelly for “Bombshell,” looking and sounding so much like the Fox News host that she was virtually unrecognizable. The “Bombshell” cast offers many great roles for women, including Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman. Theron spoke about the wonderful atmosphere on the female-heavy set. “I’ve never worked with this many women before,” she notes. “Which is quite alarming. I know these stories are out there, we’re just not telling them. And that’s our fault. We have to change it because it is an amazing set to be on, for sure.”

— Jenelle Riley


Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Actor, Producer, Writer

Convention-Pushing Creative

“Back in the day, horny women were to be feared — and now they’re given Emmys,” Waller-Bridge quipped when she took the “Saturday Night Live” stage to deliver her host monologue just weeks after picking up the comedy writing, acting and series Emmys for Amazon Prime Video’s “Fleabag.”

The triple-threat, who also created BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” has been on an unprecedented roll, not only by bringing a complex feminist characters such as the titular Fleabag and Eve to the forefront of storytelling, but also for securing an eight-figure overall deal at Amazon Studios to create and produce more content. “She is the most truly collaborative person I’ve ever met,” says Sian Clifford, who starred alongside Waller-Bridge in “Fleabag.” “She is meticulous with her work, but at the same time isn’t at all precious about it.”

Waller-Bridge is already enmeshed in her next project, “Run” for HBO. It stars Merritt Wever as a woman who steps out of her comfort zone to take a journey with a long-lost love. “She’s challenging convention during an era of extraordinary television. It’s incredibly inspiring,” Clifford says.

— Danielle Turchiano


Reese Witherspoon

Actor, Producer

Top of the ‘Morning’

Witherspoon rose to success in front of the camera in the 1990s with films ranging from “Pleasantville” to “Cruel Intentions” to “Election,” and stepped behind the camera with her first production company in the early aughts. But the past few years have seen the spotlight grow around her exponentially with her small-screen work on series such as HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Apple TV Plus’ flagship drama “The Morning Show.” With both, she performs and executive produces through her Hello Sunshine banner, as she will for Hulu’s upcoming, highly anticipated “Little Fires Everywhere” adaptation.

“I think the emergence of the streaming world has really opened up entertainment for different kinds of storytelling, new perspectives, new voices, which — it’s time,” Witherspoon said at a Variety sponsored event for “The Morning Show” earlier this fall. “We’ve been having the same few people make movies for the past 40 years, and with the same actors, and it’s just time for new faces and new voices.” Witherspoon endeavors to see this shift not only by lifting women to parity on the sets of the shows she produces, but also with the types of stories she champions being told.

— Danielle Turchiano


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