Finding work – and acceptance – is an ongoing struggle for female film directors, both in Hollywood and elsewhere, but some are doing it. A handful of them came from the acting world, though they haven't yet directed themselves in anything (e.g., Penny Marshall, Angelina Jolie). Here are some who have. In the wake of the boffo box office garnered by Pitch Perfect 2, the directorial debut of its costar Elizabeth Banks, and with Natalie Portman's upcoming A Tale of Love and Darkness marking her own debut as director/star, I give you nine other women who have achieved this rare feat.
- LAKE BELL, In a World... I saw this 2013 indie hit on an airplane, and I'm glad I did. Bell, who also wrote the script, stars as a voiceover artist who dreams of breaking into the male-dominated world of action movie trailer narration. The story is an obvious metaphor for Bell's own filmmaking efforts, but don't let that sway you. The film's good.
- DREW BARRYMORE, Whip It. This 2009 roller derby comedy was really a vehicle for Ellen Page – perhaps (but hopefully not) the biggest payday the Canadian actress will ever see – but Barrymore provides solid backup as her teammate. Most people dismissed Whip It as froth, but I actually found it much funnier than I expected to.
- JODIE FOSTER, Little Man Tate, The Beaver. Foster directed 1991's Tate when she was just 27 years old. As with Bell's film, many found parallels between Foster and the genius little boy who plays her son in the movie. Foster directed Home for the Holidays four years later, but didn't appear in it. She helmed her third feature in 2011, but the odd drama The Beaver opened to a cool reception, thanks to costar Mel Gibson's new status as Most Hated Man in Hollywood. Foster will not be seen on-screen in her next directorial effort Money Monster.
- NIA VARDALOS, I Hate Valentine's Day. This list is starting to not make a case for actresses directing themselves, but stay with me, as it gets better. Certainly, you can't get worse than Vardalos's 2009 bomb, a vain attempt to recapture the magic of her 2002 breakout My Big Fat Greek Wedding (written by and starring Vardalos but directed by Joel Zwick). Wedding was clearly a fluke.
- JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, The Anniversary Party. Leigh codirected this Altmanesque ensemble piece with her costar Alan Cumming, rather unconvincingly playing her husband. Charting the events of an emotional party at their characters' home (shot in Leigh's own house), The Anniversary Party has some nice moments, and, well, I have a review of it somewhere.
- JULIE DELPY, 2 Days in Paris, 2 Days in New York, The Countess, Looking for Jimmy, Skylab. I bet you didn't know that the French actress, most familiar for starring in – and co-writing – Richard Linklater's "Before" (Sunrise/Sunrise/Midnight) films – has directed herself in so many features! And so she has. And it looks like she's going to keep on doing it. They may not all be classics, but I laud her for keeping at it.
- IDA LUPINO, The Bigamist. Lupino holds a special place in Hollywood history for being pretty much the only female to direct any studio pictures in the 1940s and 1950s, even while maintaining a successful acting career. (She was even busier as a television director in the '60s, helming episodes of everything from The Twilight Zone to The Fugitive to Gilligan's Island.) Lupino reportedly had cameos in several of her features as a director, but only starred in one: the very interesting 1953 melodrama The Bigamist, about a man who – yep – marries two women. It's worth seeking out, as is the excellent thriller The Hitch-Hiker (also 1953), for which Lupino remained behind the camera.
- LENI RIEFENSTAHL, The Blue Light, Lowlands. Now here's a filmmaker few women want to claim as their own. Riefenstahl, of course, is notorious for directing the Nazi propaganda documentaries Triumph of the Will and Olympia. But she got her start as an actress, and eventually directed herself in 1932's The Blue Light. (She also wrote, produced, and even edited the film.) A female director was unusual enough at the time, much less one hired by Hitler. In any event, after WWII, Riefenstahl only made one more feature, 1954's Lowlands. Once again, she directed, starred in, wrote, produced, and edited the film – and even served as cinematographer!
- BARBRA STREISAND, Yentl, The Prince of Tides, The Mirror Has Two Faces. Say what you will about her output as a director – she only helmed those three movies, though reportedly has a fourth in the works – it took a lot of effort on Streisand's part, in spite of her fame, to get her films made in an ever-sexist Hollywood. (I'll never forget Billy Crystal's openly cruel mockery of her vanity during the 1997 Oscar ceremony where Two Faces was nominated. It was an ugly moment, one that revealed how many male industry veterans saw Streisand.)