1. Shonda Rhimes
You can’t get much bigger than Shonda Rhimes when it comes to talented women doing amazing things for other talented women in Hollywood. As the creator of hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal, Rhimes has made a wonderful habit of putting women front and center in her work — and in the case of Scandal, she put a woman of color first, something that’s still all too rare on TV.
2. Tina Fey
It’s impossible to talk about women who’ve changed Hollywood without mentioning Tina Fey. The Saturday Night Live alum, who was both a performer and head writer during her tenure on the long-running sketch show, created and starred in the critically acclaimed comedy 30 Rock for seven years. The winner of nine Emmys, Fey also co-created the Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and wrote the script for and co-starred in the popular film Mean Girls.
3. Reese Witherspoon
Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon is best known for her film work, but did you know she also has her own production company? Under her Hello Sunshine banner, Witherspoon produces female-driven projects, including the film Wild and the Emmy-winning HBO series Big Little Lies, in which she also starred.
4. Oprah Winfrey
Do we even need to explain why Oprah is on this list? The actress, philanthropist, producer and talk show host might just be the most influential woman in the world. She not only revolutionized the talk show format, but she also used her own influence to empower different communities through her work in Hollywood and beyond.
5. Ava DuVernay
The director of the upcoming film A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay has been making history as a black woman in Hollywood through her work in film. In 2015, she became the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe for directing Selma, a film that went on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards — the first film directed by a black female director to achieve this. DuVernay, who also created the TV show Queen Sugar, eventually went on to become the first black woman to be nominated by the Academy as a director in a feature category for her documentary 13th. What’s more impressive is, all of this has happened within the last five years, which hopefully means this is just the beginning.
6. Ellen DeGeneres
Actress and comedian Ellen DeGeneres made history in the late ’90s when she came out as a lesbian in real life and on her TV show Ellen, a development that helped to highlight LGBT issues in Hollywood. Since then, she has been a vocal advocate and activist and has become one of America’s most beloved television personalities.
7. Gina Rodriguez
Since rising to fame as the star of The CW’s Jane the Virgin, Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez has used her visibility in Hollywood to become a vocal advocate for representation and equal pay for women, especially women of color. However, she does more than just offer her voice to the fight, she has also started a production company, I Can And I Will Productions, that is dedicated to promoting diverse cultures on screen. She is currently developing projects portraying the Latino experience.
8. Jenji Kohan
Jenji Kohan is probably best known as the creator of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, which has been praised over the years for its depiction of gender, sexuality, and race, especially within the prison setting. The series, which has a large, female-dominated cast, has proven that properties made by women and about women can be profitable in Hollywood, as the series helped to propel Netflix to the top of the original scripted content game and made the streaming service’s binge-watching model a success.
9. Lena Waithe
We’re only just beginning to see what Lena Waithe can do. Last year she made history when she became the first black woman to take home the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on Netflix’s Master of None. She was also named Artist of the Year by Out and was a finalist for The Advocate‘s Person of the Year. In 2018, Waithe’s showtime series The Chi, about a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, was met with critical acclaim and has already been renewed for a second season. At just 33, Waithe is only just getting started.
10. Rachel Bloom
The co-creator (and star) of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend alongside Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom is another person who burst onto the scene in the last few years and has managed to take Hollywood by storm. Her CW series, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy, has shone a light on mental illness and given voice to underrepresented communities, including the bisexual community.
11. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox became a household name and the poster woman for trans representation during the first season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. After that, she went on to become an advocate for her community and has added several broadcast credits to her resume, including CBS’ Doubt and Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show, thereby proving that trans representation isn’t a niche market, but an increasing and valuable part of mainstream media.
12. Kathleen Kennedy
Kathleen Kennedy is one of the most prolific film producers working today. In the 1980s, she co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Steven Spielberg. Today, she sits on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and acts as the president of Lucasfilm — yes, the same Lucasfilm that brings you all your Star Wars films– since it was acquired by the Walt Disney Company.
13. Mindy Kaling
When she joined NBC’s hit comedy The Office at the age of 24, Mindy Kaling was the lone female in the writers’ room. She would go on to not only star in the show, but become both a director and an executive producer by the time the series ended. She received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2010 before going on to create, write, produce and star in her own series, The Mindy Project, which aired on Fox and Hulu and ran for six seasons.
14. Mimi Leder
If you don’t know Mimi Leder by name, you certainly know her work. After becoming the first female graduate of the AFI Conservatory, she went on to have a prolific career as a director in film and TV. She is one of a few female directors to have broken into action movies and was one of the main directors on ER, a role that earned her several Emmy nominations and a one win. Most recently, she directed and executive-produced the acclaimed HBO series The Leftovers.
15. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Although you may not know her name yet, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson is someone you should probably be watching. As the creator of MTV’s unfairly canceled series Sweet/Vicious, Robinson empowered women and gave voice to sexual assault victims well before the Harvey Weinstein allegations propelled the Me Too movement to the forefront of the collective consciounce. Next she’ll direct the upcoming Netflix romantic comedy Somebody Great, which she also wrote and will star Gina Rodriguez.