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2018's most influential women in genre

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Dec 31, 2018, 1:01 PM EST

This was a hard year. For many of us, 2018 was surreal, and for many more, it was deeply painful. But in the face of adversity, as always, it is the women who made us feel we can survive, thrive, and make a difference.

In 2018, women like Christine Blasey Ford stood firm against a wave of screams attempting to silence, dismiss, and discredit her. But firm she stood. For better or worse, and still experiencing attacks and threats, she and so many other women reminded us that we are strong. Often because the world has given us no choice. But it's what these women do with that strength that is empowering, inspiring, and life-changing for those of us their lives touch.

The genre world is no different. This year, we were still told, constantly and from people who should know better, that there is simply not room at the table for us, or, possibly worse, gaslit into believing there aren't enough of us capable or even willing to do the work men are handed with far less experience.

These women inspired us to say "f*ck that" and be everything the world says we can't be. And we are eternally grateful.

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Eve L. Ewing

Before being hired to work through Marvel Comics, Eve L. Ewing was already well into a career as a writer, having put together a well-received fiction anthology and an award-winning book of poems, not to mention wielding her Twitter account as a tool for positive change. When given the chance to write Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, Ewing was overjoyed, as were fans of the character. While some critics chose to spend their limited time on this earth criticizing Marvel for hiring her by tenuously citing her inexperience writing comics in specific, industry pros like Neil Gaiman came to her defense and called the claims out for the clear bias they showed. Besides that, the wide-reaching appeal of Ewing's writing led not only to a great deal of excitement within comics but outside of it, too, as people who had found her work through other means jumped in to read her take on Ironheart, bringing new fans to the genre in a way few stories have. Where she goes from here is anyone’s guess, but as the folks at Chicago Magazine wrote in 2017, "Ignore Eve Ewing at your own intellectual, political, and cultural peril." We couldn’t agree more, and the world of comics is all the better for her work within it. - Sara Century


Jody Houser

Hardly a slacker prior to 2018, Jody Houser has had quite a busy year. The comic book author has worked her way through a collection of iconic franchises that would make any geek swoon: Star Wars, Spider-Man, X-Files, Orphan Black, Supergirl, even James Bond to name a few. This year the quills in her cap included the official companion comic to Stranger Things, the Spider-Geddon tie-in series Spider-Girls, and most excitedly for us here, she’s writing the official Thirteenth Doctor series for Titan's Doctor Who comics, a book that involves an all-female creative team including Rachael Stott and Enrica Angiolini. Houser has an impressive skill for taking licensed content that feels genuine to their established voices while still providing stories that are fun, engaging, and original. Houser’s fans have a lot to look forward to in 2019, with the continuation of many of her popular books and the addition of a cosmic new one: Captain Marvel. - Riley Silverman


N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin became the first author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row in 2018. She had already made history as the first African-American to win a Hugo for Best Novel. All three awards have been for her Broken Earth trilogy, which explores race, gender, and sexuality in a stratified society suffering from the impacts of human-made climate-based catastrophes. Not only has she published impactful novels filled with diverse characters, but she has also used her notoriety to improve the field for other diverse authors. In her third acceptance speech, after a very turbulent lead up to WorldCon, Jemisin addressed why she wrote her books, what it’s like to be a black author, and just how few f*cks she has left to give for racist critiques of her work and her success. Just as importantly, she addressed the audience and her critics without trying to be nice or agreeable or any of the other things expected of female authors. In her words, “This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers—every single mediocre insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s ‘identity politics’ — I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger in their direction.” Hopefully, there’s a lot more to come from Jemisin and, luckily, the Broken Earth trilogy is being adapted for TV, so there’s a good chance that we’ll get to relive the amazing story that follows Essun and her fight for freedom. - S.E. Fleenor

Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker

Jodie Whittaker

Hey, it’s only taken over five decades to get a female Doctor in the series Doctor Who. No biggie. Except that it’s a very big biggie! Jodie Whitaker weathered the storm of ass-faced fanboys saying that women don’t time travel and that it wouldn’t be realistic. Yes, because actual time travel and aliens with two hearts are so very true to life. She blew us away this season with her wit and charm and provided little girls (and not-so-little girls) with a brand new hero to look up to. Also, the show didn’t implode. Imagine that! Oh, and then there is the fact that the BBC reported that Jodie’s Doctor got the highest average viewership since 2010. She had the perfect answer when we asked her about what this all meant to her at SDCC this year. She said “For little kids, I’m really excited, for girls and boys, your role models don’t always follow the same gender… we’re pretty similar. We come in all shapes and sizes, and genders.” Yes, Jodie! Yes! - Jenna Busch


Laila Shabir

Laila Shabir and her husband Ish Syed started Girls Make Games in 2014. What began as a single summer camp in Silicon Valley has amassed into a series of camps, workshops and game jams in 51 cities across the globe, all with the aim of inspiring the next generation of designers, creators, and engineers. This year, the Girls Make Games story touched lives beyond its 5,500 student and camp alums. After winning the grand prize at GMG’s 5th Annual Demo Day, the four sixth graders of Team Sarcastic Shark Clouds earned the chance to have their prototype, Shredded Secrets, turned into a real, playable game. They smashed their Kickstarter goal and will now see it come to pass. Thanks to Girls Make Games and her passion for and commitment to girls and STEM, Shabir became our hero this year. And we can't wait to play Shredded Secrets. - Courtney Enlow


Margot Robbie

One way to get content we want to see out there is to do it ourselves. Margot Robbie is doing that. Aside from her powerful roles in The Wolf of Wall Street and I, Tonya, she started her own production company, LuckyChap Entertainment. Last year she got a first look deal with Warner Bros. and she’s producing and starring in the upcoming film Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which promises to redeem the character she played in Suicide Squad. (It wasn’t her fault. She was great. It was the rest of it that sucked.) The company is also set to adapt Tess Sharpe’s Barbed Wire Heart. There are lots of actors turned producers out there, right? So why is she special? She’s keeping her name out there. She’s not just getting roles and acting. She’s actively making content she wants to see and joining the swelling ranks of female filmmakers. If she gives us the Harley we really want to see, she’s going to make this list next year as well. - Jenna Busch


Janelle Monáe

I didn't realize how much of a root Janelle Monáe has been for me, a weirdo queerdo from the Atlanta suburbs, until both she and Dirty Computer came out this year. Despite being Bad™ at music, I've been listening to Monáe ever since 2007’s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase). Seeing her star rise over the last 11 years due to her diligent work has left me both proud as an early adopter and awed as a fan. Her futuristic funk, equal parts intriguing AF narrative and sheer musical craftsmanship, has always been amazing, but Monáe is now firmly established as a force of nature in music, movies, television, and fashion. 2018 marks a year where the multitalented Monáe cannot be ignored by the mainstream media, producing the kind of content she—and we!—want to see in the world. Let's put it this way: in 2018, Our Electric Lady gave us a sci-fi emotion picture complement to her critically acclaimed album that was unapologetically queer, poly, and black. Please give her all the money to do whatever she wants with, The Powers That Be; it can only result in the kind of expansive, inclusive greatness that we can dance to. - Clare McBride


Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay is not a surprising entry on this list, let’s be honest. After making a big entry into the public sphere with her Oscar-nominated feature Selma, Ava has kept that train rolling into an impressive, and sometimes intimidating, career. Earlier this year, she entered into the hallowed ranks of women who have been allowed by a major Hollywood studio to helm a major blockbuster when she brought A Wrinkle In Time to the big screen (and the first woman of color). Shortly after that success, Ava was approached by DC Entertainment to join their growing ranks of female directors and will now get the opportunity to direct a major franchise installment when she takes on New Gods, an opportunity that also places her into the creative driver’s seat of her self-proclaimed favorite superhero, Big Barda. But Ava’s influence spans far beyond her own career. In addition to her personal success, she has also made it a point to lift up other women and offer them opportunities she likely never got along the way. As the creator and executive producer of the drama series Queen Sugar, Ava has committed herself to hiring a team of female directors, an initiative that has already led to several alums receiving other opportunities, including Victoria Mahoney, who was hired this year as the second unit director on a little film called Star Wars: Episode IX. - Tricia Ennis


Natalie Portman

At Variety’s annual “ Power of Women ” event in October — a little over a year since the New York Times published Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigation into the alleged crimes of Harvey Weinstein — Natalie Portman was honored for her work with Time’s Up. This organization is larger than one person, dealing with a problem that extends far beyond Hollywood. Portman, in her speech, is quick to recognize that other campaigns in domestic, agricultural and restaurant industries have existed long before them. “Natalie Portman’s Step-by-Step Guide on How to Topple the Patriarchy” offers a range of practical suggestions, while also dispelling the motherhood myth, which suggests having a family is why more women aren’t in leadership roles. Intersectionality and representation are emphasized, “Be embarrassed if everyone in your workplace looks like you.” As is the notion of good gossip; she explains that if a man tells you a woman is “crazy” or “difficult” ask, “What bad thing did you do to her?” If the past year has taught us anything, it is that coded language is there to hide a multitude of sins. I have always admired Natalie Portman and enjoyed her performances — including this year’s amazing Annihilation — here she uses her voice and position of power to not only succinctly capture the rage caused by these endless revelations but also points to how we can work together to make big changes to benefit all. - Emma Fraser

Annihilation, Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson

Oh, Tessa Thompson. What a sexy, magical human being. Remarkably, the incredible actor appeared in numerous genre titles this year including Sorry to Bother You, Annihilation, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, and HBO’s Westworld. And, that’s not counting all the other film, TV, and music video work she’s done this year. This woman is everywhere and has chosen roles where she portrays complex, unapologetic women. Her influence has gone well beyond her performances onscreen. Thompson has been outspoken about the Time’s Up movement and, in an interview with Porter magazine, came out as having relationships with men and women. Every fangirl on Earth squealed with delight when the actor discussed her relationship with Monae, saying, “We vibrate on the same frequency.” We loved her in 2017, we loved her in 2018, and, from the looks of the MIB International trailer, we'll love her in 2019 too. - S.E. Fleenor


Christina Hodson

Writer Christina Hodson has had a pretty great year. She wrote the script for the Transformers movie Bumblebee, which is holding strong at 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. Her simple story and female lead character are getting rave reviews. Hodson is also the writer of the upcoming film Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Transformation of One Harley Quinn). If the Batgirl film ever happens, Hodson is on board for that as well, and she’s working on a female-female-centered action film for Nina Jacobson. She’s had three films on the Black List, Hollywood’s list of the best unproduced screenplays. She’s a major player in Hollywood right now, and let’s hope that’s the beginning of a trend of having women write genre films. - Jenna Busch

Captain Marvel Brie Larson

Brie Larson

Film criticism has been a notoriously homogenous sphere, especially when it comes to those individuals who are most often given the opportunity to write reviews for major publications and outlets. However, this sameness amidst film critics is starting to be called out more and more — and one actress in particular hasn't shied away from using her platform to help showcase those underrepresented voices in an industry that could vastly benefit from their inclusion. Back in June, Brie Larson publicly called for more diversity in film criticism, encouraging publicists to revisit their press line and junket strategies to incorporate more women and people of color. On social media, Larson also frequently spotlights perspectives by marginalized communities in an attempt to raise awareness about issues they face. Not only is she poised to become one of the most kickass ladies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when Carol Danvers makes her debut in 2019, but she's also a terrific real-life example of what an intersectional ally looks like. Nothing but respect for our Captain Marvel. - Carly Lane