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The most influential women in genre of 2019

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Dec 23, 2019, 1:03 PM EST

Now that 2019 is coming to a close, SYFYWIRE FANGRRLS is taking a long walk down memory lane and pulling some of our favorite moments of the year. This year was a banner one for women in and around the genre space. We had more women leading movies and TV shows than ever before, and women making strides in books, science, and everywhere we seemed to look. Here are some of our most influential women of 2019.

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Regina King

Regina King

Squeaking in with a late arrival, Regina King has given a stunning performance as Sister Night aka Angela Abar on HBO’s Watchmen. There is a dearth of Black superheroes, female superheroes, and Black female superheroes on TV and film, and King brings to life the conflicted powerhouse that is Abar, while balancing an often-bleak vision of racism and progress in America. While a great deal of credit for the character is clearly due to the creators and writers of the series, it is King’s careful acting that really brings the character home. Abar experiences loss, betrayal, discrimination, and what can only be described as a memory-fueled acid trip and it is King’s performance that keeps viewers hanging on every word. And, as the series grapples with intergenerational trauma and violence against Black people, it is imperative to have the award-winning King as the face of the new series. “It was really important to me to be able to capture the legacy of family — [of] Black families, in America — and still be able to [bring sci-fi and comedy and love into the series]. I think we’ve done it. I hope we have,” King told IndieWire in an interview. - SE Fleenor

Melissa Benoise SDCC 2019

Melissa Benoist

Supergirl's Kara Zor-El is one of the strongest people on Earth and this year, the woman behind the cape proved beyond any doubt that she too deserves that title. Melissa Benoist has always been a kind and caring person who stands up for what she believes in, but in late November of 2019, she stood up for herself and for millions of women worldwide when she revealed in a tearful, 15-minute Instagram video that she has been the victim of domestic violence/intimate partner violence. Over the course of the video, Melissa detailed not only the abuse she suffered in that relationship but the thinking that caused her and so many like her to stay in dangerous situations, and she discussed the difficult steps she had to take to finally leave that relationship behind. Domestic violence affects one in four women in the United States and it can be one of the most difficult things to discuss publicly. The fear of shame, of blame, of being told you are wrong or lying or blowing things out of proportion, of being ridiculed, can be so strong that you suffer in silence. By choosing to speak on her own experience in such a public way at such a high point of her career, Melissa did just what Supergirl would have. She gave a face to a struggle, a person behind which to rally, and hope to millions. - Tricia Ennis

Noelle Stevenson ECCC

Noelle Stevenson

2019 has been a banner year for Noelle Stevenson, who is responsible for bringing She-Ra and the Princesses of Power to life. With her creative team, Stevenson has released three seasons and 26 episodes of She-Ra on Netflix this year, proving that meeting viewer demand for new content is no easy feat in the age of binge-watching. The reboot takes a lot of the queer subtext from the original and brings it into full on text, showing viewers of all ages that people can be queer and happy and that women can be powerful, thoughtful, and conflicted. From Adora’s queer hair to Bow’s bisexual+ belly to the queer people shown to be in relationships onscreen, Stevenson has created a cartoon so wholly and totally queer that even the pastel-rainbow-glitter-power that is the opening credits will bring a tear to your eye. Add to that the fact that She-Ra Season 4 brought to life nonbinary character Double Trouble voiced by nonbinary actor and activist Jacob Tobia, and it’s not too hard to see why Stevenson made this list. - SE Fleenor

Victoria Alonso hero

Victoria Alonso

Victoria Alonso has been a part of Marvel Studios since the very beginning (literally she started her work on 2008's Iron Man). Alonso has been behind the scenes for years, working to build a more representative workspace. But it was in 2019 that her wish of a female-fronted Marvel movie finally happened.

On the red carpet, at Captain Marvel's premiere, she said, “There’s not one thing about Captain Marvel that didn’t appeal to me. I’ve been wanting to make this movie for a long time. To have done this movie and Black Panther, our two pillars, for my daughter as a legacy — this is a movie that for me, I’m on my 23rd Marvel movie, is a dream come true. This is a dream come true. As a mom, as a woman, as a fighter, it is a dream come true.”

Captain Marvel went on to have one of the highest openings of all time, not just as a female-fronted film, but of any film, period. - Preeti Chhibber

Katie Bouman

Katie Bouman

We tend to think of influence over genre as an in-industry thing. The creatives who bring characters to life, the behind the scenes powers-that-be who pull the strings to get it to the page or screen, these are all of our go-tos for lists like these. But especially in the case of science fiction, so many of the stories we tell and are told are driven by the very universal feeling of looking out and wondering what's there. And the paradox of our universe is that every answered question only results in many more beyond that. Katie Bouman’s influence over the very fact-driven STEM community is undeniable. For the first time in human history we have a legitimate image of a black hole, all of which is possible because of algorithms that Bouman and her team spearheaded. Beyond that, there will be generations of young women who will come after her who will have never lived in a world where her algorithm, her images of one of the most mysterious elements of our physical universe, didn’t exist. Women for whom images of this celestial body will never be theoretical but instead established science fact. A fact that that will lead to both more science and more stories.

But in an unfortunate parallel to the very real issues that women in genre face, Bouman had to deal with a horrible wave of misogynistic attacks from outsiders. Folks who knew little of her contributions to the project sought to downplay them. And so, Bouman became a symbol of another sort. She became a rallying cry for all those who might see their work doubted, who might see attempts to take away their accomplishments. But they failed. While she didn’t work alone, her work was undeniable. She may be a symbol of the way trolls can target women in any field, she also proved that they can be defeated and that the work is what stands. - Riley Silverman

Lashana Lynch

Lashana Lynch

Lashana Lynch started 2019 playing Maria Rambeau, former Air Force pilot and Carol Danvers' (Brie Larson) best friend, in one of the biggest movies of the year. Captain Marvel provided a huge stage for a breakout role and even though she didn't have as much screentime as I'd hoped, the warmth and empathy she exuded was vital in grounding the action and giving the movie heart.

Bigger things are coming as rumors suggest Lynch scored the retired 007 code name in the new James Bond installment, No Time to Die. When this development leaked in the summer, it caused some to pathetically meltdown, which Lynch recently discussed in her Hollywood Reporter cover story, "It doesn't dishearten me. It makes me feel quite sad for some people because their opinions, they're not even from a mean place — they're actually from a sad place." Her comments about the creative process on set are encouraging about what we can expect: "Everyone was really responsive to having her be what I wanted. You're given a fresh perspective on a brand-new Black woman in the Bond world." The recently released first trailer adds weight to these comments, revealing Lynch as Nomi, not bowing to the whims of James Bond (Daniel Craig) easily. Kick-starting the new decade with a new character with this much attitude is the kind of shaken (not stirred) development we like to see. - Emma Fraser

Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Whether we liked it or not, Joker was here to stay in 2019, becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time and taking in over a billion dollars despite a lack of release in China and all the controversy that followed it. The discourse surrounding the film will probably continue well into awards season, but the woman who helped propel it to success has been unfairly overlooked as debates swirl over the supposed incel-y nature of Joker. Emma Tillinger Koskoff is one of Martin Scorsese's long-time producers and one of the few truly big-name female producers working on her level in the industry. When she signed on to produce Joker, it gave the sign that this was a movie taking a decidedly different direction from the typical comic book movie.

She savvily guided the film through Warner Bros., as various studio executives were scared off the movie and its potential to flop hard, she helped to lock down the budget and star, and she knew how to effectively work on the kind of movie we really don't see much of these days. Frankly, without her, Todd Phillips would have crashed and burned, as she helped with everything from location scouting to defending him when the studio got cold feet. Whatever you think about Joker as a whole, given how its success is being discussed as a dude-fest, it's only fair that we let Koskoff shine. There's a strong chance she could be the only producer this Oscar season with three Best Picture nominations in one year. - Emma Fraser

kim-and-lippoldt star trek

Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt

Star Trek: Discovery has been a force of nature over the last couple of years, delivering a stellar first and second season and an eagerly anticipated third in mid-2020. Earlier this year, CBS announced that Michelle Yeoh would star in a Section 31 spin-off series, and the showrunners would be Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, two incredibly talented Discovery writers.

Not only are we all looking forward to seeing what Kim and Lippoldt do with this new series, but two Asian women running a show with an Asian woman as the star is a future I think we can all get on board with. - Swapna Krishna

Brie Larson

Brie Larson

This year Brie Larson brought Carol Danvers to the big screen in all her defiant glory. She was not only the star of the first MCU film focused on a female superhero, Captain Marvel, but also Larson used her power and privilege to diversify the journalists interviewing her. She told Marie Claire: “I started paying attention to what my press days looked like and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male,” Larson said. “Across the board [women of color] weren’t getting the same opportunities as others” and Larson decided to do something about it, starting with requesting to work with Keah Brown, a disabled Black reporter for her interview with Marie Claire. - SE Fleenor

Rebecca Roanhorse, author

Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse has always been one hell of a writer. But this year, she took the reigns to one of our favorite characters in all of Star Wars: Poe Dameron. In 2019, her novel, Resistance Reborn (release almost six weeks before The Rise of Skywalker entered into theaters), Roanhorse was responsible for the first glimpse that we got of Poe and the crew post-The Last Jedi and that is huge. She got to shape our understanding of these characters and their headspace before JJ Abrams did! 

The book was wildly popular, and thus Roanhorse entered Star Wars canon, and we are all better off for it. - Preeti Chhibber

Russian Doll screengrab

Natasha Lyonne

Genre covers a gauntlet of themes, which is why so many are drawn to this form of storytelling. One of the most affecting TV shows of 2019 is Russian Doll, which took a time-loop narrative and explored religion, trauma, grief, and mental health using this recognizable device. Natasha Lyonne drew on her own near-death experience when creating Russian Doll (alongside Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler) and the personal aspect no-doubt adds to the emotional gut-punch. In this era of Peak TV, it is easy to find something new at a click of a button, but I have watched this series (which runs at a tight four hours) multiple times since February. A triple threat, Lyonne writes, acts, and directs on the Netflix Emmy-winning series — an inspiration in getting a personal passion project made and making sure the vision is never compromised. Every director of this series is a woman, as is the writing team, and even though the Lyonne-directed season finale is perfect, I have faith in how the creative team will expand this existentialist adventure. - Emma Fraser

Victoria Mahoney SW TROS Premiere

Victoria Mahoney

Star Wars has been a staple of pop culture for more than 40 years. Still, it's only with The Rise of Skywalker that we finally see the first woman of color step into a directorial role. Victoria Mahoney took charge of the second unit on the film at the request of J.J. Abrams and on the recommendation of her friend Ava Duvernay. While Victoria is an incredible director, having worked on projects with powerhouses like Duvernay and Patty Jenkins, she's also just as big of a fan as everyone in the audience. Her passion for the story and the characters is evident in every interview she's given. Not to mention, it was a dream come true for the director who spent childhood aching to fly off into the sky aboard the Millenium Falcon.

As Duvernay tweeted, "a black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away" is something we've been waiting for. - Sarah Brown

Linda Hamilton Terminator Dark Fate

Linda Hamilton

The sci-fi genre is stronger when women and people of color are able to shine in those stories. Thankfully, 2019 was full of these moments. Linda Hamilton made a triumphant, long overdue return to the Terminator franchise in one of my favorite movies of the year, Terminator: Dark Fate. Hamilton is just as much the Terminator franchise as Arnold Schwarzenegger is — if not more so. A character like Sarah Connor shouldn’t be an afterthought or merely a vessel for the savior of humanity. Without Sarah, there is no John, which makes the twist in Dark Fate resonate so much with me. I couldn’t have wanted a better welcome back for Linda Hamilton. She looked every bit the badass she was in Terminator 2, perhaps even better because she returns so seasoned. Seeing an older woman in an action role doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should and Ms. Hamilton ate that performance. I sincerely hope her return to the genre in 2019 means we’ll seen more of her for years to come. - Stephanie Williams

Midsomar Florence Pugh

Florence Pugh

2019 was the year the world noticed Florence Pugh. She started her ascension with the incredible Lady Macbeth and continued the rise by being the only good thing in Outlaw King, but Midsommar truly made people sit up and pay attention. As the grief-stricken Dani, Pugh did absolutely wonderful work showing the arc of a girl who has lost everything to a woman who has found some dark version of peace. She manages to do so much with both small glances and guttural cries that there is no way anyone walked out of that theater without realizing that she’s one to watch.

That inherent star power came through again in the trailer for next year’s Black Widow, a movie that should have come out five years ago. Between Marvel’s lateness and Scarlet Johansson’s determination to burn down all of the goodwill that she’s built up with Natasha, that trailer could have been met with a massive shrug. However, Pugh’s Yelena Belova strides onscreen with confidence and killer instinct, and I am once again excited about this movie in spite of, well, everything. While Pugh has been cagey about whether or not her Yelena will be making an entrance into the greater MCU after the film, something tells me she’ll make a huge impression no matter where the character goes. - Alyssa Fikse


Deborah Chow

It's almost impossible to talk about Star Wars these days without Deborah Chow's name being part of that conversation, and with good reason. The filmmaker left an indelible mark on a galaxy far, far away with her contributions to the Disney+ streaming series The Mandalorian, of which she directed two of the most dynamic, thrilling, and action-packed episodes of its freshman season. Based on that alone, it should be no surprise that she was eventually tapped to be the sole director on the service's upcoming Obi-Wan series.

But Chow's career in directing — and contributing to the world of genre — began long before she took up a position in Star Wars. In television alone, she's directed episodes of shows like American Gods, The Man in the High Castle, Lost in Space, Jessica Jones, and Fear the Walking Dead. It's well past time that Lucasfilm made efforts for more inclusion behind the camera, and with Chow at the helm for Obi-Wan's long-awaited return to the Star Wars universe, we know our favorite bearded Jedi Master is in the most capable and qualified hands. - Carly Lane

Anna Boden

Anna Boden

Anna Boden, as well as her co-director Ryan Fleck, may not have been the most likely choice to helm Marvel's first solo female superhero flick, but the studio's decision to hire largely independent filmmakers (such as Taika Waititi, which led to the wildly successful release of Thor: Ragnarok) paid off. Boden became the first female filmmaker to break a billion dollars at the box office. 

Plus, Fleck and Boden's perspectives offered a fresh, grounded take on fan-favorite Captain Marvel, a character who struggles to find her identity after her ability to remember her past is snatched away — and the cathartic journey that ensues when she ultimately confronts her former teacher, taking down his ability to provoke her with a single, cutting line: "I have nothing to prove to you." - Carly Lane