At the Crossroads of Media, Culture and Technology

Oscar Worthy: Reel Grrls Building Confidence in Female Film Makers

By Mary Coughlin 

*This post was produced as part of the UW Comm Department’s undergraduate Entrepreneurial Journalism course.

Reels Grrls members arrived at Central Cinemas to watch their dreams play out before their eyes at their viewing party for the Oscars in 2010. As they watched Barbra Streisand take the stage on the screen before them, the girls moved to the edge of their seats. “It’s about time,” said Streisand through the speakers. Their eyes widened. Some in pure shock, some excited, and many just incredibly relieved. In that moment, the impossible became possible. The honor of Best Director was given to Kathryn Bigelow.

Does anything about that name catch your attention? It should.

For 82 years, only men had been given the title of Best Director at the Oscars. The 70s produced a glimpse of hope when a woman was nominated for the first time. Three more have followed since then – over 40 years of a couple nominations, and finally a winner announced. In 2010, that winner was Kathryn Bigelow. It’s been three years and the Oscars are about to reveal the finest moments in film this year with zero women nominated for the honor. It’s clear that Bigelow’s recognition for The Hurt Locker isn’t the only solution to the lack of female directors. A non-profit organization focused on advancing women in film, Reel Grrls gives girls the tools and confidence to be their own Bigelow.

Maile Martinez, Reel Grrls Program Manager. Thanks to: Reel Grrls.

Maile Martinez, Reel Grrls Program Manager. Thanks to: Reel Grrls

“At Reel Grrls, we are about creating a safe space where it’s normal to see women handling the equipment and technology associated with film production, and making leadership decisions,” said Maile Martinez, Reel Grrls Program Manager.

They start with the basics. It’s assumed that the girls don’t have any previous knowledge about film. This means that skills such as turning on a camera and pressing record are included. I mean, you have to start somewhere. Most of all, it’s a space free of judgment.

“Lights, Camera, Reel Grrls!” is a program currently running with 12 youths, 4 volunteer adult mentors and 1 adult on staff assisting. As girls are taught alongside the volunteer adults, they learn it’s okay to mess up as they see their mentors making the mistakes and growing with them.

For editing software, the girls use Final Cut Pro and beginners are given Pro-sumer cameras on which to work. The software is an industry standard, and the cameras are the intersection between professional and consumer – a great place for beginners to learn.

Evangeline Spracklin, a Reel Grrls graduate, was once a beginner in filmmaking. She is now studying DX Arts at the University of Washington and working as a film coordinator for ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington). After joining Reel Grrls, she had the sense that someone believed in her abilities, and after graduating became a mentor to do the same for others.

Girls in action at a Reel Grrls workshop. Thanks to: Evangeline Spracklin

Girls in action at a Reel Grrls workshop. Thanks to: Evangeline Spracklin

“I feel like I owe so much to Reel Grrls,” said Spracklin. “I wanted to be a filmmaker, and I can now say that I am. It’s a big step to be able to declare that, and Reel Grrls helped.”

In just 12 years of being open, Reels Grrls has helped many people feel confident in their pursuit of filmmaking – they directly serve 350 girls in their media lab, and 1,500 boys and girls indirectly through workshops and school visits. Graduates of their programs have gone on to pursue their careers and continue education through schools such as the University of Washington, New York University and the University of Southern California, among others.

To build that foundation of confidence, girls are encouraged to create their own stories, and they have the freedom to pick their subjects. They also have the opportunity to work on video production for partnering organizations and non-profits, a level of trust that results in a great confidence boost.

As girls go through the program, that confidence results in leadership and growth. With only four women in history being nominated for Best Director, it’s a hope that there will also be growth in the list of women nominees at the Oscars.

Many thought Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty would bump up the list of female Best Director nominations to a staggering five in 2013. When nominations for this year were announced, Bigelow was excluded. Despite the film being nominated for Best Picture, Actress, Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Sound Editing, the Academy chose to leave the director out of the running. A film nominated for Best Picture without a nomination for the director has only happened three times in history, until this year.

Bigelow joined the list of the snubbed.

To Martinez, this exclusion comes as no surprise, but it is still a disappointment. At Reel Grrls, they were hoping to have a celebration with an ending similar to 2010.  

Whether or not Bigelow’s name is announced at future Oscars, her stance is clear.

Long before her directing recognition in 2010, Bigelow had confidence in herself and her fellow women. During a 1990 interview regarding her film ‘Blue Steel’, she said, “There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.

Indeed, it is very possible. Check out some of the films produced by girls through Reel Grrls and you’ll be convinced. With over 1,000 participants at Reel Grrls in more than 10 years, and films honored in 90 film festivals globally, women are showing that they are more than capable.

Look out Bigelow. You’ve got some competition on your hands.

To learn more about getting involved with Reel Grrls, email, or visit

Evangeline Spracklin (left) and fellow filmmaker at a Reel Grrls event. Thanks to: Evangeline Spracklin

Evangeline Spracklin (left) and fellow filmmaker at a Reel Grrls event. Thanks to: Evangeline Spracklin





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