Two years ago, around the time my daughter turned one, I released a short film made in collaboration with Mimi Anagli: The Power of Visibility. In the 4 minute film, we argued that women working in film (directors, screenwriters, producers and cinematographers) are largely underrepresented and underestimated. Popular media outlets in 2022 still mostly celebrated male filmmakers. Why was this a problem? Women working in film - or aspiring to - have a hard time being taken seriously and getting funding for their projects.

We released the film at the end of January 2022, along with an op-ed in Women & Hollywood: “How the World’s Largest Search Engine Can Help Fix Hollywood’s Representation Problem”.

Mimi and I wrote:

Imagine this: you are a 14-year-old with a passion for movies and photography. Maybe one day you could make a career out of it, becoming a cinematographer. You are curious to see examples of notable people working in the industry. So you go on Google and search for “cinematographer.” At the top of the page you see a carousel of 51 Google cards with photos and names of famous directors of photography. Most of them are white. All of them are male, except for a few cards. As an African American girl, you implicitly get the message that maybe this field is not for you — nobody who looks like you appears in the results. If only you could have seen or read about Kira Kelly — the first Black woman invited to join the ASC in 2020, best known for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th” and HBO’s “Insecure.”

Watch our short film The Power of Visibility (running time: 4 minutes):

Rewind: my incredible visibility in Google search results (2019-2022)

Searching for "film director" and seeing which results pop up in Google Images is something I have been doing routinely for years.

To my shock, my photo appeared as the icon for "film director" on Google Search in 2019 and again in 2022:

A screenshot of a tweet (RIP dear Twitter) from 2019 showing how my photo showed up in the icon for female film director searches
A screenshot from January 2022 showing how my image showed up in the icon for film director searches in Google Images

How could this have happened you may wonder?

I had written a popular blog post on Medium titled "This is what a film director looks like" - and through the magic of SEO and site rankings, an image from that post started popping up in Google search results for "film director."

That said, as we argued in the film, female directors, cinematographers, producers and writers were still largely underrepresented in regular Google search results, especially in Google cards. At best you could find 4-5 out of the 50 top results.

Fast-forward: the (in)visibility of women in film in 2024

I hadn’t been running the Google search in a few months. With International Women’s Day and the Oscars approaching, in late February 2024 I decided to look up results again, using the same methodology I had applied in the past: browser in incognito mode, VPN setting my location to New York City.

The results positively shocked me.

Out of the 42 film directors that appear prominently at the top of the Google page results for “film directors” a grand total of 0 are women. ZERO!

A screenshot of the top results for a "film directors" Google search - conducted on February 26, 2026 with a browser in incognito mode and a VPN pretending I was in New York City

Never mind the incredible recent achievements of women in film:

  • Chloé Zhao won the "Best Director" Academy Award in 2021
  • … followed by Jane Campion in 2022
  • Greta Gerwig was the first female director to surpass 1 billion dollars at the box office with her film Barbie in 2023
  • Kathryn Bigelow - the first woman in history to win an Academy Award for “Best Director” (in 2010) - was also absent
  • Ditto for Ava DuVernay, the first African American woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, and the first to direct a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar

But hey! Google decided to give space and visibility to people like Roman Polanski (who plead guilty to drugging and sexually assaulting a minor and fled the United States to avoid sentencing).

I could not believe my eyes.

I re-watched The Power of Visibility after running the Google search and its ending still gave me goosebumps and made me tear up. Even if I had actually written and edited it! The “Imagine If” segment at the end that shows incredibly talented women in film appearing prominently in Google search results should become a reality.

My daughter is still too young to run a Google search but I would hate it if, 7-8 years from now, she’d get these dismal results that are completely erasing the accomplishments of women in film.

Oops I created a gender gap in GIF search results

I am happy that at least when it comes to the visibility of female directors in GIF search results I have personally helped make them prominent... after creating over 200 animated GIFs of female directors and cinematographers and uploading them to my GIPHY account.

If you look up “film director” on GIPHY, this is what you'll find:

A screenshot of the search results for "film director" on GIPHY - the largest repository of animated GIFs

18 out of the top 20 results are my GIFs (!!!)

Since GIPHY powers GIF searches in many popular apps (Slack, X, iMessage, Signal to name a few) this is having a profound impact, helping make women in film visible.

Google still has a long way to go and there is little I can do to influence the Google card results for professional roles. It’s something done in-house at their headquarters in Mountain View.

So my big ask in order to create change is this:

  • please share this post widely on your social media - let's make some noise
  • if you know anyone working at Google / Alphabet, could you put me in touch with them?

Two years ago I wrote this to accompany the release of my short film:

I became a mother a few months ago; I am now more passionate than ever about the issues of visibility and representation. I want my baby girl to grow up in a world where she will feel her voice matters. And that her credibility and authority are not dimished by her gender. A world with better representation. And if that world doesn’t exist (yet) I wanna work really hard to create it for her.

Let’s empower women in film with more visibility.
Let’s celebrate their work, normalize their success… so that a new generation will be inspired to follow in their footsteps and tell important stories that are missing from our culture.


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