It’s International Women’s Day, an occasion that often focuses on human rights and gender issues around the world. But I wanted to take today to remember that pop culture is a global enterprise, and women are doing amazing work as actors, directors, and writers all over the globe. Hollywood is such an international environment that I think we don’t always acknowledge the debts we owe to countries ranging from New Zealand to Malaysia. So today, here are five women in pop culture who make me thankful for the international community of film and television:
1. Jane Campion: This New Zealand-born writer and director is one of the fiercest champions for women’s stories out there, particularly ones that don’t fit neatly into romantic comedy story arcs or bandage dresses. The Piano, her story about a mute artist who is effectively sold off in marriage and shipped to the New Zealand frontier, is probably Campion’s most important work. But her new mini-series, detective story Top of The Lake, which premieres on the Sundance Channel on March 18, is a fascinating, twisty story, featuring Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss as a cop investigating a sex crime in a remote region where a colony of feminists is set to collide with the local culture.
2. Gurinder Chadha: One of the best stories about female athletes in recent years? Check. One of the best Jane Austen modernizations in recent years? Check. With movies like Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice, Chadha, born in Nairobi to Sikh parents who were part of the Indian diaspora, and settled in the UK, has painted vivid portraits of immigrants and explored how culture survives outside its point of origin. And she’s done so while being funny, wildly romantic, and narratively rich.
3. Michelle Yeoh: News that we might finally get a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that focuses on Yeoh’s character Yu Shu Lien is a welcome chance to celebrate this incredible, athletic Malaysian actress yet again. Famous for doing her own stunts, Yeoh also was a bright spot in the Pierce Brosnan years as one of the few characters to actually qualify as a Bond Woman, rather than an arm-candy Bond Girl, and recently turned in a fantastic performance as Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady. Yeoh’s a constant reminder that women deserve better as characters, and as action stars, not least because she raises the ceiling on what everyone in her genre is capable of.
4. Salma Hayek: Born in Mexico and now a naturalized United States citizen, Hayek isn’t just a versatile actress who can segue easily between comedy and drama, and fim and television. She’s a producer who gave us Ugly Betty, one of very few shows about immigrant families, working-class neighborhoods in New York, and what it takes to actually break into the glamorous jobs in fashion and journalism so much other pop culture took for granted. And when she’s not making great pop culture, Hayek’s an advocate against domestic violence—she’s testified in support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—and for immigrants.
5. Emma Thompson: What more needs to be said about the British actress and screenwriter who’s transitioned from romantic comedy heroine (and great Shakespearean actress) to one of the few women who can still act and not be a joke or a sidshow at middle age, who turned in the never-to-be-topped performance as a veiled Hillary Clinton in Primary Colors, who gave us the brilliant adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, who gave Sybill Trelawney dignity in the Harry Potter movies, and who reminds us how much we all love Joni Mitchell?