When Frances McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress last weekend, she gave a stirring speech about the future of the industry and the importance of inclusion riders in film. It was an empowering moment and a well-deserved win, but today, on International Women’s Day, we’re choosing to celebrate her fellow nominees in the Actress in a Leading Role category, and others. They might not have taken home the statue this time round, but the presence of these women will undoubtedly lift the film industry for years to come.

Saoirse Ronan

At just 23 years old, Saoirse Ronan has already been nominated for three Oscars – for her work on Atonement, Brooklyn and most recently Lady Bird. Ronan has a singular ability to capture the innocence of growing up, while always proving a powerful maturity that is difficult to resist. While an Oscar win for Lady Bird could have been a milestone moment in awards history by giving such an accolade to a new voice in coming-of-age films, the fact that Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut went home empty-handed almost spoke even louder. A film adored by so many, Lady Bird, and Saoirse Ronan, will go on and represent the voice that young women have been craving to hear and will fight for, until it finally wins what it deserves. Until that day, both are cherished more than any tiny gold statue ever could be, and Ronan will continue to lead the way.

Keala Settle

The Greatest Showman proved the outstanding and overwhelming disparity between critics and audiences yet again. An original musical, loosely based on the origins of the circus and the life of P.T. Barnum, the film is a knowingly cheesy but endlessly catchy feelgood experience. With a soundtrack that you’ll be listening to for weeks, it’s orchestrated by the masterminds behind the lyrics of La La Land. When ‘This Is Me’ didn’t win Best Original Song there seemed to be a brief moment of complete stupor at the Oscars. An anthem for everyone who’s ever felt even slightly on the outside, it’s empowering in an effortless and universal way. But the standing ovations don’t lie – “This Is Me”, and the women performing the song are here to stay. Keala Settle has an infectious, powerful voice that ripples with energy and can only be attributed to that of a star. From her work in this musical out into the future – there’s no doubt that she’ll be paving the way for the soundtrack of the rest of our lives.

Margot Robbie

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo Di Caprio stole the show as money mogul and crook Jordan Belfort. But right beside him was a fiery woman, his second wife Naomi Lapaglia, played by Margot Robbie. Since then, Robbie has starred in The Big Short, Focus with Will Smith and Suicide Squad among other hits. But with this year’s Oscars favourite, I, Tonya, the actress has been making a lot of noise. As disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, Robbie is a force of nature in a conflicted and fascinating role. She also produced the film, so we can thank her for Allison Janney’s well-deserved Oscar for Actress in A Supporting Role, as well as the subsequent conversation bubbling around the trust we give to women, and the importance and difficulties of domestic abuse at all levels. Robbie’s first major credit as a producer is incredibly promising for her future, steering Hollywood in the right direction to tell stories that involve, celebrate and challenge women. It’s not just about writing Strong Female Characters, it’s about trusting more women like Margot Robbie to bring them, and every other nuanced, messed up and wildly complicated female character, to life.

Dee Rees

History was made at the Oscars this year with Dee Rees’ Mudbound for several reasons. The period drama (now available on Netflix) is a brutal, honest story of race relations that remain relevant today. As director and co-writer, Rees became the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar in any writing category, and the first black woman to direct a film in which an actor was nominated for an Academy Award (Mary J. Blige can now boast a Supporting Actress nomination). Past statistical milestones, Rees remains inspirational through her outspoken pride of her identity beyond traditional Hollywood norms. A trailblazer to inspire a more inclusive industry is one thing – but with a film as artistically accomplished, this is worth so much more than just a box-ticking award.

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