5 Female Film Composers You Need to Know

The month of March is known for being Women’s History Month. However, this year, it also happens to be the height of the film industry award show season. With the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards just recently airing and the Academy Awards coming up, It’s time to pull back the curtain on an extremely underrepresented group: female film composers.

  1. 1. Angela Morley

    The first woman you definitely need to know is Angela Morley. Morley made history by being the first female film composer to be nominated for film scoring at the Oscars. Not only that, but she was also the very first transgender person to even be nominated at the Oscars in general. However, her achievements don’t stop there as she left her mark on the film composing industry for the many years she was active. What many probably don’t know is that she had a crucial role in one of the most iconic film scores of all time: Star Wars. Not only has she been a huge influence on John Williams when he composed the score for Star Wars, but she also had a hand in other scores for movies such as E.T., The Karate Kid, and even Schindler’s List. Who would have thought the great John Williams’ wasn’t alone?

  2. 2. Rachel Portman

    You can’t talk about females in the film composing industry without mentioning the first ever solo female winner for scoring a movie at the Oscars in 1996 for Emma. Throughout her career Portman has scored over 100 movies and television shows spanning multiple genres and even racked up two more nominations at the Oscars. Portman faced her fair share of critics at the beginning of her career with people skeptical that a woman could compose something masculine. However, she saw it as a challenge and proved those skeptics wrong. At the time of her win, there were hardly any female film composers. Once she won, it opened the door for so many more women to break into the industry. Her win also proved to people that were reluctant to hire her that a woman could score films too.

  3. 3. Kathryn Bostic

    Kathryn Bostic may be a name that not a lot of people know, but she is someone that people should keep their eye out for. Bostic has worked on films, TV shows, theater, and symphonic music. Not only is she the recipient of a wide range of awards including the award for Best Music in Film at the African American Film Critics Awards, she is also the first female African American film composer to become a member of the Academy Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Women have a history of being under represented in this industry but also have Black film composers. Bostic’s success is helping open doors for women and black film composers to get more work in the industry.

  4. 4. Pinar Toprak

    Pinar Toprak is another name that may sound unfamiliar to most people, but fans of Marvel movies will recognize her as the composer for Captain Marvel. In fact, Toprak’s work on this film made it the first time any female composer scored a major superhero movie. Additionally, it also made her the first woman to score for a movie that made over $1 billion. Toprak not only overcame barriers as a female composer, but more specifically as a Turkish woman. She was told by multiple people that pursuing a career as a film composer would not work out but she defied the odds as she went on to become one of the very women composing major large-scale productions to this day. Toprak also went on to win multiple awards including two IFMCA awards for Best Original Score for a Documentary Film and one for Best Original Score for a Comedy Film. 

  5. 5. Hildur Guðnadóttir

    The most recent winner of Best Original Score at the Oscars is Hildur Guðnadóttir. No woman was ever the sole recipient of the award since Anne Dudley’s win in 1997, but Guðnadóttir defied the odds beating out seasoned composers to bring home the win for Joker. What makes this feature even more historic is that she is the only woman to win the award on her own after the category was merged back into one since 2000 (Portman and Dudley won under the Original Musical or Comedy Score category). Before her historic Oscar win, Guðnadóttir also garnered another historic win at the Golden Globes the same year for being the first solo female winner for Best Original Score and only the second female winner in total. She continues to break down barriers not only in the film composing industry, but also in the television composing industry with her work for television shows, most notably Chernobyl.

While the film composing industry has a history of being dominated by men, women continue to push the boundaries and make themselves known. The number of female composers for film pretty much doubled from 2017 to 2018 and it’s only continuing to grow as the years go by. Now granted COVID-19 limited the number of films that were actually made and released in 2020, it still didn’t stop female film composers be active such as Isobel Waller-Bridge for her work in the movie Emma (2020 version). It may feel at times that women have taken a step back due to the lack of female composers nominated and in contention to be nominated this year. However, women were still making their presence known, even during these unprecedented times. In fact, Hildur Guðnadóttir is nominated again for Joker at the 63rd Grammy awards for the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.