In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the women who have shaped and continue to mold L.A. into the vibrant, creative, supportive, diverse, and politically badass city that it truly is. From a big-time film producer and avant-garde artists to Planned Parenthood protectors and an actress-turned-activist—they’re all making history, one groundbreaking move at a time. (And when you’re done with this list, check out similar shout-outs to amazing women in our NYC and Chicago chapters!)
The comedy writer, performer, and producer first got her start on Twitter, where she was discovered by Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur. Now you can find Amram writing for TV royalty The Simpsons and highly acclaimed philosophical comedy series The Good Place, or directing her web series, An Emmy for Megan—which did, in fact, get nominated for two Emmys.
Architecture in Los Angeles is a medium full of iconic structures of all different stripes, and Bestor is one of very few females in history—let alone one still alive—who’s part of the canon today. She has taken on L.A. housing issues by experimenting with dense residences, creating a beautiful urban living community that pays respect to nature and previously existing neighbors alike. Her decades of work play with spatial arrangements and social expectations, offering colorful and aesthetically progressive establishments for both commercial and residential interests.
One of the most notable journalists in Los Angeles—if not the most—Brand hosts an award-winning daily news and culture show called Press Play on local and deeply beloved NPR station KCRW. Her show, broadcast twice a day, examines the media’s influence in our daily lives. She’s also host of the nationally syndicated foreign-affairs show America Abroad, which digs up small stories that have giant implications on the international stage. She doesn’t sugarcoat her inquisitions, understanding that institutions become stronger when they’re held to deep scrutiny.
Erica Chidi Cohen
Author and doula Cohen began her work in the San Francisco prison system, working with pregnant inmates to help them cultivate body literacy and, above all, healthy pregnancies and births. She’s since catapulted her career as CEO and cofounder of Loom, a dynamic reproductive, birthing, and parenting hub with classes, health services, and workshops that aim to empower women through all stages of fertility.
Director, producer, and native Angeleno, Ava DuVernay has carved a deep channel for the black experience in the United States. In 2015 she became the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her film Selma. For that same work, she was also recognized as the first black female director to have a film nominated for an Academy Award. In 2017 her documentary 13th was nominated for the Oscar for best documentary feature. And a year later, she was the first black American woman to direct a live-action film (A Wrinkle in Time), which earned $100 million domestically.
Helmed by tech heiress Ellison, Annapurna Pictures was one of the city’s first big-player production companies to give major funding to insightful, interesting films told from unique points of view. Think: Joy, Phantom Thread, Zero Dark Thirty, Spring Breakers, Her, American Hustle, Foxcatcher, and more. This payoff has changed the landscape of filmmaking, meaning more styles and perspectives are getting represented—and awarded—on the big screen.
Cathy Friedman is the associate director of Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit in Los Angeles that provides psycho-education, therapeutic, and social services and consultations to individuals and communities affected by all forms of domestic violence and sexual assault. She has also authored two major works that are aimed to reform statewide school policies to help prevent the epidemic of intimate partner violence by providing better education to youth before abusive dynamics have a chance to take hold. Teaming up with human services agencies, community networks, and even the powers that be in Hollywood, Friedman oversees the organization’s outreach and funding, establishing collaborations to eliminate all forms of sexual and interpersonal violence.
As a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), James is pushing the contemporary art experience far beyond the usual Koons and Hirst exhibitions, making it more inclusive, radical, and integrative—and centered on the Angeleno experience. With her curatorial background, she is able to foster the careers of local artists and recognize new artistic voices. This year, she adds cocurating the 2021 edition of the New Museum Triennial (along with one of the museum’s in-house curators) to her résumé—a clear sign of her impact on the art scene nationally.
“Multidisciplinary creative luminary” might be the only title that fits this quiet powerhouse—she’s a director, screenwriter, actor, musician, monologuist, and occasional dabbler in experiential art. Her highly experimental shoe-gaze aesthetic is simultaneously both subtle and savage, bizarre and universally touching, evidenced in the films Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future; her novel The First Bad Man; and her collection of stories No One Belongs Here More Than You. July has redefined what artistic success and feminism can mean for avant-gardists who wish to enter the mainstream.
After realizing that access to quality bedding was unnecessarily cost prohibitive and environmentally harmful, entrepreneur Ariel Kaye founded Parachute. By bringing beautiful bedding to the masses without releasing more plastic and chemicals into our planet’s ecosystem, this CEO’s multimillion-dollar idea has made countless bedrooms prettier, cozier, nontoxic, and less wasteful—and also spawned a number of other competing companies—changing the linens retail game entirely.
As founder and chef of minimalist café Sqirl, Jessica Koslow is putting her spin on the farm-to-table trend. Her enterprise started with a simple collection of jams that focused on old-world techniques and new-world flavor combinations, made with ingredients that were often foraged. Now Sqirl has expanded to become an eatery and bakery with a full-on cult following that has spawned a high-end, counter service-only experience across Los Angeles.
Makeup artist and beauty entrepreneur Noto is a fearless, stylish badass who has been covered by every possible beauty, fashion, and culture outlet to showcase either her deft and future-trendy makeup artistry or her cutting-edge, nontoxic, organic, genderless, and multipurpose skincare and beauty line.
Photographer Opie is one of the country’s living treasures, capturing complex emotions and identities across the United States. By investigating social phenomena through portraiture, she gives voice where often there is none. In short, her work is epic.
Her breakthrough hit series, Insecure, has made filmmaker, actor, and writer Issa Rae the unofficial voice of the millennial Angeleno experience. With two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy nom, too, she’s proved that exploring the struggles of young, ambitious life and sexuality through the female gaze—and an unapologetically black one at that—can appeal to a broad audience.
Known as “Mother” in L.A.’s trans community, Samala tirelessly advocates for transgender rights in all corners of Los Angeles, inspiring legions of people. She not only produces two of the biggest transgender beauty pageants in the country—Queen USA and Queen of the Universe—but is also president of the board of directors for the local chapter of Imperial Court, a national historic LGBT organization, and serves on the Transgender Advisory Board of West Hollywood. Above all, she’s best known for her empathy, humor, and generous ear—her days may be full, but she somehow always finds time for anyone who needs it.
LA Municipal Dance Squad
Radical friendship is the core ethos of this informal yet totally dedicated diverse dance troupe of young women. What started as a group that showed up to perform choreographed dances at women’s sporting events—because why should men’s leagues only enjoy this special treat?—has now turned into highly publicized and celebrated hard-core bonding sessions through completely uninhibited dance moves, community workshops, and public women-only dance parties. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts here, though this squad holds two very notable Angelenos: Penelope Gazin, artist and cofounder of Witschy, and squad captain/actress Angela Trimbur, whose own inspirational and public plight with breast cancer (see Time magazine) is helping to raise awareness.
With their shared experience in the arts, brand strategy, and events production, these three women helped created Sexy Beast for Planned Parenthood, a collaborative vision shared by a gaggle of influencers in the arts to help effect positive change and raise funds for women’s reproductive rights. (Don’t miss the gala; it’s a blast!)
Epicurean legend Silverton co-owns beloved dining institutions Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, Newport Beach, and Singapore, as well as Mozza2Go and Chi Spacca. She also founded La Brea Bakery and revolutionized how Angelenos eat and source their food through her simplicity, elegance, and technique.
The eyebrow revolution began in 1997 in Beverly Hills, just as Anastasia Soare realized this specifically undervalued market in beauty. With her training as an aesthetician and construction architect, she developed her brow-shaping theories and techniques based on bone structure, which had celebrities lining up outside her door. Now after launching several cult-favorite brow-sculpting and -painting cosmetic products under Anastasia Beverly Hills, she’s a self-made billionaire and international beauty industry icon.
Groundbreaking filmmaker, screenwriter, author, and producer Soloway (creator of the critically acclaimed TV series Transparent and the wildly underappreciated I Love Dick) is restructuring how Hollywood works, from storytelling to casting to crew assembly, pushing women’s, queer, and trans perspectives and livelihoods to the front of the line.
Having made history as the very first player to score in the Women’s National Basketball Association, Penny Toler is still paving the way for women’s sports as the general manager of the Los Angeles Sparks, a position she’s held for more than two decades.
The Gals of Genever
In a story of 20 years of friendship, entrepreneurialism, and great booze, these three women paved their own successes in finance, philanthropy, and hospitality, then converged their careers into one: co-owners of the beautiful, art deco style lounge Genever. This Filipina-owned establishment focuses on a large variety of gins and cocktails, which are made with house-made shrubs and syrups incorporating ingredients from the Philippines.
As interim CEO, Lisa Watson oversees all efforts within Downtown Women’s Center, the only organization in Los Angeles focused exclusively on serving and empowering women who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness. In addition to providing trauma-informed care, DWC also offers meals, showers, and clothing services on Skid Row; helps find permanent housing; and encourages education and workforce development.
Some actresses are groomed to be glamorous icons who stick to their craft and stay out of the spotlight unless it has something to do with their career, lest they want to damage it. Shailene Woodley couldn’t care less about these rules, and shows up for the hard work when it comes to social activism. It was no publicity stunt when she got arrested for protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, as she turned the action into an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue. She also founded a nonprofit with her mother to foster youth leadership, chooses roles that empower women, and uses every interview as a chance to promote environmentalism and body positivity.
Amanda Yates Garcia
One of this city’s preeminent witches, Amanda Yates Garcia is a writer, artist, tarot reader, and third-generation clairvoyant whose politically oriented public performance rituals have been picked up by major national news outlets. Most notably, she took on Tucker Carlson and somehow stunned him into silence.