So who, among the roughly 6% of directors who are women (the figure put forth in this widely reported 2014 survey), should work more? Short answer is, obviously, all of them. Because if we’re working to redress the ludicrous gender imbalance that exists in the U.S. film industry (and that is a too-obvious-to-even-comment-on goal, right? Right?) we need to see a dramatic uptick in stats like the percentage of women who direct the top 250 movies in any given year (2013’s depressing figure of 6% is actually down 3% from 2012, which is even more depressing). And let’s just repeat once again that, while “diversity” is a buzzword bandied about liberally these days, we’re not talking about a minority here (which is a whole other, though related, issue) we’re talking about women—50% of the population and, crucially, 50% of cinema audiences. (Also, 100% of the writers of this article, so have at it, crazy anti-feminist internet trolls.)
Of course, there are much-needed initiatives, like Fox’s mentoring program for emerging female directorial talent, that are aimed at recruiting the next generation, in the hopes that the industry’s profile in this arena will improve. But what about the women who are already card-carrying DGA members who can’t seem to catch a break? Why do so many women (and by “many,” we’re talking relatively, obviously) make a splash with a film or two only to virtually disappear from the industry landscape thereafter? Why does the model of the indie hit calling card film that gets you a massive, “Jurassic World”-style franchise, only seem to apply to men? (As Manohla Dargis pointed out last year, “The great irony is that women are accused of making romantic comedies, as if it’s a bad thing, but Marc Webb makes a romantic comedy and he gets ‘Spider-Man.’ Are you kidding me? You cannot win.”) These and other rhetorical questions (ones frequently highlighted on our excellent sister blog “Women in Hollywood” whose interviews we plunder frequently throughout this piece) have led us to today’s feature.
The following list of ten names is of course highly subjective, and was arrived at after not a little internecine wrangling. For example, many of the names that were on top of our mind have been working fairly consistently, but out of our direct line of sight on television. Lisa Cholodenko’s terrific “Olive Kitteridge” miniseries for HBO and Jill Soloway’s “Transparent” for Amazon Prime are just two of the recent premium TV shows that have given talented female filmmakers a welcome presence, but the precedent extends far back to when TV was not the fully rehabilitated equal, or near-equal, of cinema in terms of prestige and/or directorial input. Allison Anders, Nicole Holofcener (both of whom got their TV start on “Sex and the City”), Mary Harron, Darnell Martin and even Martha Coolidge, the first female president of the Directors Guild of America, are all women who made promising early movies but moved towards TV in the late nineties at least as a supplement to at best sporadic big-screen outings.
It’s a path many female directors are taking more recently too, and with the improvement in the quality of TV offerings, it does feel like a more viable choice—there is a difference between getting the odd episode of a “CSI” spin-off to direct and helming the next Steven Soderbergh-produced high-concept TV series, after all. And the latter is happening for Amy Seimetz, for example, whose great feature debut, “Sun Don’t Shine,” we bigged up a lot in 2012.
So all is rosy, because TV is now just as good as movies, and female directors can all get work there, right? We-ell. In fact the stats for episodic TV, while better, are still pretty poor: just 14% of TV directors are women (and only 2% of the 19% non-white directors are women, incidentally).
There are hopeful stories too, of course. Aside from the Holy Trinity of highest-profile female directors (Campion, Bigelow, Coppola) quite a number of women who might have figured on this list a year or two ago have landed gigs in the meantime, and have had films out last year, this year, or have something coming imminently down the pike. There's Cholodenko, who we mentioned already; “Pariah” helmer Dee Rees is currently filming a Bessie Smith biopic and has several writing and directing projects lined up; Karyn Kusama has “The Invitation” coming in 2015; Lake Bell is following up her brilliant debut “In A World” by being attached to the Noah Baumbach-penned adaptation of Claire Messud’s novel “The Emperor’s Children”; Gina Prince Bythewood will release "Beyond the Lights" soon; Zoe Cassavetes has “Day out of Days,” her first feature since “Broken English,” due in 2015; Kasi “Eve’s Bayou” Lemmons came back to the big screen in 2013 for the first time since 2007’s “Talk To Me” (though it was a shame it had to be with “Black Nativity”); and most high-profile of all, Ava Du Vernay will follow up her strong 2012 title “Middle of Nowhere” with this December’s awards-probable “Selma.”
So that’s as much context as we can really give without writing a dissertation on the subject. For the reasons touched on, we excluded the names mentioned above from our final list of ten, and other than that, we focused mostly on women who haven’t made a narrative feature in the last few years, who’ve directed at least one film that we’re pretty keen on, and who work primarily in English-language cinema. There are many, many more and those names we’ve already mentioned need to be celebrated for their achievements, get nominated for Oscars, land blockbuster gigs and most importantly need to keep getting work, but here are 10 other names that feel overdue, in some cases criminally so, for some big news soon.