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Why Talking About Women Directors Matters

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by Melissa Silverstein
July 15, 2013 2:00 PM
3 Comments
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When I started doing this work six years ago, and when I spoke about the importance of talking about women directors, about the importance of their voices, I was basically talking to the mirror.  Boy how things have changed in the last couple of years.  It's amazing how rich the conversation has gotten.  While the statistics have not yet moved, and in some years they are retreating, the fact that people, and lots of them, are talking about women directors -- their names, their presences, their lack of opportunities, their great movies -- is very heartening.

Recently, in London, I met and had conversations with women who were directors at the highest level and directors who are still struggling to break in.  There was such a good vibe that I couldn't help but feel that things FEEL different.  The conversations were really positive but the reality is all the women are struggling.  It sucks when a director talks about the fact that the only thing the money folks care about is who is playing the MALE lead (or second lead or third lead) in a film.  It's doesn't even matter that the film stars a woman -- they want to know who the guy is before they put in the money.   Big reality check.

Last week was very interesting here in the US because there were several very interesting articles written on this topic.  It's hot here, at least it's hot here on the east coast and movies are one of the things we do to escape the heat.  But as Linda Holmes reported earlier this summer, your choices at the movies are limited, especially if you want to see something that is not a superhero movie and something directed by a woman.  Susan Wloszcyna takes it a bit further in her recent piece that ran on Roger Ebert's site (and cross-posted on Women and Hollywood): Dear Hollywood: Hiring Women Directors Could Rescue the Superhero Movie. Love, Half the Human Race.  Her premise, which you can get from the title, is that women do go and see the superhero movies and that many of them could use some improvement and maybe hiring a woman or two to direct would shake up this getting very stale genre.  

In the nearly-four decades since Christopher Reeve took flight, superhero films have grown into Hollywood's most popular and profitable genre. Sadly, these films continue to be directed by males and marketed to boys of all ages. This situation would not be quite so dire except for the fact that a growing number of these mighty crusader tales, with their endless remakes and sequels, are monopolizing multiplex screens. Given that most of the plots involve troubled male outsiders who fret about not fitting in and/or bearing the responsibility of saving humanity, the stories tend to be boilerplate specials with little room for real emotions -- or real women.

It's time to put a woman behind the camera.

In Criticwire, Sam Adams takes issue with some of Susan's argument but makes an important point about how these superhero movies are big machine like productions with individuality stripped away.  Not totally true because you can really tell a Christopher Nolan film even if there are a thousand cooks in the kitchen.  

But this question is even more important:  

As in any other area, the movie industry will only have achieved true parity when there are female hacks: Competent but flavorless directors who churn out product for a price. But the movies those women make won't change anything.

Is this what we are striving for?  Where women can churn out shit and then get their next job?  Making mistakes are vital to moving forward yet in this economy there is no place in the film business for mistakes.  Also, there is a big difference between a good film that flops and a piece of shit movie that doesn't do anything for anyone even if it makes money.  

But it is something to think about as this conversation moves forward -- what exactly will parity mean?  I want to see women make great superhero movies about guys and girls.  I want the studios to see women as potential successes on screen so they commission these films about women and then hire women to make them.  I want women to helm superhero movies about guys. I want women to make glorious failures and not go into directing jail.  But I also want to see movies that have nothing to do with superheroes and I worry that the conversation (which I am a part of) is saying that the big money movies are the only successes that matter.  Because they are not and the reality is that most movies about women are never going to big budget bonanzas and I want to be able to see successes for women.

I love the conversation that it happening.  People are getting angry.  Things will change.  We just need to be patient and see that this is a long time fight and know that the way things change is to keep talking, keep fighting and keep demanding more and better opportunities.

Does It Matter If Women Make Superhero Movies? (CriticWire)

Cross Post: Dear Hollywood: Hiring Women Directors Could Rescue the Superhero Movie. Love, Half the Human Race (Women and Hollywood via Roger Ebert.com)

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3 Comments

  • Cindy Lou Hoo | July 22, 2013 2:50 AMReply

    http://hollywoodboysclub.tumblr.com/

  • Anthony O. | July 17, 2013 7:25 PMReply

    Linn, I saw the same movie yesterday and I agree with your assertion that things are different. In fact, I don't believe Mako and the lead will be romantically involved. The bonds formed between them seem to say 'Best Friends'. For example, when they fought each other, I didn't not notice any 'male gaze' shots. The camera showed two extremely talented people fighting together, no lingering shots except in showing the determination on both the fighter's faces.
    Apparently the director, Guillermo del Toro, has done this before. Pan's Labyrinth follows a strong female lead, although a child, as she battles her deepest fears and sadistic step father.

  • Linn D. | July 15, 2013 4:11 PMReply

    I just saw "Pacific Rim" this past weekend. And the 3rd lead is a woman, playing the role of Mako Mori. You can tell things are different, a) because the character has a last name. B) she is not only a love interest, but has a story arc of her own. C) yes, she is like a daughter to the 2nd lead, and thus his foil, but she also has her own journey about her feelings towards that father figure. So while the film would not pass the Bechdel Test - the 3rd lead is female, she doesn't kiss a boy, she never gets naked, and she has her own journey she has to take. And oh yeah, she kicks ass in a fight scene. In a summer popcorn movie. When the credits rolled my brain was exploding. Not just from the over stimulation of all the CGI effects, but the amazing female role I had just watched on screen. I believe an article in W&H devoted to just this - is deserved. How did a big studio film manage to have a slightly feminist character?!? Did they realize what they had done? Was it on purpose? I would love to know... Thank you!

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