May 20, 2008

Where are the Women Directors?

Earlier this month we had Manohla Dargis' NY Times piece on the lack of women onscreen this summer, and now Patrick Goldstein at the LA Times gives us the annual lament about the paucity of women working behind the scenes as directors.

For anyone who is in the business, and who follows this issue, nothing in the article is new. I think its great that these pieces are written, but they are always the same. Things suck for women directors, but nothing changes and things are actually getting worse. People in power in Hollywood are happy with the status quo and until everyone who cares about this issue figures out a way to work together and make change, nothing is going to happen. I'm not saying it's easy to make change. I sit here in Brooklyn, NY as a writer and observer, not as a woman trying to have a career as a director. But while most people believe that we are post-feminist, and post-organizing, and post-activism, I think the only way to make change is to organize and agitate. So, I'll be agitating from my perch by saying that THE LACK OF WOMEN DIRECTORS WORKING IN HOLLYWOOD IS UNACCEPTABLE!

Ok, now that I got that off my chest here are some noteworthy quotes from the piece:

According to Media by Numbers, all 30 of the 30 top-grossing films from last summer were directed by men. According to my informal survey of major studio films from this summer, only two -- "Mamma Mia!" and "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" -- are directed by women.
There are several other women directed options this summer including:
Brick Lane, directed by Sarah Gavron- Opens June 20
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, directed by Patricia Rozema- Opens July 2
Hounddog, directed by Deborah Kampmeier- Opens July 18
American Teen, directed by Nanette Burstein- Opens July 25 (documentary)
The Last Mistress, directed by Catherine Breillat- Opens June 27
Frozen River, directed by Courtney Hunt, Opens August 1
[Martha] Lauzen doesn't mince words. "Hollywood is far more embarrassed about being labeled racist than sexist," she told me. "There are a host of causes -- it's not like there's a smoke-filled room where men get together and prevent women from getting jobs. It's more insidious than that. But Hollywood is in denial, and as long as they're in denial, then they don't feel they need to do anything about it."
Martha Lauzen is the shit! She's an academic using real number so there's no disputing her words.
It's especially hard to cry discrimination about female directors when women flourish in so many other areas of the business -- Hollywood is loaded with powerful female producers, studio executives, managers and publicists. By and large, the track record of hiring women directors is no different at any studio, whether the studio is run by a man or a woman.
Not to belittle any of the awesome female producers, publicists and managers, but everyone in Hollywood knows that movie director (aside from studio boss) is the most important job. Maybe women have become more realistic of their chances in getting directing jobs and don't even go that route anymore because they know they can't get the job. Wouldn't that be sad that after all the gains that women have made in our culture that they have begun self-censoring about directing opportunities precisely because they don't see hardly any women in those roles.

I mean for whatever you think of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign you can see what having a woman compete for the most powerful job has done for girls and young women who now can dream bigger than ever before. As Marian Wright Edelman once said: "You can't be, what you can't see."
If you were looking at Hollywood's history through a gender lens, you might say the industry went almost directly from male domination to post-feminism without ever enjoying a true feminist age. The rise of feminism almost exactly overlaps with the last glory days of filmmaking (roughly 1967 to 1978), yet the era as portrayed in Peter Biskind's compelling history "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" is one of pure male ego and excess.
If I was a feminist who worked in Hollywood in the late 70s and early 80s I would be pissed off that the article just erased some of the most important feminist female film role models we have ever had onscreen. Don't you think that Julia, Norma Rae, An Unmarried Woman, The China Syndrome, Silkwood, 9 to 5, Yentl, The Rose, Alien, My Brilliant Career, Terms of Endearment, Places in the Heart, Swing Shift, Out of Africa and Desert Hearts qualify as noteworthy feminist films? Interestingly, The studios actually made most of those movies and today studios are making very few films with female leads.
Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, who made Meyers' last two films, has Ephron's next picture and has hired more female directors than any studio head, says summer movies just aren't an area of interest for most women. "It simply may be a matter of self-selection, since most studio films are aimed at young boys," she says. "Look at my summer slate. I don't think there's a woman who would've wanted to have directed 'Hancock' or 'Pineapple Express.' "
What really puts female directors behind the eight ball is that the film genres studios are most eager to make -- rowdy guy comedies, horror and superhero films -- are rarely of interest to women. "No one would dream of hiring Nora Ephron or Sofia Coppola for the new James Bond movie, but then again, why would they be interested?" says Terry Press, the veteran studio marketer.
I think there is a generation gap here. I believe that younger women would be very interested in directing a huge summer romp. The big question is did you even ask a woman if she wanted to direct one of those? You won't know until you ask. I love the fact that we give European men like Louis Leterrer (The Hulk) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) opportunities to direct big summer movies but we don't give women those same opportunities. I also love the fact that Patrick got women to say that other women are not interested in directing these movies? Have you called someone like say, Angela Robinson? Doubtful.
It's hardly a coincidence that both Meyers and Ephron became full-time directors only after their children were older. Men rarely turn down a movie because it takes them away from their family. For women, it's a wrenching decision to either leave kids at home or uproot a family to spend months on a faraway film location. Many women also believe that men are better suited, in terms of temperament, for the job of ordering around a crew every day.
Wow, are we really saying that women can't direct until their kids are out of the house? This is just bs. I've asked women directors this question and they all laugh saying that if they got a job they would figure it out. The article infers that you need to have a wife or someone at home to make sure everything is organized in order to do your job. What is this the 50s? Sexist bs.
"Men just enjoy being in charge more," says Polly Platt, a groundbreaking figure in Hollywood as a production designer ("The Last Picture Show") and producer ("Broadcast News")...But most of the women I know didn't enjoy the perks of the job, like when you walk onto the set and everyone's waiting for you to make a decision. Having 150 people all waiting to hear your answers to every question -- most women would find that terrifying."
Polly, god I hope you were misquoted here cause you sound like an idiot and I'm sure you're not. Being a director is being a leader, you need vision and you need to be able to juggle a lot of things at once. Some women and some men have those qualities. I know many women who would love to have 150 people waiting to hear her answer to a question. I don't believe that most women would find that terrifying. To put a blanket statement out there that women are afraid of giving orders is absurd and dangerous and plays into all the gender stereotypes.
Still, that pathetic 6% figure sticks in your craw. Hollywood has always prided itself as the land of opportunity, but when it comes to female filmmakers, it's more like a vast wasteland.
If 94% of all the films we see are from a male perspective we are missing out on so many other perspectives. So here's the question I ask every time I read one of these pieces. Who is going to do something about this?

Wanted: More Female Directors

UPDATE: Check out these great letters in response to Goldstein's story: Hollywood's got feeble excuses about female directors