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17 items from 2017


Octavia Spencer Teams with LeBron James for Madam C.J. Walker Series

12 hours ago | Women and Hollywood | See recent Women and Hollywood news »

Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures

As we previously reported, Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer is set to star as entrepreneur and social activist Madam C.J. Walker in a limited drama series based on A’Lelia Bundles’ best-selling biography “On Her Own Ground.” Now Variety writes that the project has officially found a production company in LeBron JamesSpringHill Entertainment.

Madam C.J. Walker — who started with close to nothing in the late 1800s — found success through her “discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women.” She “managed to overcome astonishing odds, building a storied beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women, and devoting her life to philanthropy and social activism,” the source summarizes.

Although Walker’s story does not have an official home yet, Netflix rumors are percolating. Nicole Asher is set to write the script, and “Black Nativity” director Kasi Lemmons has signed on to direct the pilot. Asher and Lemmons, alongside Spencer and James, will also executive produce.

Spencer and James’ interest in the project arguably stems from a mutual end goal: to tell untold stories. As a company, SpringHill aims to “spotlight the hidden African-American figures who helped shape American history,” Variety explains. As both actress and a newly-proclaimed producer, Spencer, too, is “drawn to stories that haven’t really been told.” “I want to see all shapes and sizes, all ages, all religions,” she has said, “because that’s what our society is comprised of.”

The actress just recently shed light on Dorothy Vaughan’s story in “Hidden Figures.” Alongside Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe, Spencer introduced audiences to the true story of the African-American women who aided Nasa in the Space Race.

Her portrayal in “Hidden Figures” earned a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination. Spencer previously won an Academy Award for her role in “The Help,” and she is Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year. She will next appear in Guillermo del Toro’s other-worldly fairy tale, “The Shape of Water,” out December 8.

Octavia Spencer Teams with LeBron James for Madam C.J. Walker Series was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »

- Kelsey Moore

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Guest Post: Plenty of Qualified Women Directors Are Ready to Fill the Ranks

9 August 2017 7:01 AM, PDT | Women and Hollywood | See recent Women and Hollywood news »

Rachel Feldman

Guest Post by Rachel Feldman

If asked to imagine a film or TV director, most people conjure the image of a man. Sadly, this is true for those who work in the film and television industry as well. In fact, research from USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative confirms that zero percent of Hollywood executives have any women director’s names at the top of their minds. Of course, those in the know have lists that include Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins, or Ava DuVernay in features and Lesli Linka Glatter or Reed Morano in television — but there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of highly skilled women directors who have been invisible for way too long.

The statistics for women directing stagnates at four percent in feature films and at 17 percent in television, and although the 17 percent in TV may initially sound like forward momentum, when statistically analyzed it proves to be an illusory number because it doesn’t represent the number of women directing, only the number of episodes directed by women. In other words, it is often the same few women doing all the work. But the fact is that there are over 1,300 experienced women directors in the Directors Guild of America (DGA), many with decades of experience in high-quality broadcast and cable television. So why do only about 50 of these directors appear and re-appear on network hiring lists?

Last week NBC announced a new “Female Forward” program that will train 10 new women directors a year through a shadowing program. NBC President Jennifer Salke says that the pool of available directors is “too small” and she’s excited about the idea of having 30 new directors in three years. Of course it’s fantastic that NBC is going to create a program in support of women directors, but it would be a mistake not to correct an insidious false assumption that continues to undermine real progress.

Salke is by no means alone in her thinking: it is a predominate belief throughout the entire industry that one of the reasons why gender employment statistics are so low is because there just aren’t enough qualified women directors to fill the ranks. But this is patently untrue.

The fact is that NBC could have 100 highly skilled directors tomorrow. If our industry truly wants swift, equitable gender equity in the director ranks, the answer is not simply to train new directors and hope for the future. We need to find and hire the large pool of already trained, highly accomplished women directors who have been toiling in the trenches for decades. We need to make the change now.

The employment mechanism for hiring directors is, no doubt, complex. There are many levels of executives, all who need to vet a director. That’s why directors with hot credits and repped by top agents are easy to notice — and those who may not have a recent credit, or who are not represented by a high-profile agent or manager, become invisible.

Women’s careers also look different from their male counterparts’. Women often step away from thriving careers to raise children and care for family members. Add in the gender bias that makes each and every job a Sisyphean hurdle and it’s simple to see how women lose their reps and fall off rosters. But these women are indomitable. Many have thriving careers in allied fields as writers, producers, editors, ADs, or teachers. Some make independent features. All of them are eager to be making an honorable living, with goldstar health insurance, using the masterful skills they have taken a lifetime to hone.

In life, and certainly in the movie business, we are taught that we will be rewarded for tenacity and determination, but so far this has not proven true for an army of women directors.

Meryl Streep sponsors a program for mid-career women writers through New York Women in Film & Television, the Writers Guild of America has made enormous strides supporting the careers of their experienced female members with a variety of initiatives and programs, and The Ravenal Foundation and The Jerome Foundation have long supported mid-career female feature directors. But in the television director landscape the continued focus on new, untrained directors as the sole way to ameliorate a widespread problem is both an unimaginative solution and an enormous injustice to women who have already been injured by decades of gender exclusion.

DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, and Ryan Murphy are trendsetting new formulas in hiring television directors. They understand that the status quo is not serving directors who are not white men and they are hiring both veteran directors who’ve fallen off hiring lists as well as promising talent. But a handful of progressive thinkers is not enough. The entire industry — networks, studios, producers, and agencies — must create avenues of opportunity for mid-career women directors. It may require a bit of work to discover this gold mine of talent but just below the surface are literally hundreds of brilliant women directors who deserve a break.

This past presidential election was a disgraceful example of how accomplished, highly experienced women can be disregarded. Hiding behind excuses of: “It’s our [pick one] first/second/third season,” or “We have [pick one] stunts/VFX/finicky actors/cross-boarding/a tricky tone…” is as misogynistic/patriarchal as men who think they can grab women wherever they want. We must continue to ask why men are regarded with great potential and women are seen as needing to have a continuing education. Mid-career women directors are trained to figure out what they need to tell a story and it’s high time for the film and TV machine to support and nurture this valuable resource.

Create your own programs and initiatives or search for us at The Director List and the DGA.

And here is a just-a-tip-of-the-iceberg list of experienced television directors — not intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive — to illustrate the bounty to be discovered. There are also hundreds more accomplished women in the independent world:

Victoria Hochberg, Gloria Muzio, Neema Barnette, Debbie Reinisch, Hanelle Culpepper, Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Tanya Hamilton, Tessa Blake, Kat Candler, Shannon McCormack Flynn, Ellen Pressman, Leslie Libman, Vicky Jenson, Stacy Title, Linda Feferman, Matia Karrell, Maggie Greenwald, Deborah Kampmeier, Debra Granik, Darnell Martin, Anna Foerster, Heather Cappiello, Nicole Rubio, Leslie Libman, Beth Spitalny, Daisy Von Scherler Mayer, Jan Eliasberg, Elodie Keene, Diana Valentine, Jessica Landaw, Julie Hebert, Julie Anne Robinson, Katherine Brooks, Martha Mitchell, Nicole Kassell, Nzingha Stewart, Rachel Talalay, Rose Troche, Stacey Black, Alexis Korycinski, Allison Anders, Ami Canaan Mann, Amy Redford, Anna Mastro, Anne Renton, Catherine Jelski, Claudia Weill, Dee Rees, Helen Hunt, Jessica Yu, Donna Deitch, Kasi Lemmons, Lily Mariye, So Yong Kim, Tina Mabry, Tanya Hamilton, Rachel Feldman

Rachel Feldman has directed more than 60 hours of television and is in development to direct her award-winning screenplay “Fair Fight,” a political thriller based on the life of Fair Pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. She is a former chair of the DGA Women’s Steering Committee. Go to her website for more information. #WomenCallAction

Guest Post: Plenty of Qualified Women Directors Are Ready to Fill the Ranks was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »

- Women and Hollywood

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Whoopi Goldberg, Larry Karaszewski Elected to Academy’s Board of Governors

29 June 2017 2:42 PM, PDT | The Wrap | See recent The Wrap news »

Actress/host Whoopi Goldberg, writer Larry Karaszewski and director Kimberly Peirce have been elected to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy announced on Thursday. They are among the 10 members elected to the board for the first time. An additional six incumbents retained their seats, while Visual Effects Branch governor Richard Edlund was returned to the board after a hiatus. Goldberg beat Geena Davis, Edward James Olmos and Rita Wilson for a seat vacated by Annette Bening from the Academy’s Actors Branch. Peirce beat John Badham, Kasi Lemmons and Donald M. »

- Steve Pond

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Ted Sarandos Snubbed by Academy and More Details From the Board of Governors Candidates

2 June 2017 4:11 PM, PDT | Thompson on Hollywood | See recent Thompson on Hollywood news »

Earlier today, the Academy sent an email to all members with the final list of Board of Governors candidates. Conspicuously absent is Netflix CEO and Ted Sarandos, who hosted a recent Academy museum fundraiser and was hoping to get a chance to run for the board. 

Also absent is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the current president of AMPAS, who’s stepping down this August and not seeking a third three-year term on the 54-member board. You have to be on the board in order to run for President. Others no longer in the running are Sony Pictures Classics and CBS Films executives Michael Barker and Terry Press, producer Paula Wagner, director Brett Ratner and actors Queen Latifah and Lou Diamond Phillips. Actress Laura Dern is one current board member who is backed by Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and gaining support.

The final election begins Monday, June 19 and closes on Friday, June »

- Anne Thompson

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Ted Sarandos Snubbed by Academy and More Details From the Board of Governors Candidates

2 June 2017 4:11 PM, PDT | Indiewire | See recent Indiewire news »

Earlier today, the Academy sent an email to all members with the final list of Board of Governors candidates. Conspicuously absent is Netflix CEO and Ted Sarandos, who hosted a recent Academy museum fundraiser and was hoping to get a chance to run for the board. 

Also absent is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the current president of AMPAS, who’s stepping down this August and not seeking a third three-year term on the 54-member board. You have to be on the board in order to run for President. Others no longer in the running are Sony Pictures Classics and CBS Films executives Michael Barker and Terry Press, producer Paula Wagner, director Brett Ratner and actors Queen Latifah and Lou Diamond Phillips. Actress Laura Dern is one current board member who is backed by Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and gaining support.

The final election begins Monday, June 19 and closes on Friday, June »

- Anne Thompson

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How Trudie Styler’s Experience Being Bullied Inspired Her Directorial Debut ‘Freak Show’

25 May 2017 9:31 AM, PDT | Variety - Film News | See recent Variety - Film News news »

Trudie Styler, best known as Sting’s better half, doesn’t like an audience. As she sits down at the rooftop restaurant of a Cannes hotel to discuss “Freak Show,” her feature film directorial debut, she gently asks if her publicist can grab a coffee, saying she gets nervous talking in front of several people.

“I’ll make sure we don’t talk about tantric sex,” she jokes, a nod to the much-picked over aspects of her love life with Sting.

At 63, Styler is elegant and regal, every inch a rock star’s wife, but she connected with the story of “Freak Show” because of her own sense of being an outsider. The film follows Billy, a gay teenager, who struggles to fit in after being transplanted to a high school in the deep South. Despite facing harassment, he decides to run for homecoming queen. It’s based on a book by James St. James, »

- Brent Lang

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‘Archer’ Says Goodbye to ‘Dreamland’ and 4 More Things to Watch on Wednesday, May 24

24 May 2017 3:00 AM, PDT | Indiewire Television | See recent Indiewire Television news »

Welcome to PeekTV, your daily look at the best that television has to offer. In each installment, we make three picks for the best shows to watch and…toss in a little extra. 

Wednesday, May 24 What Happened Last Night?!

Why is this box puzzling this man? (Check out last night’s TV picks to find out.)

“Archer: Dreamland”

“Auflösung,” Fxx – 10:00 p.m.

Synopsis: In the season finale, Archer visits Dreamland and receives a big break that leads him to Woodhouse’s killer.

Why You Should Watch: The season-long descent into film noir has worked wonders for one of cable’s longest-running animated series. If nothing else, it’s been interesting to see how this wacky assemblage of erstwhile agents have adjusted to their new ’40s environs. As with all good things, Archer probably isn’t long for this particular world, but it’ll be interesting to see if this »

- Steve Greene

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‘Archer’ Says Goodbye to ‘Dreamland’ and 4 More Things to Watch on Wednesday, May 24

24 May 2017 3:00 AM, PDT | Indiewire | See recent Indiewire news »

Welcome to PeekTV, your daily look at the best that television has to offer. In each installment, we make three picks for the best shows to watch and…toss in a little extra. 

Wednesday, May 24 What Happened Last Night?!

Why is this box puzzling this man? (Check out last night’s TV picks to find out.)

“Archer: Dreamland”

“Auflösung,” Fxx – 10:00 p.m.

Synopsis: In the season finale, Archer visits Dreamland and receives a big break that leads him to Woodhouse’s killer.

Why You Should Watch: The season-long descent into film noir has worked wonders for one of cable’s longest-running animated series. If nothing else, it’s been interesting to see how this wacky assemblage of erstwhile agents have adjusted to their new ’40s environs. As with all good things, Archer probably isn’t long for this particular world, but it’ll be interesting to see if this »

- Steve Greene

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Netflix Disruptor Ted Sarandos Chases Slot on Academy Board of Governors

12 May 2017 1:03 PM, PDT | Thompson on Hollywood | See recent Thompson on Hollywood news »

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of the Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, will step down in August. Nor is she seeking a third three-year term on the 54-member Academy Board of Governors. And with that, let the games begin.

The question of who will replace Isaacs is on the table. You have to be on the board in order to run for Academy president, who serves at the pleasure of the board for no more than four one-year terms.

And among those who are eyeing an active role on the board is none other than Ted Sarandos, content czar of Netflix — the same organization that spent the week shaking its fist at the Cannes Film Festival for “closing ranks” with a new ruling that only films that commit to French theatrical distribution may participate in future festivals.

Sarandos is the fox in the Academy henhouse, the disruptor who »

- Anne Thompson

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Netflix Disruptor Ted Sarandos Chases Slot on Academy Board of Governors

12 May 2017 1:03 PM, PDT | Indiewire | See recent Indiewire news »

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of the Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, will step down in August. Nor is she seeking a third three-year term on the 54-member Academy Board of Governors. And with that, let the games begin.

The question of who will replace Isaacs is on the table. You have to be on the board in order to run for Academy president, who serves at the pleasure of the board for no more than four one-year terms.

And among those who are eyeing an active role on the board is none other than Ted Sarandos, content czar of Netflix — the same organization that spent the week shaking its fist at the Cannes Film Festival for “closing ranks” with a new ruling that only films that commit to French theatrical distribution may participate in future festivals.

Sarandos is the fox in the Academy henhouse, the disruptor who »

- Anne Thompson

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Dee Rees Working on a Horror Film About a Lesbian Couple in a Small Town

12 May 2017 10:01 AM, PDT | Women and Hollywood | See recent Women and Hollywood news »

Dee Rees: GoldDerby/YouTube

Dee Rees’ next project will be a horror film exploring domestic life, race, sexuality, and small town America. Originally reported by the New York Times, the Tracking Board and Shadow and Act have confirmed that Rees is collaborating with “Get Out” producer Jason Blum on a horror movie about a black lesbian couple living in a rural town.

According to the Times, the “Pariah” and “Bessie” director informally pitched Blum the idea, which is inspired by her own life. Rees told Blum about her move to a small town: “You’ve got me and my wife, two black lesbians, and when we first moved in, we fought every day over all these little things: ‘Why is this over there? Did you move that?’”

“Maybe it was a ghost,” she observed. “Or maybe it was some other force — like us not wanting to be there or fitting in.”

Blum was intrigued by the pitch and followed up with her. Rees said that she is ready to “make the best possible version of what I want to make.”

“Visibility is great because it shows other African American women they can be whatever they chose to be. But for me, the story comes first. If I’m visible fine, but I really want the story to come first,” Rees told us, referring to opportunities for black women directors. “I stand on a lot of shoulders: Euzhan Palcy, Kasi Lemmons, and Julie Dash. It was great to be pursuing my dreams and hopefully I’ll build a body of work and I will be among them one day.”

Rees’ latest film, “Mudbound,” earned rave reviews when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Set in post–World War II South, the drama centers on two families facing racism and poverty. “Mudbound,” which Rees co-wrote with Virgil Williams, sold to Netflix for $12.5 million — the biggest deal of Sundance 2017. It stars Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”), Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton”), Mary J. Blige (“The Wiz Live!”), Rob Morgan (“Stranger Things”), Garrett Hedlund (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), and Jonathan Banks (“Better Call Saul”).

Mudbound” doesn’t have a release date yet, but is expected to debut sometime this year. Most recently, Rees has helmed two episodes of “When We Rise,” an ABC miniseries chronicling the gay rights movement in the U.S.

Dee Rees Working on a Horror Film About a Lesbian Couple in a Small Town was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »

- Rachel Montpelier

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Jonathan Demme’s Last Project, ‘Shots Fired,’ Airs Tonight — Remembering His Best TV Work

26 April 2017 9:46 AM, PDT | Indiewire Television | See recent Indiewire Television news »

Jonathan Demme’s films, including “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” won Oscars, earned worldwide acclaim, and influenced countless filmmakers. But his efforts on the small screen were anything but small in comparison. Over the course of nearly 40 years in TV, Demme directed, wrote, and produced an impressive array of genres and worked with artists like Laura Dern, Peter Falk, Elliot Gould, Patrick Wilson, Aisha Hinds, and Helen Hunt.

Demme died Wednesday morning in New York at the age of 73. The cause was esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease, according to a source close to the family. He was originally treated for the disease in 2010, but suffered from a recurrence in 2015, and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks.

Read More: Jonathan Demme, Oscar-Winning Director of ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ Dies At 73

His last credited project is “Shots Fired,” the Fox limited series for which he directed one episode — coincidentally scheduled to air tonight. »

- Ben Travers, Hanh Nguyen, Liz Shannon Miller and Steve Greene

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Jonathan Demme’s Last Project, ‘Shots Fired,’ Airs Tonight — Remembering His Best TV Work

26 April 2017 9:46 AM, PDT | Indiewire | See recent Indiewire news »

Jonathan Demme’s films, including “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” won Oscars, earned worldwide acclaim, and influenced countless filmmakers. But his efforts on the small screen were anything but small in comparison. Over the course of nearly 40 years in TV, Demme directed, wrote, and produced an impressive array of genres and worked with artists like Laura Dern, Peter Falk, Elliot Gould, Patrick Wilson, Aisha Hinds, and Helen Hunt.

Demme died Wednesday morning in New York at the age of 73. The cause was esophageal cancer and complications from heart disease, according to a source close to the family. He was originally treated for the disease in 2010, but suffered from a recurrence in 2015, and his condition deteriorated in recent weeks.

Read More: Jonathan Demme, Oscar-Winning Director of ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ Dies At 73

His last credited project is “Shots Fired,” the Fox limited series for which he directed one episode — coincidentally scheduled to air tonight. »

- Ben Travers, Hanh Nguyen, Liz Shannon Miller and Steve Greene

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Shots Fired Review

22 March 2017 4:22 PM, PDT | We Got This Covered | See recent We Got This Covered news »

The first six episodes were provided prior to broadcast.

Broadcast television is divided between conformity and progression. Stations like CBS and NBC, for instance, largely refuse to move from comfortable original programming, without relevance or (for the most part) originality, while ABC and Fox go out of their way to challenge themselves by developing a social conscious. Shots Fired, Fox’s latest, most timely drama, is not comfortable TV. Instead, it’s urgent, thoughtful, political, poignant, intelligent and filled with relevancy and bleeding sincerity. If only it didn’t digress so readily into melodramatics and convoluted narratives. If there’s a show that desperately needs to ground itself squarely in reality, it’s most definitely this one.

Desperately hoping to discuss topical, serious-minded issues while still heavily catering to the juicy bombast of, say, Empire, Shots Fired is an interesting combination of pointed, pertinent television and sensationalized serialization. The result is, »

- Will Ashton

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What Happened to the Women Directors in Hollywood? Part 4: 1984–1999

17 March 2017 2:02 PM, PDT | Women and Hollywood | See recent Women and Hollywood news »

Mississippi Masala

by Carrie Rickey

This five-part Truthdig series by Carrie Rickey is published in partnership with Women and Hollywood. The series considers the historic accomplishments of women behind the camera, how they got marginalized, and how they are fighting for equal employment. Specifically, this series asks, why do females make up between 33 and 50 percent of film-school graduates but account for only seven percent of working directors? What happened to the women directors in Hollywood?

While female filmmakers waited for Judge Pamela Rymer to hand down a decision in the 1983 Directors Guild class-action suit against Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures, alleging discrimination for not hiring women and ethnic minorities represented by the guild, there were positive signs of change in Hollywood.

In 1984, for the first time that almost anyone could remember, one needed two hands to count the number of feature films by women released in the U.S. market. One was Diane Kurys’ “Entre Nous” (1983), nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards in April 1984, making Kurys the second female director whose film was so honored.

Between 1950 and 1980, the number of movies directed by women in the Directors Guild of America (DGA) totaled 14. From 1984 to 1985 there were 12.

In 1984 many women were making their second features. Among them were Gillian Armstrong’s period drama “Mrs. Soffel,” Amy Heckerling’s gangster comedy “Johnny Dangerously,” Penelope Spheeris’ teenage-runaway saga “Suburbia,” and Amy Holden Jones’ romantic drama “Love Letters.” Martha Coolidge, beloved for “Valley Girl,” her 1983 debut, was on her third feature, “National Lampoon’s Joy of Sex.” With more women behind the movie camera in the United States than any time since the ’teens, it seemed that Hollywood was reopening the studio gates to women. Their movies featured women in lead roles.

The wave of optimism crested in 1985. Argentine director Maria Luisa Bemberg’s historical romance “Camila” (1984) was in contention for best foreign film. Susan Seidelman, an Nyu film-school grad who made a splash in 1983 with the indie “Smithereens,” released “Desperately Seeking Susan,” starring “It Girl” Rosanna Arquette and Madonna, cast when the latter was a relative unknown. It was a runaway hit. Heckerling and Spheeris each released third features, respectively “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” and “The Boys Next Door.” Coolidge released her fourth: “Real Genius,” a genuinely funny nerd comedy with a fully developed female character — and special effects.

Then came the crash.

In August 1985 Judge Rymer handed down her decision. While the class-action case was important and viable, Rymer ruled, she had to disqualify the DGA from leading the class due to a conflict of interest. White male members also competing for directing jobs dominated the guild, she said. Thus the DGA was in no position to represent the interests of its women and ethnic minority members. Out of exhaustion and lack of money, the Original Six, the group of female filmmakers that had first spurred the DGA to initiate the suit, did not pursue it any further.

As the DGA suit played out during the early 1980s, Hollywood’s business model was in flux. Studios abandoned the one-size-fits-all strategy of advertising a movie in general-interest publications and embraced segmented marketing — that is, making and marketing movies to a specific demographic. Fewer dollars were spent advertising movies in mainstream newspapers and more were spent on ads that ran during TV shows young males were said to watch. More and more, movies starred predominantly men and boys. Because actors had higher-profile roles, they could command higher salaries than actresses.

By dividing the market into sectors, studios divided the audience and the culture. Boys see movies about boys. Older people see movies about older people. Women see movies about women. Those in different demographics no longer watch the same stories.

In 1980, four of the 10 top box office stars were women: Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Sissy Spacek, and Barbra Streisand. In 1990 there was only one: Julia Roberts. According to 1990 statistics from the Screen Actors Guild, not only were actresses underpaid, but they were also “undercast”: 14 percent of the leading roles, and only 29 percent of all roles, went to women.

The “Indiana Jones” trilogy made in the 1980s reflected the progressively diminishing role of females in film during a decade when male action/adventures dominated the multiplex. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), the character Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) plays Indy’s helpmate. In “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984), the Willie Scott character (Kate Capshaw) is helpless. And in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” archeologist Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody) is the enemy.

Despite such trends, the late 1980s and 1990s proved to be boom years for female directors in Hollywood and Indiewood, as independent film is known. In 1987, Kathryn Bigelow, a onetime sculptor and graduate of Columbia University’s film program, made her second feature, the “vampire Western” “Near Dark.” And though Elaine May’s studio film “Ishtar” was almost universally panned upon release, it earned belated respect. Richard Brody of The New Yorker correctly described it as “an unjustly derided masterwork.” In 1987, six percent of films were directed by women, higher than at any time since 1916.

The percentage dropped in 1988, but that was a watershed year for female filmmakers. “Big,” a comedy from Penny Marshall (co-written by Anne Spielberg), was universally acclaimed. It was the first movie directed by a woman that surpassed $100 million at the box office. With the romantic comedy “Crossing Delancey,” Joan Micklin Silver returned to making big-screen fare, and her modest hit was well received. Also in 1988, Silver’s daughter, Marisa, made her second feature, “Permanent Record,” about teen suicide. “Salaam, Bombay!”, the first feature from Mira Nair, the India-born, Harvard-educated documentarian, was a best foreign film Oscar nominee.

The following year, “Look Who’s Talking” from Amy Heckerling likewise surpassed the $100 million mark for box office sales in the U.S. and made nearly $300 million worldwide. For the most part, though, heads of studios regarded Marshall’s and Heckerling’s box-office smashes as flukes. Two heads of production told me in 1991 that “movies by women don’t make money.” Nevertheless, it turned out to be a exceptional year for the quality and range of releases from women. And it shaped up to be a year when movies by female filmmakers did make serious money.

Some of the highlights of 1991: Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust,” an evocative portrait of generations of Gullah women off the South Carolina coast circa 1901; Jodie Foster’s “Little Man Tate,” about a child prodigy emotionally torn between his mother and a psychologist for gifted children; and Mira Nair’s “Mississippi Masala,” a sexy romance about a South Asian woman born in Uganda (played by then-newcomer Sarita Choudhry) in love with an African-American man (Denzel Washington). Both Kathryn Bigelow’s action film “Point Break” and Barbra Streisand’s psychological study “Prince of Tides” examined the emotional costs to men who struggle to prove their masculinity. Bigelow’s movie grossed $83 million and Streisand’s $110 million. (Adjusted for inflation, that’s $148 million and $196 million in today’s dollars.)

Not only can female filmmakers make movies that show a different side of men, but they also make movies that show different aspects of women. Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” (1992), about the All-American Girls Baseball Leagues during World War II, celebrates the athleticism (rather than the sexuality) of the female body. Nora Ephron’s “This is My Life,” her 1992 directorial debut about a single mom whose choice of comedy career affects her daughters, shows that career and motherhood need not be in conflict. Like Ephron’s film, Allison Anders’ “Gas Food Lodging” (also 1992) explores what happens when the children of single moms reconnect with biological fathers. Male directors were, and are not, making movies like these.

During the 1990s, almost every year brought a new evergreen made by a female filmmaker. In 1993 there were two. One was Jane Campion’s “The Piano,” a haunting allegory about a mute woman that struck a chord internationally. It earned $62 million at the box office and multiple Oscar nominations, including one for best director, making Campion the third woman to be cited in this category. The other was Nora Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle,” the comedic romance between two people who don’t meet in person until the last scene, which scored a $227 million box office.

“Sleepless” additionally introduced the questionable concept of the “chick flick” to a broader audience. This is a non-genre that has come to be defined as any movie that, according to the term’s proponents, women want to see and that men think they don’t want to watch — or any movie directed by a woman. The division between “chick flick” and its corollary, the “dick flick,” is a perhaps unintended consequence of target marketing, implying that movies represent a gender-linked proposition.

Almost overnight, the perception was created that movies predominantly featuring women, or “women’s interests,” or directed by women would shrivel the manhood of the male moviegoer. In 1994 the head of a major studio told me, without irony or shame, that “Women on the screen means no men in the audience.” When I asked him for data to back up his claim, he said he had it, but it was proprietary.

Despite such signs of cultural and corporate sexism, the 1990s were a good time to be a female filmmaker. In 1994, Gillian Armstrong’s “Little Women” was immediately embraced as a classic. Newcomer Darnell Martin’s “I Like it Like That,” an urban comedy about a working mother juggling job, marriage, and parenthood, earned positive reviews. And Rose Troche’s “Go Fish,” the first indie comedy about girl-on-girl courtship, marked a milestone for the burgeoning genre.

The following year, 16 films by women were in U.S. release, setting another record for that era. Many of them were comedies. There was Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless,” a droll version of Jane Austen’s “Emma” set at a Beverly Hills high school. There is Betty Thomas’ “The Brady Bunch Movie,” in which the former actress sets the characters of the 1970s TV hit in the 1990s to great comic effect. Distinctly not a comedy was Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days,” a science-fiction thriller about sex crimes, which lost money but became a cult favorite. At the 1996 Oscar ceremony, with “Antonia’s Line,” Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris became the first female filmmaker to direct the award-winning foreign film.

But apart from Bigelow and Mimi Leder, a director of episodic television who in 1997 directed “The Peacemaker” and in 1998 “Deep Impact,” female filmmakers were not making action films. For the most part women made comedies and human stories, movies with no explosions in the opening scene. Veteran filmmaker Martha Coolidge spoke for many women when she noted that the scripts the studios sent her were for comedies or family dramas. “About 90 percent of what comes my way are ten different kinds of breast cancer stories, ten kinds of divorce stories, and ten kinds of women-taking-care-of-their-fathers stories,” she said. “I do those. I care about those deeply. But one does want to do more.”

Female filmmakers were typecast in the way many actors and actresses have been, for the most part pigeonholed in family drama and comedy genres. For example, in 1997 actress Kasi Lemmons made her directorial debut with “Eve’s Bayou,” a haunting family drama, and Betty Thomas returned with the Howard Stern biopic “Private Parts.” In 1998, Ephron returned with the romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail.” Nancy Meyers, a long-time screenwriter, made her directorial debut with the family-friendly comedy “The Parent Trap,” and Brenda Chapman, a Disney animator, was one of three directors on “Prince of Egypt,” the animated story of Moses.

In 1999, three female filmmakers made rookie features unlike anything in American movies. Two were romantic dramas about teenage sexuality, the other an imaginative Shakespeare adaptation. Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides,” based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, looked at how boys look at girls, subversively turning the female gaze on the male gaze. Kimberly Peirce’s “Boys Don’t Cry” dramatized the life story of Teena Brandon, who changed her name and gender to become Brandon Teena and fell victim to a hate crime.

Julie Taymor, the theater director who created “The Lion King” on stage, made her movie debut with “Titus,” an anachronistic version of the Shakespeare history play “Titus Andronicus,” underscoring its parallels to Italy under Mussolini.

At the end of the decade — and century — of the 11,000 filmmakers working both in television and film included in the Directors Guild of America, about 2,300 were women. While women made up 21 percent of the membership, they comprised only 9 percent of the filmmakers working in movies.

Most, including Martha Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State University and the head of the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, naturally assumed that in the new century the needle would move toward 50/50.

In addition to writing film reviews and essays for Truthdig, Carrie Rickey has been a film critic at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Village Voice, and an art critic at Artforum and Art in America. Rickey has taught at various institutions, including School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, and has appeared frequently on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” MSNBC, and CNN.

What Happened to the Women Directors in Hollywood? Part 4: 1984–1999 was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »

- Women and Hollywood

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‘Shots Fired’: New Fox Drama Brings Feature Film Directors to the Black Lives Matter Movement

12 January 2017 5:00 AM, PST | Indiewire Television | See recent Indiewire Television news »

Richard Dreyfuss would like you to know that Fox’s upcoming event series, “Shots Fired,” is “probably the most current show you’ll ever see.” According to the “Jaws” star, “When we were shooting it was happening and when we left it happened there… it’s exactly current with the world.”

And that’s by design. At the TCA Winter Press Tour, the producers and stars of Fox’s 10-episode drama explained that the show came about right after the chaos that rocked Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014.

Read More: Dustin Lance Black Wants to Unite the Nation, Even Trump, With Gay Rights Miniseries ‘When We Rise

According to co-creator Gina Prince-Bythewood, after the events following the death of Michael Brown, Fox CEO Dana Walden went to producer Brian Grazer regarding a project that would take on the issues Ferguson brought up. Grazer then enlisted Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Bythewood »

- Liz Shannon Miller

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‘Shots Fired’: New Fox Drama Brings Feature Film Directors to the Black Lives Matter Movement

12 January 2017 5:00 AM, PST | Indiewire | See recent Indiewire news »

Richard Dreyfuss would like you to know that Fox’s upcoming event series, “Shots Fired,” is “probably the most current show you’ll ever see.” According to the “Jaws” star, “When we were shooting it was happening and when we left it happened there… it’s exactly current with the world.”

And that’s by design. At the TCA Winter Press Tour, the producers and stars of Fox’s 10-episode drama explained that the show came about right after the chaos that rocked Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014.

Read More: Dustin Lance Black Wants to Unite the Nation, Even Trump, With Gay Rights Miniseries ‘When We Rise

According to co-creator Gina Prince-Bythewood, after the events following the death of Michael Brown, Fox CEO Dana Walden went to producer Brian Grazer regarding a project that would take on the issues Ferguson brought up. Grazer then enlisted Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Bythewood »

- Liz Shannon Miller

Permalink | Report a problem


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