6 items from 2017
Female filmmakers are still an unfortunate rarity in Hollywood — USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative’s latest study about female directors in the industry recently delivered blunt findings like “the director’s chair is white and male” and “age restricts opportunities for female filmmakers” and even “one & done: opportunities for female directors are rare” — but that hasn’t stopped a compelling legion of creators to churn out excellent films for as long as the art form has existed.
The 21st century may be less than seventeen years old, but it’s already played home to a slew of instant classics, from established auteurs to rising indie stars and everything in between. Here are the 25 best.
Read More: The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century, From ‘Children of Men’ to ‘Her’
Behold, a bevy of riches…
A quietly gorgeous portrait of a plucky »
- Kate Erbland, Jude Dry, Zack Sharf and Chris O'Falt
Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams is set to host the 2017 Crystal + Lucy Awards. Elizabeth Banks, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Mira Nair are among the women being honored at the event, a press release from Women in Film, Los Angeles (Wif La) has announced.
Set for June 13 in Beverly Hills, this year’s fundraising dinner, themed “Evolve,” will be in support of Wif La’s educational and philanthropic programs and its work advocating for gender equality in the entertainment industry.
“Pitch Perfect 2” director and actress Banks will receive the The Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which honors “outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.” The three-time Emmy nominated actress is set to direct two high-profile female-led films: a “Charlie’s Angels” reboot and an adaptation of Victoria Aveyard’s Ya dystopian fantasy “Red Queen.” In 2016 Banks founded WhoHaha, a digital comedy platform for women.
The Lucy Award for Excellence in Television will be given to “Black-ish” star Ross. Named after Lucille Ball, the award recognizes “women and men and their creative works that exemplify the extraordinary accomplishments she embodied; whose excellence and innovation have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.” Ross’ role on “Black-ish” has earned her a Golden Globe and the 2015 and 2016 NAACP Image Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. In her Globes acceptance speech, Ellis said, “This is for all of the women of color and colorful people whose stories, ideas and thoughts are not always considered worthy and valid and important. I want you to know that I see you and we see you.” Her other credits include “Girlfriends,” “Reed Between the Lines,” and “CSI.”
“Queen of Katwe” helmer Nair will receive The BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award, “established to recognize the important role women directors play in the film and television industries.” Nair’s feature debut, “Salaam Bombay!” scored an Oscar nod in 1989. Her other credits include “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” “Amelia,” and “Monsoon Wedding.”
Rising star Zoey Deutch snagged The Women In Film Max Mara Face of the Future Award, “given to an actress who is experiencing a turning point in her career through her work in the film and television industries, through her contributions to the community at large, in recognition of her outstanding achievements, and her embodiment of style and grace.” “Before I Fall,” “Why Him?” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” are among her recent credits.
The Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award will go to former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather. Named after the first woman President of the Beverly Hills Bar Association, this honor is presented “to individuals who, like Ms. Zarky herself, have demonstrated enlightened support for the advancement of equal opportunity and devotion to the improvement of the human condition.”
Co-Presidents and Co-Founders of Sony Pictures Classics Michael Barker and Tom Bernard will receive The Women In Film Beacon Award, “presented to an entertainment industry professional for outstanding leadership in the advancement of gender equity, signaling and celebrating unbiased decision making in media.” Barker and Bernard have worked with directors such as Nicole Holofcener, Agnes Varda, Sally Potter, Lisa Cholodenko, Marielle Heller, Maren Ade, Meera Menon, and Marjane Satrapi. They “will be given the inaugural award for their unmatched support of female filmmakers consistently and throughout the entire history of their careers,” the press release states.
Crystal + Lucy Awards to Honor Elizabeth Banks, Tracee Ellis Ross, Mira Nair, & More was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Laura Berger
“The Secret Life of Bees” is coming to the stage — again. The New York Times reports that a musical adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s 2001 novel — which was previously adapted into a one-woman play and a 2008 film— is on the way. The musical will be workshopped at Vassar College/New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse theater season June 27–29.
Lynn Nottage, the first woman to win the Pulitzer for Drama twice, is set to write the musical’s book. Susan Birkenhead (“Monsoon Wedding”) will write the lyrics and Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening”) will compose. Sam Gold (“Fun Home”) will direct the production.
Set in 1964, “The Secret Life of Bees” is told from the perspective of Lily, a 14-year-old white girl growing up in the South. The novel follows Lily as she escapes from her abusive single father with her nanny, Rosaleen, who is black. The pair eventually find refuge and create a new family with the Boatwright sisters — August, June, and May — three black women who run their own beekeeping and honey-making business.
Other notable Powerhouse productions this season include “Stilyagi,” which features a book written by “Fun Home” Tony winner Lisa Kron, and “Good Men Wanted,” a portrait of women fighting in the Civil War.
“Love & Basketball” helmer Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote and directed the film adaptation of “The Secret Life of Bees.” It features an all-star cast including Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, and Paul Bettany.
Nottage recently won her second Pulitzer for “Sweat,” with which she also made her Broadway debut. “Sweat” is about dissatisfaction, anger, and resentment among the working class, specifically among factory workers facing layoffs in Reading, Pennsylvania. Nottage won her first Pulitzer in 2009 for “Ruined,” which focuses on “ruined” women — rape survivors and sex workers — in civil war-torn Congo.
Check out the Powerhouse website for more info on the “Secret Life of Bees” workshop.
“The Secret Life of Bees” Being Made into Musical was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
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?
Female filmmakers greeted the 21st century with optimism. By most measures, movies by women were garnering increased respect in the industry and at the multiplex. Their makers cracked glass ceilings, created new genres, and established new box-office records.
With “Nowhere in Africa” (2001), Caroline Link became the second woman to direct the Oscar-winner for the year’s best foreign film. With “Lost in Translation” (2003), Sofia Coppola was the third woman to receive a best director nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And with “The Hurt Locker” (2009), Kathryn Bigelow was the fourth woman nominated in the directing category — and the first to win. The following year, Danish filmmaker Susanna Bier directed the winner in the best foreign film category, “In a Better World.”
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Love & Basketball” (2000), Karyn Kusama’s “Girlfight” (2000) and Gurinder Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham” (2003) created what might be called the “Title IX” movie, celebrating female athletes on the court, in the ring, and on the field. These are sports movies that celebrate the female body — not for its sex appeal, but for its power. These films inspired younger women (and their mothers were thrilled to take them to movies that didn’t objectify women).
Comedies by women continued to make serious box office, proving the Hollywood wisdom that “funny is money.” Nancy Meyers’ “What Women Want” (2000), starring Mel Gibson as a player briefly given the power to hear what women think about him, made $374 million. Sharon Maguire’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001), in which the title character says what she thinks about womanizers and prigs, brought in $282 million. Movies like these permitted men and women to laugh at men’s foibles.
From Patricia Cardoso’s “Real Women Have Curves” (2002), which introduced America Ferrera as a college-bound Latina, to Julie Taymor’s biopic “Frida” (2003), with Salma Hayek as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, to Patty Jenkins’ “Monster” (2003), with Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, audiences saw realistic women — as opposed to human swizzle sticks with breasts — in movies by women.
Many critics hailed Niki Caro’s “Whale Rider” (2003), about a Maori preteen who challenges her tribal patriarchy and becomes the new chief, as a harbinger of the triumph of female filmmakers over the status quo. Others pointed to the fact that for the first time since records had been kept, in 2000 women made 11 percent of the top 250 box office films. For women who make movies, the new century felt like a new day.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sadly, that encouraging percentage turned out to be a fluke. After 2000, the number dwindled. It remains stuck in the 6 to 9 percent range, says Martha Lauzen, professor of communications and head of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. Since 1998 Lauzen has tracked women working in the industry in her annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report.
“When I started this, I thought it was merely an issue of people not knowing how low the numbers were,” Lauzen said ruefully. “I didn’t know how slow social change is.”
Lauzen’s reporting represents one of three vital resources for understanding the triumphs female filmmakers have made and how far they need to go to achieve parity with men. The others are Stacy Smith’s Media Diversity and Social Change Institute at USC’s Annenberg School and The Bunche Center at UCLA.
Collectively and individually, these creators of annual good news/bad news reports have kept the issue of representation in the public eye.
The Good: For Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), the late Nora Ephron (“Julie & Julia”), and Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Intern”), the 21st century has been a fruitful time. So, too, for younger female moviemakers. Consider Lisa Cholodenko (“Laurel Canyon,” “The Kids Are All Right”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”), and Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake”).
Consider also that Catherine Hardwicke established a franchise with “Twilight” (which made $393 million), Sam Taylor-Johnson created another with “50 Shades of Grey” ($571 million), and that Anne Fletcher’s “The Proposal” made $317 million and Phyllida Lloyd’s “Mamma Mia!” earned $609 million.
Additionally, filmmakers like Dee Rees (“Pariah”), Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”), and Lone Scherfig (“An Education”) broke into the market with unique visions and eyes for new talent, including Adepero Oduye, Jennifer Lawrence, and Carey Mulligan. Significantly, Vicky Jenson (“Shrek”), Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), Jennifer Yuh Nelson (“Kung Fu Panda 2”), and Brenda Chapman (“Brave”) staked a place for women in animation.
The Bad: For every woman appearing onscreen in movies in 2015 there were 2.3 men, according to Stacy Smith’s Media Diversity & Social Change Initiative.
The Ugly: When Walt Hickey, culture reporter for the website fivethirtyeight.com, goes to the movies and sees the screen population is 69 percent male, it just looks wrong to him. “It’s like something apocalyptic has happened, like a parallel universe — a man’s world,” he says.
Both Lauzen’s and Smith’s data show that when a woman is behind the camera and/or screenplay, 39 percent of protagonists are female. In movies by male directors, only four percent of the lead characters are female.
A century ago, male dominance behind the camera and on the screen was not the norm. For women behind the camera, it’s been the norm since 1920. And for women onscreen, it’s been the norm since 1950. Because of this, moviegoers have a distorted picture of America as predominantly male and predominantly Caucasian, when it is neither. (For finer-grain data on minority representation, see this annual report from UCLA’s Bunche Center.)
The Force Reawakens
The Hollywood Dream Factory tailors the majority of its product to the measurements of the men in the audience. This troubles those who want their daughters to partake of the same professional opportunities, cultural representation, and dream lives as their sons. While “Nine to Five,” “Norma Rae,” and “Erin Brockovich” show that studios love stories of women who triumph over the odds, there is less obvious love for female filmmakers trying to beat the odds stacked against them in their professional lives.
Since the Original Six filed suit against two studios in 1983 (see Part 3), female filmmakers have met, strategized, and troubleshot. So much so that in one of her final essays before her death in 2012, Nora Ephron made a list of “Things I Won’t Miss.” Near the top: “Panels on Women in Film.” Many women in film felt as though they were running in place.
Someone had. She is Maria Giese, director of the feature films “When Saturday Comes” and “Hunger.” In February 2013 she brought a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Eeoc) in Los Angeles. Her contention was that the cohort of working filmmakers in the Directors Guild of America (DGA), of which she is a member, was overwhelmingly male.
(While the number of women in the guild directing episodic television amounts to 17 percent, the DGA 2015 census of female filmmakers registered 6.4 percent. That’s lower than the nine percent of female coal miners, and fractional next to the 32 percent of practicing physicians and 36 percent of practicing lawyers who are women).
The Eeoc, which collects data on employer/employee relations for each calendar year, was reluctant to take on a class-action suit.
In April 2013, Giese contacted the Aclu of Southern California and showed the evidence to Melissa Goodman, director of its Lgbtq, Gender & Reproductive Justice Project. For the next two years Goodman and her colleague Ariela Migdal took testimony from more than 50 female directors. In May 2015 they sent the Eeoc an extraordinary letter that counted the ways in which “female filmmakers are effectively excluded from directing big-budget films and seriously underrepresented in television.” A compelling argument in their letter: “The entertainment industry employs many people and makes products that profoundly shape our culture and the perception of women and girls.” Later in 2015, the Eeoc commenced its own investigation.
In January 2017, based on a high-level internal DGA leak received by Giese, Deadline Hollywood reported that after a federal investigation spanning a year that included testimony from over 100 women directors, the Eeoc recently served charges of sex discrimination and unfair hiring practice against all six major studios. While the federal agency does not comment on active cases, Gillian Thomas and Melissa Goodman of the Aclu wrote in an editorial that they had no reason to doubt the veracity of the leak.
A key factor contributing to Giese’s success in getting this issue to the Aclu and Eeoc was her ability to expose the structural obstacles female filmmakers face, from a guild that puts female and minority filmmakers in the same category, to the studios that question the fitness of women to direct.
Myths and Continued Underrepresentation
Over the 25 years I’ve reported on female filmmakers, I’ve interviewed two generations of movie executives. Most, but not all, were male. Most took seriously my questions about the apparent exclusion of women behind the camera, both on the screen and their forthcoming line-up.
Without exception, all of them retold one or more of the “Three Hollywood Myths.”
Myth #1) “Women don’t want to direct action movies and those are the films which are making money.”
Untrue. See: Martha Coolidge’s “Real Genius” (1985), Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” (1991), Mimi Leder’s “The Peacemaker” (1997) and “Deep Impact” (1998), Lexi Alexander’s “Punisher: War Zone” (2008), and Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” (2009) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012).
What is true is that Mira Nair was offered a “Harry Potter” film and chose instead to make the family drama “The Namesake” because the material was more important to her, and that Ava DuVernay was offered “Black Panther,” the film version of the Marvel Comics series, and declined for similar reasons.
Myth #2) “Movies by women don’t make money.”
Untrue again. Some movies by women don’t make back their investment, just as some movies by men do not. What is true is that many movies by women make major bank. Catherine Hardwicke’s little $37 million film “Twilight” grossed $393 million and launched a billion-dollar franchise.
Hardwicke told me by phone that she hears all the time from studios that films by women are poor investments. “And every time you say, ‘Well, this one made money, that one made money,’ they say, ‘This one made money because it was based on a best-selling book,’ or ‘That one made money because of its hot actress.’”
Here are six more films by women and their box-office grosses. They made money because they powerfully connected with audiences.
“Bend it Like Beckham” (Gurinder Chadha). Cost: $6 million/Gross: $77 million“Frida” (Julie Taymor). Cost: $12 million/Gross: $56 million“Frozen” (Jennifer Lee). Cost: $150 million/Gross: $1.2 billion“The Proposal” (Anne Fletcher). Cost: $40 million/Gross: $317 million“Selma” (Ava DuVernay). Cost: $20 million/Gross $67 million“Lost in Translation” (Sofia Coppola). Cost: $4 million/Gross $120 million
Myth #3) “A woman behind the camera means women on the screen and no men in the audience.”
Untrue, if taken literally. Sometimes movies by women have a lower percentage of men in the audience, just as sometimes movies by men have a lower percentage of women in the audience. Take, for example, the 2015 films, “Bridge of Spies” by Steven Spielberg and “The Intern” by Nancy Meyers.
According to Paul Dergarabedian of comScore, the research company’s “PostTrak” data shows the audience gender breakdown at “Bridge of Spies,” a ’60s-era political thriller starring Tom Hanks, was 54 percent male and 46 percent female. For “The Intern,” a contemporary workplace comedy co-starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, it was 41 percent male and 59 percent female. Spielberg’s film grossed $165 million; Meyers’ $194 million. His budget was $40 million; hers was $35 million.
Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” the story of the 1965 march for voting rights led by Martin Luther King and starring David Oyelowo, had an audience gender breakdown of 47 percent male and 53 percent female. The assumption that movies come gendered with a blue or pink ribbon is a canard that still lingers in Hollywood, perhaps a vestige of the target marketing that began in the 1980s.
Speaking from the set of “Queen Sugar” in 2016, DuVernay observed, “We’re in a place right now where every other film is about a comic book superhero. We’re top-heavy with testosterone.”
How did Hollywood, a century ago a place where female directors thrived and prospered, come to this?
Mira Nair, who was born in India, suspects chauvinism. “I’ve always remarked at the irony that the percentage of female directors is higher in India than in the United States,” she explained in a phone conversation. “India is supposed to be the traditional chauvinist culture,” she observes. Nair wonders if the historic examples of female prime ministers in South Asia — Indira Gandhi in India, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan — may have broken the glass ceiling for all professional women there. “Their examples don’t exist in the U.S.”
DuVernay looks forward to the outcome — and hoped-for positive resolution — of the Eeoc investigation. “It’s a systematic problem and it requires radical change,” she said. “If it’s not happening organically, systems should be put in place.” Like many female filmmakers, DuVernay hopes the Eeoc can reconfigure what Giese calls the “vertical playing field for women” into a level one.
“One thing I’m heartened by,” said Nair, who’s been making features for nearly 30 years, “is that the variety and confidence of female filmmakers today is inspiring.”
Do others think it’s changed for the better for women since the 1980s?
“For me, there’s no comparison between the ’80s and now,” reflected Nancy Meyers, whose six films as a director or writer/director have grossed more than a billion dollars. By email she wrote:
Men were still getting used to us being on set in the ’80s. (Men used to have photos of pinups on the set in the ’80s! I’m not kidding.)The only women around back then worked in costumes and hair and makeup. Today women are in every department and often department heads. There are still very few women in the camera department and that’s a shame. That seems to still be a real boy’s club. Today, most crew members are far more comfortable working for and with women.
Yet one thing has not changed: “Now, getting the job to be the director — that’s still an uphill battle,” Meyers said.
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 5: 2000–2017 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
Earlier this January, Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” won Best Picture — Drama at the 74th Golden Globes after racking up widespread critical acclaim since its world premiere at Telluride last September. The film has recently racked up eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. In honor of his new film and all the recent accolade, the Criterion Collection invited Barry Jenkins to check out the famed Criterion Closet and pick out some films to take home. Watch the video below.
Read More: National Society of Film Critics Names ‘Moonlight’ Best Picture of 2016
Jenkins picks out a host of films from the closet that have special significance for him. Some of these films include the “John Cassavetes: Five Films” box set, which Jenkins describes as “foundational”; Krzysztof Kieślowski’s ten-hour long “Dekalog,” a film Jenkins once bought on Ebay because he “felt like he had to see it”; Mathieu Kassovitz’s “La Haine, »
- Vikram Murthi
Home audiences will cheer for Disney’s Queen of Katwe, which has earned widespread critical acclaim. Based on the vibrant true story of a young girl (Madina Nalwanga) from the streets of Uganda whose world changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. It is a remarkable story of perseverance against all odds that will leave viewers feeling humbled and inspired. According to director Mira Nair, “The triumph of the human spirit is not to weep for what we don’t have but to focus on what we do have and allow that to take us to a place we never imagined possible.” Disney’s heartwarming and triumphant tale arrives home on Digital HD on Jan. »
- Tom Stockman
6 items from 2017
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