12 items from 2017
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
Here’s some happy news about two very dark shows: writer-creators Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) and Sally Wainwright (“Happy Valley”) were the big winners at last night’s Royal Television Society (Rts) Awards, BBC News reports.
Waller-Bridge accepted the Breakthrough and Best Comedy Writer prizes, and Wainwright received Best Drama Writer and the Judges’ Award. “Happy Valley,” a crime drama starring Sarah Lancashire, was also honored with the Rts Drama Series award.
“Fleabag,” which was recently renewed for a second season, is set in London and centers on a self-destructive young woman (Waller-Bridge) who owns a guinea pig-themed café. “I really wanted to hide a tragedy in a comedy and I really wanted to trick people,” Waller-Bridge has said. “I love the idea of disarming an audience through comedy and making them feel safe, and in turn making them vulnerable to twists and turns that they might not be expecting from a character.”
Waller-Bridge previously wrote and starred in “Crashing” about a group of twentysomethings using an old hospital as apartments. She is also working on BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” which centers on Eve, a fiercely intelligent security services operative who dreams of leaving her desk job behind to be a spy, and Villanelle, an elegant and proficient murderer. Waller-Bridge will serve as showrunner on the series.
Wainwright is keeping busy as well. Her new series about trailblazing landowner Anne Lister, “Shibden Hall,” will be produced by Lookout Point for BBC One and co-produced with HBO. Wainwright also wrote and directed the TV movie “To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters.” Premiering March 26 on PBS, “To Walk Invisible” follows sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne (Finn Atkins, Chloe Pirrie, and Charlie Murphy) as they face “numerous obstacles to write some of the greatest novels in the English language.”
Julie Walters was honored at the Rts awards with the Lifetime Achievement award. “I simply can’t thank all the amazing people I have elbowed out of the way to get where I am,” Walters quipped as she picked up the prize. Probably best known as Mrs. Weasley from the “Harry Potter” films, the actress has appeared in the Hulu series “National Treasure,” “Brooklyn,” and “Brave.” Walters will next be seen in “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Finally, Sophie Okonedo was named Best Female Actor for her work in “Undercover.” The drama miniseries centers on lawyer Maya Cobbina (Okonedo), who “returns to Britain to become the first black Director of Public Prosecutions,” according to its synopsis. After accepting the position, “she begins to suspect that everything she knew about the man she has been married to for the past 20 years (Adrian Lester) is a lie.”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Sally Wainwright Win Big at Royal Television Society Awards was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story. »
- Rachel Montpelier
One of the great joys for many years when seeing a Pixar movie is not only the movie itself, but the original short film that play in front of the main feature. In some cases, these shorts are more memorable than the actual movies themselves. I have a feeling that may wind up being the case with Lou, the brand new short film from Pixar that will be playing ahead of Cars 3 this June.
Pixar decided to bring Lou to SXSW and treat some lucky audiences to the short before most of the world gets to see it when Cars 3 hits theaters on June 16. I was fortunate enough to catch it and Pixar has made some very memorable shorts, but this really ranks up there. Lou tugs at the heartstrings in the way only a Pixar project can and short film or not, it truly embodies everything we »
Mark Harrison Mar 15, 2017
Batman & Robin has a lot to answer for. Almost 20 years after its release, Joel Schumacher's brightly-coloured art nouveau confection is widely acknowledge as the nadir of the cinematic Bat-canon, even though that canon has very recently incorporated the DC Extended Universe entries, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and the Academy Award-winning* Suicide Squad.
But two decades on, it sometimes feels like the films have wound up going too far the other way. Warner Bros rightly ran in the opposite direction with the Dark Knight trilogy, which began eight years later with Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. However, they haven't replicated the success of those films by doubling down on »
Simon Brew Mar 13, 2017
Very mild spoilers for Beauty & The Beast. Big spoilers for Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1
Brave man, Bill Condon. The director who has given us films as diverse as Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh, Dreamgirls, Gods And Monsters, two Twilight movies and Kinsey has turned his attention to the live action take on Disney’s 1991 classic, Beauty And The Beast. During his stop off in London to promote the movie, he spared us some time for a chat. Here’s how it went…
I’m your toughest crowd, I suspect. I always wondered what it’d be like if someone ever remade my favourite film and I had to interview them.
What’s you’re favourite film?
Er, the 1991 version of Beauty And The Beast.
Oooohhhhh. Well tell me the things you miss from the original film. »
MaryAnn’s quick take… My pick: “Pearl” [pictured], blending new Vr tech with old-fashioned characters and emotions, demonstrating storytelling possibilities that are beginning to open up. I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
The lessons and legacies parents pass on to their children. The dangers of not living in the present… or living too much in the present. These are the motifs woven through the five short animated films nominated for the Oscar this year.
“Pearl” is a lovely sketch of the creative bond between a father and daughter.
My favorite, and the one I’d like to see win, is “Pearl” [IMDb], from Disney animator Patrick Osborne (Big Hero 6), who won in this category two years ago with his delightful “Feast.” A lovely sketch of a relationship between a father and daughter from their rough early »
- MaryAnn Johanson
Ever want to learn a few storytelling tricks from some Oscar-winning filmmakers? Well, today’s your lucky day. Pixar Animation Studios has announced the start of a new six-course program online that will see some of the company’s biggest voices teaching aspiring screenwriters the art of telling a story. Teachers include award-winning directors like Pete Doctor (“Up,” “Inside Out”) and Mark Andrews (“Brave”).
Read More: ‘Piper’: How Pixar Turned R&D Into an Oscar-Contending Short (Exclusive Video)
The first course, entitled “The Art of Storytelling,” is now available for free. The series aims to provide tips on world building, character creation, and finding the emotional undertone of any given story. Every episode will be free and released through the Kahn Academy’s “Pixar in a Box” digital franchise. The courses will include videos, exercises and hands-on activities to help storytellers develop an initial idea into a final storyboard. »
- Zack Sharf
Pixar Animation Studios has launched the first of six free online lessons covering the art of storytelling, led by Pete Docter, Mark Andrews, and other filmmakers from the renowned Disney-owned studio.
The new series is available for free through online-education platform Khan Academy. Directors and story artists providing insights into Pixar’s creative process in the new series include Pete Docter, director of “Inside Out,” “Up” and “Monsters Inc.”; Mark Andrews, director and screenwriter of “Brave” and story supervisor on “The Incredibles”; Sanjay Patel, director of “Sanjay’s Super Team” and animator on “Ratatouille,” “Cars” and “Monsters, Inc.”; and Domee Shi, story artist on “Inside Out.”
The first of the storytelling lessons is available now at PixarInABox.org. The “Art of Storytelling” series will provide tips on how to make stories emotionally appealing as well as how to create characters and unique worlds. “We hope that by sharing how we tell stories, »
- Todd Spangler
It’s been 16 years since Pixar won the Oscar for best animated short (Ralph Eggleston’s “For the Birds”). Wouldn’t it be fitting if Alan Barillaro’s fine-feathered “Piper” ended the drought? That would give Pixar four Oscars (alongside Geri’s Game” and “Tin Toy”).
The other three contenders range from Robert Valley’s bleak “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” (Vimeo’s first Oscar nom), the melancholy Western, “Borrowed Time” (made independently by Pixar’s Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj), and the introspective “Pearl” from Oscar winner Patrick Osborne (Disney’s “Feast”), the first Vr nominee from Google Spotlight Stories.
The rite of passage for the adorable sand piper continues a long Pixar tradition of incubating innovative tech in its shorts program. »
- Bill Desowitz
This year a record 69 animated short films vied for an Oscar nomination, with ten making the shortlist, and five final nominations.
For six years, Disney or Pixar has been nominated in the category every year, and won twice (“Paperman” and “Feast”). This year Pixar’s “Piper,” from Alan Barillaro (“Wall·E,” “Brave,” “Finding Nemo”), could mark a Pixar win for the first time since Ralph Eggleston’s “For the Birds” 15 years ago. That would give Pixar four Oscars (alongside Geri’s Game” and “Tin Toy”).
Read more: Oscars 2017 Animated Shorts: Will ‘Piper’ End Pixar’s 15-Year Drought?
However, “Piper” faces stiff competition, particularly from Theodore Ushev’s much darker “Blind Vaysha” from the National Film Board of Canada, which has earned a dozen Oscars. The other three contenders range from Robert Valley’s bleak “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” (Vimeo’s first Oscar nom), the melancholy Western, “Borrowed Time” (made independently »
- Anne Thompson and Bill Desowitz
In celebration of DreamWorks Trollhunters, which premiered on Netflix on Friday, December 23rd, DreamWorks Animation Television and Netflix have released an out-of-this-world mash up featuring elements of the wildly-popular Stranger Things! Trollhunters took fans by storm when it premiered all 26 episodes, a first for a Netflix original. Not only were fans ecstatic but critical acclaim has soared since the premiere putting Trollhunters at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes! See your favorite characters back in action in the video below!
From the limitless imagination of acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro comes a tale of two worlds set to collide in the epic saga DreamWorks Trollhunters. When ordinary teenager Jim Lake Jr. stumbles upon a mystical amulet on his way to school one morning, he inadvertently discovers an extraordinary secret civilization of mighty trolls beneath his small town of Arcadia. Suddenly destined to play a crucial role in an ancient battle of good and evil, »
- ComicMix Staff
THR is reporting that Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Laurie have signed on to the cast of Holmes and Watson, the latest collaboration between Talladega Nights and Step Brothers stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.
Details of Fiennes and Laurie’s characters are being kept under wraps, but the site reports that the duo “will slip on the shoes of two beloved characters from the Holmes oeuvre”.
The film sees Ferrell as Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective Sherlock Holmes, with Reilly as his sidekick Dr. John Watson. Also featuring in the cast are Rebecca Hall (Christine), Rob Brydon (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), Kelly Macdonald (Brave) and Lauren Lapkus (Jurassic World).
- Gary Collinson
12 items from 2017
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