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Topic Du Jour: Female Directors

If you haven't read Vulture's list of 100 female directors Hollywood could be hiring you should. It's a great 'shut your mouth' argument for those suits that hilariously say 'well, we would hire female directors if there were any!' Bless Kyle Buchanan for spearheading this -- though I hope he had interns helping.  Naturally there will be passionate responses. Diversity arguments will always promote some degree of snark -- see Anthony Mackie's recent comments about the Black Panther movie's search for a director -- and nitpicking, including here.

But we nitpick with love.

David Poland argues that "strategy," not shaming, is what's required and that statistics and math won't help. He neglects to detail the strategy though. As for myself I (mostly) love the list and think it's important that a wake up call like this is out there -- what did happen to Laverne herself, Penny Marshall, who directed so many huge hits in the 80s and 90s? It's smart to make the list far reaching and extensive but some of the people are not reasonable for an argument either because their careers have been over for so long or because...wait for it... they aren't good directors. (Obviously there are many bad directors with penises who get lots of work. But we'd like them to find other jobs, too!)  

As much as we love Elizabeth Banks as an actress -- and wow has she ever been upping her game in that department of late -- and hope she doesn't read this she does not show what one might call "promise" as a director in Pitch Perfect 2. Phyllida Lloyd, another name on the list, has made two bad films starring Meryl Streep. She will surely find work again since Mamma Mia! was a gargantuan global hit and Iron Lady won two Oscars but she's a terrible film director. She has no sense of where cameras go or basically anything. Those movies are b-a-d. Her work on stage is reportedly grand and we have no reason to doubt that consensus but some talents don't transfer well across mediums.

Names. Names. Names.
The biggest and most celebrated female directors like Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion (all Oscar winners for directing or screenwriting) and the recently ascended Ava DuVernay will continue to get work as well they should since they are all completely amazing and distinctive. Likewise arthouse auteurs like Claire Denis, Andrea Arnold, Miranda July, and Ana Lily Armipour should just keep doing their singular brilliant things because a) Hollywood wouldn't know what to do with them and b) they probably wouldn't ever want to do it, whatever it was, with Hollywood - swipe left.

To Vulture's list we would like to add or at least point to the annual Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars wherein female directors are regularly submitted to represent their countries. This year's race alone features 13 movies directed or codirected by women. So though it's tough out there for female directors everywhere it's not as tough in some industries as it is in Hollywood.

But, Hollywood Suits and Powerful Executives, if you're reading (haha) please throw interesting work at these less famous women who are really fine directors and whose sensibilities are accessible enough for the mainstream and not one of them have made enough movies: Lisa Cholodenko (who has never made anything less than interesting and often they're just plain great), Isabel Coixet (good with low key engaging drama), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone!), Leslye Headland (great with romantic comedy -- a genre that desperately needs revitalizing voices), Drew Barrymore (Whip It is so underrated), Gina Prince-Bythewood (very strong with romance), Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou!), Floria Sigismondi (Runaways showed much promise), and Dee Rees (Pariah was a miracle). Vulture's suggestion of lifting TV director Jennifer Getzinger into the movie ranks to see what she could do on a bigger less episodic scale is also insightful. She's worked on some great television including Mad Men ("The Suitcase" - a one hour masterpiece), Orange is the New Black, and Masters of Sex and all three of those series have displayed visual prowess rather than just the verbal prowess one expects from tv given that it's always dubbed "a writer's medium". 

P.S. If you're interested in this topic make sure to follow Anne Marie's "Women's Picture" series. This month every Thursday will be devoted to Mira Nair films (the excellent Oscar nominated Salaam Bombay! is tomorrow) and she's already given us whole months of Kathryn Bigelow, Ida Lupino, Ava DuVernay, Jane Campion, and Agnes Varda.

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Reader Comments (13)

This was well thought-out. And I often find in lists that corral a bunch of people from an underserved demographic that some examples really don't best exemplify the merits of said demographic, so they almost hurt the argument more than help it. I'm glad you commented on those ones, too.

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Did you see Rose McGowan's reaction on fb for being excluded?

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercris

Yes, big studio romantic comedies could use a major revitalization. But just putting Leslye Headland or Gina Prince-Bythewood or Gillian Robespierre in the director's chair won't be enough. You can't make a great movie with a terrible screenplay, and would a big studio have the guts/confidence to let them write and/or have control of their own material? I kind of doubt it. I mean, Brenda Chapman was fired from "Brave" over creative differences regarding a personal mother/daughter story that she and her daughter had created. Maybe Chapman's direction was bad, we don't know, but it seems a lot more like her feminine idea wasn't fitting inside the studio's marketing wheelhouse.

Debra Granik's lack of work is a head scratcher. "Winter's Bone" was gritty, determined filmmaking at its most accessible. I would never recommend "Meek's Cutoff" to most of my friends. They'd be bored, and they'd hate the ending (which I adored), but they all loved "Winter's Bone" once I convinced them to watch it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'd never want Kelly Reichardt to try her hand at a big studio film, but I think Granik could do it super well.

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercash

Cash -- well so far Leslye has been writing her own material and writing screenplays for other films too. so i think it's just a crossover hit away from the big time. I totally agree with you on Reichardt and Debra Granik. Winter's Bone is so accessible and confident. It's bizarre that we haven't seen a follow up and she's doing documentaries.

cb -- i didn't see that.

hmmm. i thought there'd be more interest in this article *weeps*

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm not sure we can say Banks has no promise based on one movie right? It's not like Pitch Perfect 2 was bad, for the type of movie is was I thought she did alright.

Am also hoping to see more from Debra Granik

Also was Niki Caro on the list? The Vintner's Luck was pretty bad but loved Whale Rider and North Country, she does some great work with actresses (3 actress oscar noms from 4 movies, not bad)

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrooooke

broooke -- it just seemed rather sloppily assembled. it was fun but there was nothing distinctive or disciplined about it that didn't feel like the producers themselves couldn't have just handed the actors a script and had cameramen milling about ;) We'll see on film number 2.

November 4, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Where is everyone??????

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcello

Brooke, I believe she was on there. She directed that sport movie from earlier in the year. McFarland, USA? Proved she could do that stuff and get box office out of it.

I agree with a lot of what Nathaniel says. Including names like Lana Wachowski is strange since she works on her own projects with her brother. Are they actively out there looking for work from other studios?

I liked the list more as a list of names rather than their initial goal as a directory of names to go "here, this person can direct your movie!"

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

What's interesting is that some of the male directors delivering similar work to the female directors with sub-par work. We're not hurting for examples of male directors within any genre, scale, or taste that have made bad movies, and they're not struggling to be considered for work as much as what you could consider their female counterpart.

Also, for directors like Debra Granik that want to "do their own thing", it's important to note that male directors who "do their own thing" are given much more opportunity and incentive to do so.

November 4, 2015 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Marcello -- right? comments are so quiet this week *CRIES*

November 4, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh yea, just managed to see the list, good one.

Nate - I agree PP2 wasn't amazing, but I thought she did alright. Maybe I just want it to be so though, but I do think she could do good things with the right material.

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrooooke

Great piece, Nathaniel. You bring up some really good points, I'm glad you commented on this.

Also, cannot wait to read what Anne Marie has whipped up on Mira Nair's films. Hopefully she'll also write something on Monsoon Wedding, my personal favourite of Nair's films. A wonderful director who really utilises the camera exceptionally, plus a visually imaginative storyteller.

November 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAditya B

I love Monsoon Wedding. Definitely my favorite Mira Nair film. (Not sure how to explain that ill-advised Vanity Fair-Amelia detour of hers.)

More female directors who know framing shots and holding cameras, please!

November 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

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