This week Neil Calloway looks at the lack of women behind the camera in Hollywood…
This week, a report by San Diego State University revealed that only 7% of the films in 2014’s top 250 highest grossing list were directed by women. That works out at 17 films, with only one film in the top 100 grossing films.
I was surprised by the statistic; surprised that the figure was that high. Looking at the list of films, I’d be shocked if anyone but the most ardent cinephile would recognise them all. The one female helmed film that made the top 100 was Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie. It’s hard to imagine Jolie would be allowed to direct a big budget film like that as only her second film if she hadn’t already established herself as an actress. Another of the 17 films was Palo Alto, directed by Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola. Do you have to have connections to be a woman and direct? Perhaps, but perhaps it doesn’t help; Jennifer Chambers Lynch, daughter of David, struggled to get a film made after her debut with Boxing Helena in 1993; it was fifteen years before she got behind the camera on a feature again. Ami Canaan Mann and Jordan Scott have had varying degrees of success in following their fathers into directing.
The fact that in the film women are conspicuous by their absence (the lead character’s mother aside, I’m struggling to remember a single female character) is worth noting. Successful films directed by women; they seem to be very masculine. It took until 1976 for a woman to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar, and since then there have only been three more. Kathryn Bigelow is the only winner, for The Hurt Locker, again a film noticeable by the absence of women. It is as if to succeed as a director in Hollywood a woman has to become an honorary man and eschew any female characters – a theory supported by the fact that probably the best modern war drama of the 21st Century, the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, was largely directed by a woman, Susanna White.
The thing is, woman aren’t entirely absent from top positions in Hollywood; everyone knows Amy Pascal’s name following the Sony hack. Megan Ellison is producing some of the best US films right now. The most entertaining insider account of making a film I’ve ever read is Killer Instinct, Jane Hamsher’s story of producing Natural Born Killers. Gone Girl wouldn’t have been made without Reese Witherspoon’s involvement. In Britain, few producers have had the success of Alison Owen. Amanda Nevill is the Chief Executive of the BFI. The London Film Festival is run by Clare Stewart.
In British film at least, having a female writer or director apparently means your film will be more successful. According to a report published in 2013, and looking at films released between 2010 and 2012, showed that almost a third of the top British independent films at the box office had a female scriptwriter or director, despite the number of women directing or writing films being much smaller.
It may be that things are on the up for women behind the camera. The most anticipated film of the year – the new Star Wars – is produced by a woman, Kathleen Kennedy, and another hotly awaited film is directed by a woman, too – Sam Taylor-Johnson shot the forthcoming adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. After a successful career in television, Michelle MacLaren is directing the Wonder Woman movie, but why can’t a superhero film with a male lead be directed by a woman? We don’t expect films directed by men to tell male only stories (though they often sadly do), so why shouldn’t a film featuring a male superhero be directed by a woman. Women make up 50% of the potential audience for films, why don’t they make up half of the directors? From now on, if I have a choice between seeing a film directed by a man, and one directed by a woman, I’ll go for the latter. If more people do that, then maybe it won’t be so unusual for a woman to be allowed to get behind the camera.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future installments.