Five signs the tide is turning for female filmmakers

For 'Pitch Perfect 2' director Elizabeth Banks, the $70.3m opening gives her the second biggest opening ever for a ...

For 'Pitch Perfect 2' director Elizabeth Banks, the $70.3m opening gives her the second biggest opening ever for a female director.

If you've had the misfortune of being cornered by me at a house party any time in the last few years, no doubt the conversation will have turned eventually to the dominant paradigm in cinema; that is, men, men, men.

The broader conversation has, of late, been especially grim: Jessica P. Ogilvie's searing LA Weekly feature "How Hollywood keeps out women" blew the lid off the sexist behaviour of everyone from studio bosses to leftie favourite George Clooney, not to mention the double standards that see female filmmakers on the back foot while their male colleagues soar.

"If a movie starring or written by or directed by a man flops, people don't blame the gender of the creator," Diablo Cody, who wrote Young Adult and Juno, told Ogilvie. "It's just kind of weird how the blame is always immediately placed on female directors."

That feature seemed to rip the scab from a long-festering wound, and in the fortnight since it was published, it no longer feels like an exaggeration to suggest that female filmmakers might not be toiling in the gloom forever. Here are five signs the tide might be about to turn.

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1. Women are triumphing at the Box Office

The two big opening weekends of the past week, Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road took out the #1 and #2 spots at the US box office. This is big news because for Pitch Perfect 2 director Elizabeth Banks, the $70.3m opening gives her the second biggest opening ever for a female director (the biggest was $85m for Fifty Shades Of Grey, directed by Sam Taylor Johnson), and should prove beyond a doubt that women are interested in seeing themselves represented on screen: 75% of the opening weekend audience was female, and 62% under the age of 25. Fury Road, on the other hand, has blown apart the dominant action movie paradigm by focusing on female characters and dismantling the dangers of performative masculinity.

 

2. Woman-centric summer blockbusters are everywhere 

The summer movie slate is, traditionally, when the rock-'em-sock-'em excesses of action filmmaking (read: bro fodder) are rolled out. This year is different: big releases include Hot Pursuit, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, Aloha, Spy, Inside Out, The Bronze, Trainwreck, Paper Towns, Ricki and the Flash, all of which feature at least one female lead, and many of them were written by women. Of course, this isn't necessarily cause to take our feet off the pedal; as Ricki writer Cody said, "If a female-starring movie underperforms, everyone in Hollywood will be wary of women for a while [and say], 'The movie obviously didn't work because there were women in it, duh.' Then a Bridesmaids-type phenomenon will happen, and every studio will put a copycat film in development and act like they were on the lady train all along."

3. Female filmmakers are speaking out

Now that momentum has begun to build, female directors, writers and actors have realised there's safety in numbers: where once women would have been reticent about speaking on the record, for fear it might hurt their career, there now seems to be a groundswell of women sharing their experiences. At the Cannes Film Festival, currently underway, a series of talks were peppered with eye-opening anecdotes from women including director Claire Denis, actress Salma Hayek, and producer Christine Vachon. (You can watch excerpts from the Women In Motion panels here.)

"For a long time they thought the only thing we were interested in seeing were romantic comedies," Hayek said of major studios. "They don't see us as a powerful economic force, which is an incredible ignorance."

 

4. 'Chick flicks' are a thing of the past

At Cannes, Carol producer Elizabeth Karlsen spoke about the sorts of films that women are expected both to make and to want to see: "Women should be able to tell any stories they want to tell. For example, Kathryn Bigelow doing Zero Dark Thirty, doing Point Break, she should tell those stories. She's not telling the same stories Nancy Meyers is telling. The point is we tell the stories we want to tell."

Accepting an award at the inaugural Women In Motion awards at the festival, Jane Fonda said, "It's critical that women are at the heart of the international film industry, not just as glamorous icons but as creators, as artists, as decision makers, ensuring that the narrative — of not just half but 51% of the world's population — is fully represented."

5. The A.C.L.U. is on the case

And finally, the American Civil Liberties Union is asking state and federal agencies to investigate Hollywood studios, television networks and talent agencies for gender discrimination in their hiring practices. They may be onto something, given that just 1.9% of the top-grossing 100 films from the last two years were directed by women, according to a University of Southern California study.

"Women directors aren't working on an even playing field and aren't getting a fair opportunity to succeed," Melissa Goodman, director of the L.G.B.T. Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the A.C.L.U. of Southern California, told The New York Times. "Gender discrimination is illegal. And, really, Hollywood doesn't get this free pass when it comes to civil rights and gender discrimination."