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We need more women directors

| Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The 75th Annual Golden Globes, which aired on Jan. 7, were marked by a powerful display of support for the Time’s Up movement against sexual assault and harassment. Allegations of sexual abuse by producer Harvey Weinstein, which first surfaced in October of 2017, have since shed light on the epidemic of abuse in Hollywood, with several men in the industry being exposed. In support of the movement, nearly all those who attended wore black, and many guests, including Oprah Winfrey, made speeches on the subject.

But the Golden Globes focused on more than the essential issue of sexual abuse –– they also spoke of the profound lack of representation for women in the film industry. Actress Natalie Portman and director Ron Howard stood together to present the Golden Globe for Best Director. Before reading off the names, Portman emphatically stated: “Here are the all male nominees.”

She wasn’t joking. Inexplicably, the Academy couldn’t find a single woman they deemed worthy of a Best Director nomination –– not Niki Caro for “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” not Sofia Coppola for “The Beguiled,” not Valerie Faris for “Battle of the Sexes.” Greta Gerwig’s film “Lady Bird,” in fact, won Best Comedy or Musical, as well as Best Actress. Yet even Gerwig’s exceptional work on her first feature film was not enough to earn her a nomination.

Unfortunately, this is neither a new nor isolated trend in Hollywood. In the 89 year history of the Oscars, just one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won the Academy Award for Best Director — and only four have been nominated. Neither Walt Disney Pictures nor 20th Century Fox released a film directed by a woman in 2017. From 2017 through 2019, the Big Six movie studios will release 149 feature films. Only 12 of them will be directed by women. Only 12.

Patty Jenkins directed the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.” It received rave reviews from both critics and audiences, from casual moviegoers and comic book fans alike. It earned over $821 million at the box office, the highest grossing superhero origin film to date. It wasn’t Jenkins’ first success. She also directed the 2003 film “Monster,” which also received critical acclaim and earned $60.4 million against a budget of just $4.5 million. That kind of success is almost unprecedented — any director (well, at least any male director) who can make a film that earns such a high profit would typically be contracted by studios to create more films immediately. But Jenkins wasn’t given the opportunity to direct a single movie until 14 years after “Monster” premiered. Meanwhile, directors such as J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon have been given chance after chance to direct superhero and sci-fi films, despite a track record not nearly as perfect as Jenkins’.

This is not to say that every movie studio is operating out of sexism. They operate on profit — they invest in movies they believe will make them money, which typically means making a safe movie. Unfortunately, the “safe” movie typically means the one directed by an already well-established male director. Audiences prove time and time again, however, that they don’t care if the movie they watch was made by a man or a woman, by an established or new director. If the movie is good, people will pay to see it.

It’s not fair that women in Hollywood are so often unable to pursue their craft and don’t get the recognition they deserve when they do — but the issue affects more than just women in the industry. How many great Patty Jenkins films have we missed out on because studios continued to pass her over? How many amazing stories have we not heard, how many characters have we not met? Movies offer an escape from our daily lives. They’re an integral part of our culture. They tell stories that explain and enlighten and inspire. The filmmaker’s gender shouldn’t matter — any story that deserves to be told should be told. Half the population can’t stand on the sidelines of movie-making. Time’s up.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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