Motivated by Ava DuVernay’s Oscar snub and the fact that less that 7% of the 250 movies made in the Hollywood studio system this year were directed by women, I decided to find out what happened to all the women filmmakers. I started by scrolling down the movies I had promoted on Reel Inspiration through the years including my annual “Most Inspiring Films” lists. Imagine my delight at discovering that three of the films listed in first place were directed by women. My all-time favorite Reel Inspiration film, “Even the Rain” (from 2010), was directed by Spanish actress/director Iciar Bollain. My favorite inspiring film of 2011, the documentary about horse whisperer “Buck,” was directed by animal advocate Cindy Meehl. Of course, 2013’s Most Inspiring Film “Wadjda” was directed by a Saudi Arabian woman named Haifaa Al-Mansour. This accomplishment is even more incredible because it was the first feature film ever shot in Saudi Arabia. In fact, she directed the first film EVER shot in Saudi Arabia. This accomplishment needs to be celebrated. Scrolling down the labels on my blog, I found other female filmmakers who directed powerful, inspiring films. These women’s names deserve to be known and their voices heard.
(UPDATE: "2014 Most Inspiring Films" included, ""Welcome to Me," "McFarland USA," "The Babadook," "Belle," and the film that inspired all those impassioned blog posts, Ava DuVernay's "Selma." The 2015 list featured "Suffragette," and my number one choice, Deniz Gamze Ergüven's "Mustang." )
|Ava DuVernay, Iciar Bollain, Haifaa Al-Mansour|
Women with breakout indie films aren't being hired for big studio productions like their male counterparts. A good example of that is “Winter’s Bone” director/co-writer Debra Granik. Despite making $16 million on her small budget movie, being nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Granik) and launching the phenomenal career of Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, Granik has been unable to get a project green-lighted in the studio system. Meanwhile, her male contemporary, Noam Murro (his indie drama “Smart People” made $2 million less) went on to direct the high budget film “300: Rise of an Empire.”
Let’s examine the excuse that women don’t want to direct action films. First, many of the 250 big studio productions aren't action films. The list includes comedies and dramas. All but three of the so-called “chick flicks” and “weepies” were directed by men. It is true that Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman ever to win a Best Director Oscar (for the war film“The Hurt Locker”), declined offers to direct the latest big action franchises. But it is absurd to think that this acclaimed director would choose to direct the latest Marvel Comic flick or big action sequel. Hasn't she earned the opportunity to direct a film that reflects her own vision – like the previous Oscar winners? (In all fairness, many renowned directors have found it so difficult to finance their vision in today’s corporate-run movie industry that they have started working in television.)
- Jennifer Laurence beat the competition, grossing $335,123,000 in “The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part 1.”
- Angelina Jolie was “Maleficent” (penned by Linda Woolverton) at 8th place ($241,410,378).
- “Interstellar” blasted off to 16th place featuring a strong woman astronaut and scientist ($186,666,000) originally conceived by producer Lynda Obst with Professor of Theoretical Physics Kip Thorne.
- “Gone Girl” Rosamund Pike slayed as the unhappy wife in 18th place ($167,628,577) while retaining author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn’s vision.
- “Lucy” captured 23rd place ($126,663,600) on Scarlett Johansson’s star power.
- Shailene Woodley shined in at 24th ($124,872,350) in “Fault in Our Stars.”
- Meryl Streep’s bewitching presence conjured up 25th place ($124,388,000) for “Into the Woods.”
- “Tammy” showed off Melissa McCarthy’s strengths as a comedian/writer to earn 38th ($84,525,432).
- Nappy-haired little girl “Annie” (starring Quvenzhane Wallis and co-written by Aline Brosh McKenna) found a home at 39th ($84,452,781).
- “If I Stay,” starring Chloe Grace Moretz and adapted by Shauna Cross from the novel by Gayle Forman, hung in at 52nd ($50,474,843).
Where are all the other female directors? Women are making films....
|Jennifer Yuh Nelson|
This year 36% of the films at Sundance were directed by women. So what became of the female directors who had breakout hits in the past? Gina Prince-Bythewood shines a light on celebrity with "Beyond the Lights." Amma Asante overcame daunting challenges to get her black heroin "Belle" on screen. Some have feature films coming out in 2015. "Twilight's" Catherine Hardwicke helmed "I Miss You Already" and is set to direct the $50 million dollar epic "Loulan." Patricia Riggen ("Under the Same Moon") directed the true story of "The 33" miners trapped underground. Andrea Arnold ("Fish Tank") is filming "American Honey." Oscar winner Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") is in post production on "A Very Murray Christmas." "Whale Rider's" Niki Caro directed Disney's "McFarland USA" and is currently shooting "The Zookeeper’s Wife." Celine Sciamma ("Tomboy") has "Ma vie de courgette" coming out in 2016. Amma Assante is currently shooting the provocative racial drama "A United Kingdom." Some have produced their own short films while seeking funding for feature projects (Mira Nair, Lynne Ramsay, Mary Harron). This plan has proven successful for Mary Harron who announced on February 1, 2016 that she is collaborating with "American Psycho" scribe Guinevere Turner on the Manson-Followers film "The Family."
The problem is that the films made outside the studio system aren't being seen because they don’t have money for marketing and distribution. Right now, Hollywood is run by a handful of giant corporations that are only interested in testosterone-driven megahits that have international appeal to show a huge profit to stockholders. Businessmen are running the show. So they keep regurgitating the same tired formulas that have worked in the past. As a result, movie attendance has gone down.
Recent box office receipts prove that there is a demand for female driven films. Why not put some of that money back into smaller films with a fresh perspective? From a business standpoint, they cost less to make, so they are less risky. "Winter's Bone," independently financed by the filmmakers when their investor fell through, was produced for just $2 million and earned $14 million above that. That's 7 TIMES its budget. That's just good business.
|"Winter's Bone" by Debra Granik|
Meanwhile, I will continue writing articles on the subject and seeking out female filmmakers to promote on Reel Inspiration. Look for my reviews celebrating two women making new strides in horror: Ana Lily Amipour ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") and Jennifer Kent ("The Babadook.") PLEASE, SHARE!
Check out the many strong female characters in my "Most Inspiring Films 2015."
For more information on Women Filmmakers:
The best and bravest article I've found clarifying the issue: The Women in Hollywood Speak Out.
Watch the video: "Celluloid Ceilings: Women Directors Speak Out"
"10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention from Hollywood."
"100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring"
Research that proves Hollywood is still a "man's club."
Ava DuVernay expands distribution cooperative for women filmmakers and filmmakers of color.
This year a writers lab for women over 40 was established.
"Why 2015 Film and Television Was a Major Win for Feminism"
"Watch: A Celebration of the Top-Grossing Women-Directed Films of 2015"
Stephanie Allain, who champions films from directors of color, speaks out.
The Best Films About Women in 2014
"Beeban Kidron: The Shared Wonder of Film"
"Everything You Need To Know About The Hollywood Pay Gap"
"Celebrating Women in Classic Film: The Silent Directors."
"The History of Women in Animation. The Mothers of a Medium."
Women Documentary Filmmakers
The Director List (including women indie, documentary and television directors.)
"85 Films By and About Women of Color."
"Female Directors Make History at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival."
"Attention Filmmakers! Apply for the HBO fellowship for women and diversity"
"Hollywood Sets Up Its Lady Superheroes to Fail"
"Two women-led media companies are committing greater resources to funding and distributing films made by women".
"Diversity doesn't just happen': Six women in film discuss the challenges ahead
ArcLight Cinemas Spotlights "Exceptional" Women-Directed Docs in Summer Series
"Heroines of Cinema: These 10 Female Filmmakers Prove Why Hollywood Studios Should Change Their Tune"
"Guide to Cult Female Filmmakers"
"Female Directors Pick Their Favorite Films Made by Women"