The year can’t end until someone writes an essay decrying the lack of female directors, both in Hollywood and worldwide. This year, the honors go to the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis, with the bluntly titled “Women in the Seats but Not Behind the Camera.”
The statistics, as usual, are damning: Dargis points out precisely how many H’wood films this year directed by women — out of 600 or so movies released in New York this year, about 10% were female directed.
But the article’s also full of unpacked assumptions and declarations. For starters: is “Precious” really “the most passionately debated women’s picture in memory”? What makes it a “women’s picture” (and if the subject is female directors, what are we make of gay male director Lee Daniels)? Is it really true that the financial success of “New Moon” and “The Blind Side” is “good for women in film”? If so, why? Has conventional wisdom really dictated for years “that women don’t go to the movies and can’t open movies,” and if so, why do chick flicks exist?
In comparing the respective careers of Michael Mann and Kathryn Bigelow, isn’t it relevant that Bigelow’s financial track record in the ’90s and ’00s (specifically, the triple-fails of “Strange Days,” “The Weight of Water” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”) and lack of a huge, defining success at least in part explain her struggles (compared to Mann’s relatively profitable ’90s streak) and his success as much as institutional sexism? And how is it exactly that “The vogue for comics and superheroes has generally forced women to sigh and squeal on the sidelines”? Aren’t there female geeks too?
This is the part where I tell you that I’m not actually sexist (something you’d hope would go without saying, but you never know) and that I understand and care about what Dargis is getting at. I’m just saying it’s time for this annual essayistic ritual to take a new leap into the land of pure journalism.
For example: Dargis dismisses the kind of arthouse movie she likes (and I do too!) as something “I bet you never heard about, much less saw, most of them,” but it dawned on me that six out of my nine favorite working female directors were French. And yes, those numbers are alarmingly small, but: what’s up with that statistical disproportionately? France isn’t generally noted for its exceptional progressivism in gender matters, so how’d that come about? Might Dargis’ sly suggestion that women might be doing badly in Hollywood because “any business that refers to its creations as product cannot, by definition, have much imagination” — insinuating women just can’t play the hack game — actually bear fruit in the surplus of unconventional French female auteurs?
Another thought: I went to film school for a while at NYU, and I’d say the number of women in each class wasn’t more than 1/3. Given that NYU is notoriously willing to take anyone’s money if they can hurdle a certain academic bar, and generally regarded as one of the country’s premiere film schools, it’s hard to know what was up with that disproportionality (unless NYU itself is sexist in the very admissions process, which is hard to credit).
So, like, let’s send an actual reporter to go to the source (because, for better or worse, film schools are where a lot of directors pass through these days) and see what that’s about. Interview the women in the program, talk to them about their goals and ambitions, track them — do something to figure out what the gap in film school (and its greater margin behind the camera professionally) is about.
I know I’m just giving anecdotal evidence here, but that’s my point — I’m tired of reading this article every year, and I’d like to see some harder reporting. I’m just as interested in broadening up the number of voices in film; we have enough hack directors with no discernible directorial personality (male or female) around already.
[Photo: “Twilight: New Moon,” Summit Entertainment, 2009; Claire Denis]