Changing the Game—Women Directors in Hollywood

It’s no secret that the majority of directors in Hollywood are male. Just take a look at the list of Oscar nominees for Best Director. Throughout the awards’ history, from 1927 to 2018, only 5 women have ever been nominated, with only one woman taking home the prize (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009 if you were curious). 

According to research done by USC, only 4% of directors are female, and the majority of directors are white men. The problem with this lack of diversity is that we don’t get to see women telling their own stories on the big screen, which results in women’s voices being lost. Representation in film is so important. We look to film as a reflection of our world, and when one group controls the way that reflection is portrayed, we get a skewed image that leaves out so many stories and experiences. Film has the power to make you feel seen and heard and shape the culture of our society, which is why it is so important that we have more female directors telling their stories. 

You don’t notice what you’ve been missing by being deprived of female-directed movies until you finally watch one. Two of my favorite female-directed films that have graced the silver screen lately are Lady Bird (2017) directed by Greta Gerwig, and Booksmart (2019) directed by Olivia Wilde. If you haven’t seen either of these films I highly recommend you put them on your watchlist, as they are both fantastic movies.

After watching these movies with a group of friends in theaters, we all came out with a sense of finally feeling understood. Never had any of us related to films so much, and instantly identified with the characters and how they navigated the ups and downs of teenage girlhood. The celebration of female friendship and lifting up the women around us in these films was refreshing to the usual trope of pitting women against each other we so often see in films.

We sat there in the theater laughing and crying along with the protagonists, constantly turning to each other with wide smiles on our faces whispering “Oh my god that is so you!”. We finally saw ourselves and each other on-screen and it was an amazing feeling.

Greta Gerwig, dir. Lady Bird (2017)

These films felt authentic and deconstructed so many common tropes and stereotypes of teenage girls in films. Watching other cult classic coming-of-age stories (most of which are male-directed), I found myself enjoying the movie, but not being able to fully relate. I was often disappointed with the depiction of the female characters, who tended to feel one-dimensional and based on a patriarchal view of women.

It felt to me that these films took place in a reality different than my own, and that stories like mine did not exist in that world. By bringing their own life experiences to the table, both Gerwig and Wilde were able to ground their films in truth and reality. In an industry inundated with remakes and sequels, these movies felt fresh and original, and brought a new voice to the forefront to be heard.

Still from Lady Bird (2017)

Still from Booksmart (2019)

Both Lady Bird and Booksmart are critically acclaimed, receiving a 99% and 97% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet they struggled to compete at the box office, and female-directed movies still struggle to get produced. Olivia Wilde talked about her struggles as a female director with Yahoo Entertainment. Wilde found it difficult for her movie to be taken seriously as a comedy due to the sexist idea that comedy is a genre that belongs to men. Even when her film reached critical success, she still could not avoid being compared to other male-directed and male-centered coming-of-age comedies such as Superbad (2007). As Hollywood makes strides to improve its diversity in front of the camera, they are lagging behind in improving that diversity behind the camera.

Olivia Wilde, dir. Booksmart (2019)

It’s also important to note that gender is not the only area in which diversity of directors is lacking. Diversity in the director's chair needs improvement in all areas, including race and sexuality. Now more than ever we need diverse storytellers and directors to share their visions and stories with the world, and help audiences see life from a unique perspective. 

 

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