Entry through the golden gates of Hollywood is almost exclusively reserved for men. So how can women in film still create an impact without the coveted ticket?
Ava DuVernay did it. Issa Rae did it. Lena Dunham did it. Just to name a few. It’s an arduous, high-risk journey, but it is possible to create content without the bottom-line politics and bias so rampant in the industry.
Ms. DuVernay has shared the secret in her keynote speeches. The secret is simply to stop waiting for permission. Even in the independent sphere—which is growing—we often wait, wait, wait. For money. For a producer. For at least a somewhat recognizable actor to join the cast.
But using her own money, acting as her own producer, and using the connections she’d made previously, Ms. DuVernay made her first movies. She created her own distribution platform. She founded her own production company. Likewise, Ms. Rae started her own web series. And Ms. Dunham created content every chance she got. Guess what? Eventually, the gatekeepers came knocking on their doors.
The fast opportunities granted to Paul Thomas Anderson and Colin Trevorrow rarely, if ever, befall a female filmmaker with equal -or more- experience. So we have to create opportunity for ourselves, where there is next to none.
Women in Film Don’t Embody the Prototype
There’s some formula, based on whatever self-fulfilled numbers they crunch, to determine that moviegoers prefer to watch white male leads, and that content based on non-original IP does better at the box office than original IP. (Hence, the endless slew of comic book movies, hero franchises, and remakes.)
Likewise, there seems to be an apparent formula for selecting the people who create the content. And even though the formulas don’t always prove successful (Tomorrowland, The Lone Ranger, Alice Through the Looking Glass, all with male directors and star-studded casting, all of which lost Disney multi-millions of dollars) Hollywood is sticking hard and fast to its math.
Female filmmakers are like calculus in a geometric world. The studio heads are going, “Differential what??? …I prefer my triangle. My triangle is simple and makes billions of dollars, even if it excludes half the global population. More triangles. Yes.”
This year’s documentary short The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem, was not only an eye-opening revelation (we knew there was a problem, but we didn’t really know how bad it was), it was also a push for us to do something. The statistics in this film were baffling, but there was one particular sequence that struck me; the interviewees divulged the common descriptors they’ve heard attributed to movie directors. Unabashedly masculine characteristics. Many, many, many of the things I personally am not. Things that most women are not.
Does being a woman in film mean you have to change who you are to be considered? I have seriously contemplated cutting off my hair, wearing shoe inserts, and smiling less to assimilate as much as possible. To embody the prototype.
But calculus is calculus, and triangles are triangles. In order to create an impact in this industry, we have to stop waiting for an invitation.
And for your viewing pleasure, the trailer for The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem: