We don’t specify a musician as a ‘female musician’ or a writer as a ‘female writer’. Do we really need to say ‘female directors’?
In the past few weeks, there seemed to be a sudden rise in the use of the phrase by critics, entertainment reporters, and bloggers. What gives?
Yes, it’s extremely important there be more women in the entertainment industry and exposure for those women getting their start is invaluable. Whenever there’s a story acknowledging Hollywood has a numbers problem in terms of women produced, directed, written, acted, etc. films, people should cheer those articles. The problem continues to need to be discussed.
But every time it becomes a topic of discussion, especially in relation to someone’s work, isn’t it taking away from the hard work that’s already been done?
As director Jane Campion recently said while discussing the issue at Cannes, “What’s very difficult when they come to a festival like Cannes, it’s always like ‘oh so you’re a woman director’. How many guys get ‘oh so you’re a male director?’. It would be lovely if people just said, ‘oh you’re a director, congratulations on your film’.”
For those working inside the industry, labeling themselves as ‘female’ is viewed as minimizing. Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, among others, simply want their work to be viewed in the same way one would view a film by Martin Scorsese or David Fincher, their fellow ‘male’ directors. They want a level playing field.
Campion thinks the question about whether the film industry is tough for ‘female directors’ is a tired one. “Put all your energy into making an amazing piece of work because women can obviously make as good a film as guys. Kathryn Bigelow has shown quite clearly that, even taking on topics like action movies and war films, she can make the best films in the world,” Campion advised young filmmakers.
Bigelow, too, is adamant about considering herself not as a ‘female filmmaker’ but a ‘filmmaker’. When she won the Academy Award for Best Director in 2010, she stated in the press room: “I long for the day when the modifier can be a moot point, but I’m ever grateful if I can inspire some young, intrepid, tenacious, male or female filmmaker, and have them feel the impossible is possible.”
In a Hollywood Reporter roundtable, Patricia Clarkson talked about the lack of strong roles for women, saying even female directors did not always work on projects which featured strong roles for women. While there should be more well-written parts for women (an issue discussed here), expecting the women in the industry to write and direct these films places a burden on women as artists.
There’s not an expectation for men to write about men, why should there be the same for women? Women should be able to write films or books or sing or direct films about whatever they wish, same as men, but somehow they are burdened with the additional mantle of what they ‘should’ do as a woman in an industry which is already tough for women.
Since Bigelow is a woman directing ‘guy films’, many reporters have tried to peg her down over the years, but Bigelow never lets herself be pigeon holed and steers the conversation away from gender, back to filmmaking.
When asked by Charlie Rose why she’s drawn to directing ‘action’ films, Bigelow answered, “I actually look at it from the standpoint of character. However, I often find myself drawn to characters who find themselves in extreme situations and have peak experiences. I think as a filmmaker, I believe the medium can be very experiential. I can transport you to any location where you can actually have a physiological response to that location, so I’m drawn to characters that allow me to push the medium in that direction. I suppose there’s an artistic challenge there that is kind of exciting to me.”
To those who work inside the industry, it seems the ‘female’ label has a different resonance than it does to those who are outside the industry, looking in. Yes, Hollywood keeps proving itself as a place which still does not look upon woman as equals. There are plenty of stats to back it up–the network upfronts being the most recent incendiary–but there are plenty of artists who have fought against those odds and made it.
Looking at the industry as women, let’s hope the field will continue to expand to include new artists. Looking at the industry as an artist, however, let’s try not frame everything by that ‘female’ modifier.
- Directors honour Campion at Cannes (bigpondnews.com)
- The Catch-22 of the ‘Female’ Label (forbes.com)
- Female Representation in Film Is the Lowest It’s Been in Five Years (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)