And yet, I’m not terribly comfortable answering the question, “What’s it like to be a female director?” It’s the only kind of director I’ve ever been, and the answer has to involve so many more voices than just mine, across so many more years of vision and experience than I have so far. It’s just one part of the diversity problem in which the film industry is complicit.
I’ve heard many well-meaning people say that women inherently have qualities that make them well suited to directing. I disagree. I think gender has nothing to do with it. Directing requires a unique blend of skills and personality traits — diplomacy, the ability to galvanize and inspire, a balance of steadfastness and flexibility, fluency across departments and communication styles, to name a few — but none of those skills has a damn thing to do with gender, race, or sexual identity.
I felt a now-familiar defiant rage settle in my gut. That feeling can be highly motivating.
No one has ever said something overtly sexist to me on set. But I do feel it sometimes, the underestimating and doubt. It’s coded and it’s mostly in subtext. It’s always surrounding a negotiation of power. It comes up a lot around money. I’ve consistently had to fight to be included in basic discussions about finances and business decisions. It comes up most often when someone I’m speaking to is trying to decide who I am, so they can decide whether they have to do the thing I’m asking.
I don’t really want to be required to only make films about women just because I am one.
In the discussion of gender and filmmaking, one of the comments I hear most often is, “We need more female directors because we need more strong female characters.” While I appreciate the sentiment, it troubles me for a couple of reasons.
The second thing that bothers me about the female-filmmakers-equals-strong-female-characters equation is that, while I endeavor to write all of my characters well, I don’t really want to be required to only make films about women just because I am one. The number of questions and pushbacks I got about making a father-son story as my first feature made it very clear to me that there was a population of people with a kind of “stay in your lane” mentality. They welcomed women making indies about women, but not necessarily doing anything else. I’m clearly not a father or a son, but I do have the same empathy and imagination that allows many filmmakers to write characters who are astronauts and gangsters and other kinds of people they are not.
It’s a real sign of evolution that inclusiveness and diversity in film is a hot topic right now.
For those of us in the industry right now, I defer to Effie Brown’s excellent motto, “invest, mentor, hire.” Invest in films written, directed, produced by, and starring women, people of color, and LGBT folks. Mentor young men and women who have bold voices that you believe in, and do what you can to get their projects into the hands of your colleagues who can help get their projects made. When you’ve got the power to hire, use it to demonstrate the principles you believe in, and surround yourself with a diverse team. Those of us who consume media have power, too. Most of us can’t finance a film, but we can choose which ones to seek out and support with our ticket dollars and social media posts and word of mouth. We can watch and share and talk about content on television and online, especially on platforms like Refinery29 that specifically endeavor to support diverse voices. We can support organizations like the Sundance Institute that conduct research to understand statistics, support diverse filmmakers, and help develop incentives that ask the industry to be held accountable for hiring practices.
It’s a real sign of evolution that inclusiveness and diversity in film is a hot topic right now. Pressure is a privilege, so let’s leverage it. So many of the people who have the power to create real change are listening.
This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!