From Sofia Coppola's brooding tour-de-force, The Beguiled, to Patty Jenkins's box office-smashing Wonder Woman, films created and headlined by female visionaries have climbed to increasing prominence recently, thanks in no small part to a new abundance of roles written for complex, and often kickass, heroines. But even Diana, Princess of the Amazons, would tell you that long-held power structures tend to thaw slowly, especially in a world where dudes have controlled the camera's gaze for so long.
Enter the Los Angeles chapter of Women In Film — an organization dedicated to inspiring female leadership in the entertainment industry. Teaming up with stars like In A World's Lake Bell and Transparent's Amy Landecker, WIF has created a freshly irreverent series, Flip the Script, with production help from HECHO EN 72, aimed at provocatively calling out Hollywood's lingering sexism. By casting women as its brash, demanding power-players and letting the men hover at the sidelines as their quailing assistants, Flip the Script hilariously nails the disparities, on and off the set, of how we define "acceptable behavior" across gender. Catch Bell's exquisitely awkward episode, "Diva Director," below.
Among its many famous faces, Flip the Script also features Michaela Watkins — an SNL alum who's appeared on iconic mega-hits like Veep and Transparent, and currently stars on Hulu's original dramedy, Casual. For Watkins, Flip The Script's subversive portrait felt immediately familiar — a hauntingly relatable look at anyone who's struggled to make her voice heard. "I think every woman has experienced that brand of dismissive talk — the kind that just makes it clear that your ideas and feelings aren't valued, that your input is dispensable," she says. "So when my dear friend Lake Bell reached out to me, I thought it was an amazing opportunity to address the issue in a playful, socially-conscious way."
In her own Flip the Script episode, "Mad Women," Watkins is an ad agency CEO who mocks her subordinate for his nervous apologies and condescendingly wonders how cutting-edge tech items could possibly be marketed to male audiences. Add her uncanny mastery of that insidious power exuded by overbearing men, and Watkins becomes a dead-ringer for the worst boss you've ever had.
Sneering execs aside, Watkins notes that the industry feels as if it's changing for the better. On Casual, she's watched five female directors leave their imprint on the show in just three seasons, with the current one shaping up to be its strongest yet. And while reflecting on her own career, Watkins isn't afraid to emphasize the importance of finding a like-minded, empathetic mentor, counting Transparent creator Jill Soloway and Big, Little Lies star Laura Dern among her most influential collaborators. "I owe my whole career to my fellow women directors," she notes. "Post SNL, I've always felt indebted to the kind of art they're producing."
Even though most of us can't count quite as many fearless Hollywood game-changers as our teachers, Watkins is encouraging the industry's up-and-coming women to cultivate a similarly supportive squad of colleagues and partners. "When I saw how Julia Louis-Dreyfus comported herself on set, I though 'I'm going to be like her, because she respects everybody and is committed to making this a positive place to work.' Cultivate the relationships that make you excited, give your talents to them, and always shoot to empower others."
Watkins' optimism may point towards a wider attitude shift quietly enveloping Hollywood — one where better movies organically follow an effort to lift everybody up, and where female artists aren't just left with the un-funny, one-dimensional scraps. "You can't really get away with writing bad parts for women anymore, because there are so many wonderful female directors out there. If you're too embarrassed to give someone like Zach Galifianakis a part or a line, it isn't clever or smart enough for a woman, either." As Watkins neatly summarizes, "When you raise the bar all around about how we talk to and write for women, it leads to stronger stories, regardless of who's directing."
Just 7% of 2016's top films were directed by women. Refinery29 wants to change this by giving 12 female directors a chance to claim their power. Our message to Hollywood? You can't win without women. Watch new films every month on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox and Comcast Watchable.