In the new study, “Inequality in 700 Popular Films”, researchers made the shocking discovery that only about 4.1% of the top films– the most popular films– were directed by women. This is outrageous. Those studios should immediately hire a lot of women and put them in charge of 50% of the highest grossing films.
No, that doesn’t really make sense, does it.
We have a conflict here between people who feel that only 4% of successful Hollywood films are directed by women because women are systematically excluded from positions of authority at the studios, and the possibility that women have not been able to produce enough successful films to earn their way up the ladder. Would Hollywood sacrifice profits for the sole purpose of treating women unequally? I am very skeptical.
All this gets to be beside the point I care about. The top-grossing films of 2015, so far, are:
- Jurassic World
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Furious 7
- Inside Out
- Pitch Perfect 2
- Fifty Shades of Grey
- The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water
Oh, and you can add Ant-Man, Mad Max: Fury Road, San Andreas, whatever. It doesn’t matter. The goal of the feminist movement is to make sure that women get to direct half of these mediocre, unimportant films. Because… well, that’s where the money is, for one thing.
But one thing they might argue is that women would make more interesting, human-centered films about things of emotional importance, family, friendship, and so on. But then the hordes of teenage ticket-buying customers would go elsewhere and these films would fall out of the top 700 and we would be back where we started, wouldn’t we? Some men would come along and make movies about exploding cars and frat boys who go to Vegas and drink and have gratuitous sex with random women, and those films would sell more tickets.
Would the feminists go so far as to require movie theatre chains to show an equal number of films about family, relationships, and things of emotional importance, so the female directors and writers have half a chance. They might. Would that be a terrible idea? Yes. We live in world in which large corporations are believed to have no social responsibility whatsoever. The film industry does everything it can to create the illusion of social responsibility, especially when it’s Oscar time, but if you suggested to a producer that he stop catering to our incessant wishes to feel good about watching violence and ogling women, he would simply mouth the word “censorship” and all of the civil libertarians and the 14-year-old boys would stampede to his rescue.
They would be partly right: not one of the top 20 films is artistically important or interesting. But then, that’s not what most people want out of a movie anyway. So the next question is this: if you are complaining that only 4.1% of the top films are directed by women, are you not, in fact, admitting that women don’t seem to have the ability to direct commercially successful films?
I find it difficult– not impossible, just difficult– to believe that Hollywood, which is insanely driven by profit, would not hire a female director if they thought for one minute that she was capable of directing a film that would make a lot of money. Do you know what happens at a Hollywood party when someone shows up who just directed a box office smash? Can you feel the vibe? Can you withstand the incredible magnetism of someone who is rich and famous and powerful, because he or she produced something that made a gigantic, smoldering pile of money?
Do you know how much influence that person has suddenly?
So there was a woman director out there and she had produced a few low-budget winners that showed strong audience approval and critical acceptance, like most independent directors who went on to direct big Hollywood productions, I believe she would have her chance.
Hollywood would hire a goat, if it produced something like “Rush” or “Avengers”. And a goat would probably do just as well since most of the really skilled work is done by technicians. The goat would simply press for a higher body count and more explosions. The plot doesn’t matter. Dialogue doesn’t matter. The important thing is to look cool while slaughtering people and always imply in some sly way that the slaughtered deserved their fates. Goats can handle that. Should we have a girl in a bikini blow up another helicopter? Baaaaa. That means yes. And then the goat will establish a foundation to support lost sheep, one-legged chickens, and homeless wabbits.
Feminists would argue that because women are not given the chance to direct sitcoms or independent films or commercials or rock videos, they don’t get the chance to acquire the experience and knowledge and connections required to take the next step up to feature films. Many of those deals, they argue, are arranged at lunches or parties to which they are not invited. They don’t get the chance to build up their resumes the way male directors do. Then, when a juicy big picture deal, like “Lord of the Rings”, comes up, they don’t get serious consideration because they don’t have the extensive experience “required”.
But it’s not 1975. Women directors, like young, independent men directors, do have greater access to low-cost equipment and resources. But we don’t have a body of work by female directors that would suggest that they can be as good or better than male directors.
No, we do not. We have some pretty good films, but you cannot construct a list of films by female directors that can match, in any respect, any reasonable list of the best genuinely artistic films of the past 20 years.
And Amy Schumer is not successful in the way the top male directors have been: Spike Lee or Christopher Nolan or Francois Truffaut or Mike Leigh or Quentin Tarantino or Stanley Kubrick or Darren Aranovsky or Robert Zemeckis or James Cameron or Stephen Spielberg or Martin Scorcese or Guy Ritchie, or David Fincher or Joel Coen or Frank Darabont or Alfonso Cuaron, or Terrence Malick– shall I go on?
Is there a woman director who could make a film like “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, with it’s rueful reflections on crime and punishment, and the meaning of life? Or “The Godfather”? Or “Tree of Life”? Or “Blade Runner”, which explores the question of identity– what makes us human? What makes us see? What makes us want to live?
Or “The White Ribbon”, trying to answer the question of what kind of culture gives rise to a murderous, fascist state? Or “Secrets and Lies”? “The Great Beauty”? “The Best Man”?
Or would a woman’s version confine itself to the affairs, the sex, the family, like Sofia Coppola’s contemptible take on Marie Antoinette: she was always just misunderstood?
We do have some good female directors: Kelly Reichart, Gillian Armstrong and Suzanne Bier and maybe Nicole Holofcener. Well, I’m being generous here. Holofcener made at least two fine films, but it was, again, about sex (in the broad sense: relationships between men and women, and women’s self-image). Catherine Breillat? Oh wait, that was also about sexuality.
Sarah Polley’s films are just plain awful.
Agniezka Holland? An emphatic yes, an exception. Claire Denis? Yes. (“Beau Travail” was remarkable). Lina Wertmuller? Yes, but even her brilliant films, “Swept Away”, and “Seven Beauties” are firstly and mostly concerned with… sex. Relationships. Do you love me?
No doubt partisans on the feminist side will look at a film like “The Third Man” and “The Conversation” and “The Great Beauty” and “Z”, and declare them either boring or pointless or both, and not really any better than “The Piano” or whatever.
I really don’t care. It is better. It is far better and far more important than “The Piano” or any almost any other film directed by a woman, so far.