×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Women Directors Nearly Absent in 2013 Awards Season

As 2013 looks to be another rich year for talked-about movies, it readily becomes apparent that the number of them directed by women in Hollywood is woefully small.

Of viable awards contenders this season, there’s Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” Lake Bell’s “In a World,” and … a lot of movies by guys. Contrast that with the foreign-language category where a record 16 entries are helmed by femmes.

“The movie industry is failing women,” says New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis. “And until the industry starts making serious changes, nothing is going to change.”

For 15 years, the percentage of women represented in the top 250 domestic grossers has fluctuated between 5% and 9%, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State U. (In 2012, it was 9%.) The center’s executive director, Martha Lauzen, cites a variety of factors as to why the imbalance continues, but stresses perception is a key one.

“If you don’t perceive it as a problem, then you’re not going to do anything to fix it,” Lauzen says. Then there’s the comfort level, which gets explained with specious arguments. “People don’t say ‘I’m not comfortable with women having all that power’ or handling a budget of $100 million or more. They’ll say, ‘Well, filmmaking is a business, and we try to avoid risk.’ And because there are fewer women out there, they’re perceived as being more of a risk. But the fact is, Hollywood makes risky decisions every day.”

It’s in this climate that a new movie fund named Gamechanger Films was announced in September. The goal is to fully or partly bankroll lower-budgeted narrative features directed by women. Recent studies such as the 2012 examination of gender disparity in independent film conducted by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles reveal the importance of mentoring in getting women actively working.

Gamechanger president Mynette Louie sees the fund’s example as indicative of a newfound solidarity as more and more women get into directing, and the impetus to address the imbalance takes hold.

“Probably a generation or two before, women were just worried about keeping their own jobs, being one of the boys rather than really mentoring younger women coming up,” Louie says. “There’s less tokenism going on, I think. I hope.”

The indie world has generally been viewed as a more solicitous arena for female directors, even if the representation isn’t great there, either. (Sundance achieved gender parity in its dramatic competition slate only in 2013.) But where is the female version of the Marc Webb story? Webb had made only one movie — the Sundance-debuted “(500) Days of Summer” — before getting a crack at a major studio franchise behemoth with “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Says Dargis: “The great irony is that women are accused of making romantic comedies, as if it’s a bad thing, but Marc Webb makes a romantic comedy and he gets ‘Spider-Man.’ Are you kidding me? You cannot win.”

Writer-director-star Bell made a splash at Sundance this year with a romantic comedy, the feminist-themed showbiz saga “In a World,” for which she won the festival’s screenwriting prize. And she admits that “really fancy offers” have come her way. But she also thinks diving into a $150 million movie as her second directed feature would be “really stupid.”

“It’s not necessarily what I want to do next,” Bell says. “Maybe a woman is less inclined to want to take someone else’s huge mess that a studio’s been trying to make from a concept that’s already had 15 cooks in the kitchen. I’m not acting by monetary gain.”

It’s a conundrum for many women who consider themselves directors first. Qualify Holofcener as a “woman director” and you’re highlighting difference over skill, implying that it’s a separate category. Lynn Shelton (“Your Sister’s Sister”) notes the absurdity of being asked on panels or in interviews what it’s like to be a “female director.” “I would just say, ‘I’m having a great time, but I don’t know what it’s like to be a man director, so I don’t even know how to answer that.’”

And when Kathryn Bigelow breaks a ceiling and wins an Oscar, Lauzen says, “The assumption is that the problem must be solved, that well-deserved success radiates or creates this halo effect. I just don’t think it works that way. It’s not immediate. We’re talking about social change here, and attitudes about gender, race and age are all very deeply held.”

Women who come up through the independent ranks may decide going their own way is preferable to waiting for studios to hire them. But until women are routinely in the mix for tentpole juggernauts and 4,000-screen behemoths, Dargis says, “the system is broken. And we are a long way from that.”
Does the industry simply need a new generation of gender progressives, then, to come into power and displace the old guard? Ava DuVernay, who won Sundance’s directing award for “Middle of Nowhere” and is prepping her next film, “Selma,” says even though the problem is systemic, change is happening.

“I know that the things I’m able to do now, I wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago, just because the paradigms weren’t shifting as they are now with access and technology,” DuVernay says. “There were closed doors and gates all around. Now those gatekeepers are being forced to change.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • SUPER FAMILY -- In Disney Pixar’s

    Pixar's Ralph Eggleston to Receive 2019 View Conference's Visionary Award

    The 2019 View Conference will present its Visionary Award to Pixar’s Ralph Eggleston. Eggleston, who won an Oscar in 2002 for his animated short “For the Birds,” has worked on such Pixar hits as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E,” and “Inside Out.” “I’ve long been a fan of the View Conference. It’s a great gathering [...]

  • Cuervo Mexico

    Oscar-Nominated Marina de Tavira to Receive Jose Cuervo Career Recognition Award

    Mexican Oscar-nominated actress Marina de Tavira (“Roma”) is receiving the Premio Cuervo Tradicional, a career recognition award from Morelia Int’l Film Festival (FICM) sponsor Jose Cuervo Tradicional. The prize ceremony will take place on Saturday, Oct. 19. The award has been given out for more than 12 years at FICM to a Mexican actor or actress who [...]

  • Abominable Animated Movie

    Italy's View Conference Draws Key Players in Film, TV, Games and More to Exchange Ideas

    Against the picturesque backdrop of the Alps, the View Conference will celebrate its 20th year in Turin, Italy, with its fullest program ever, featuring top creatives from around the world in film, television and games and more who will give keynote talks and present masterclasses at the weeklong event, Oct. 21-25. This edition boasts director [...]

  • Serendipity Prune Nourry

    Film Review: 'Serendipity'

    “If I could have a secret superpower, it would be to heal with my hands,” says French artist Prune Nourry in her autobiographical documentary “Serendipity.” It’s an understandable enough admission, given that she was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 31, fighting a battle against it that included undergoing a mastectomy, harvesting her eggs in advance [...]

  • Daughter-of-Rage

    Laura Baumeister Brings San Sebastian Winning Project ‘Daughter of Rage’ to Morelia

    Already backed by a four-way production partnership spanning Nicaragua, Mexico, the Netherlands and Germany, Laura Baumeister’s debut feature project “Daughter of Rage” swept three of the four prizes on offer at San Sebastian’s 8th Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum this year. Now the project heads to Morelia, where Baumeister has been with short films in the [...]

  • Brad Pitt Leonardo DiCaprio Once Upon

    China Halts Release of Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

    Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has had its upcoming China theatrical release put on hold. It was set to hit theaters in the Middle Kingdom on Oct. 25. It had received previously received its release approval from Chinese censors. But an exhibitor source told Variety that the movie has been “temporarily put [...]

  • Some Beasts

    San Sebastian New Directors Winner Jorge Riquelme on ‘Some Beasts,’ Screening at MIA

    Jorge Riquelme Serrano’s sophomore feature “Some Beasts” has impressed since sweeping Toulouse’s 35th Films in Progress in March and premiering its final version in San Sebastian’s New Directors section where it once again notched top honors. Riqeulme writes, produces – with his company Laberinto Films – directs and edits his films, so its no surprise [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content