Reflecting on the State of Women Filmmakers With Lina Wertmüller (Column)

Lina Wertmuller portrait
Mattia Zoppellaro for Variety

I don’t usually get starstruck.

But once in a great while, like when I encounter one of my all-time entertainment idols, as I did years ago when I ran into Stevie Wonder in an underground parking lot for New Line Cinema, I have no shame letting artists know what their work has meant to me.

Last week, I went gaga over Lina Wertmüller when meeting her at a luncheon given in her honor by Women in Film. I rushed the director extraordinaire the very second she was escorted onto the patio of the Four Seasons Hotel to tell her what a trailblazer she was for female directors. Later, I climbed into her booth for more face time and asked her what she made of the sorry fact that since she became the first woman to ever be nominated for a directing Oscar, in 1977, for “Seven Beauties,” only four other women had joined her, and just one, Kathryn Bigelow, had actually won, for “The Hurt Locker.” I wanted her perspective on how it was that there was still such a paucity of jobs for female directors more than four decades after she was recognized by the Academy.

“It’s on women,” said Wertmüller, who was in Los Angeles to accept her honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards and to get her long overdue star on the Walk of Fame. When I asked what she meant by that, Wertmüller explained that women need to be more aggressive in landing movies, just as she had been. I told her I felt that the bigger issue was that women simply weren’t given the same opportunities in a business predominantly run by men. She flashed me one of those great smiles, which I read as an acknowledgment. I reiterated what I had said recently at our Power of Women event, which is that there are signs of real change afoot given that a record number of films this year were directed by women, including Kasi Lemmons’ up-coming “Harriet,” starring Cynthia Erivo, who is featured on this week’s cover.

Wertmüller and Harriet Tubman, the subject of the movie, have in common a fierceness and resolve. Bless them both for leading the way.