Bryce Dallas Howard made her feature directorial debut, “Dads,” a personal project, since she enlisted her family’s participation in the documentary after some initial protest from her father, Ron Howard.
“I just will never get over the fact that I needed an expecting father in this movie and my brother [Reed] and his wife ended up getting pregnant. That allowed me to interview my dad in a way that was, I think, way more comfortable for him than it would have been if it was just like, ‘I love you Dad, tell me about yourself,’” Howard tells Variety. “He was able to contextualize the experience of being a father because his son was about to become a dad.”
Howard was also able to include footage of her late grandfather, Rance, who died in 2017. “That was an interview that I had done years prior, and he was an incredible father and just kind of overall patriarch. To get to dedicate the movie to [him], it’s very meaningful.”
In addition to her own famous family, Howard enlisted celebrity dads — Will Smith, Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Neil Patrick Harris, Ken Jeong, Jimmy Kimmel, Hasan Minhaj, Conan O’Brien, Patton Oswalt and Kenan Thompson — to appear alongside a group of “hero” dads — Glen “Beleaf” Henry, Thiago Quieroz, Shuichi Sakuma, Robert Selby and Rob and Reece Scheer — to share their parenting stories.
“It’s a celebration of dads,” Howard says, explaining why she chose to spotlight fathers from all walks of life and from all over the world. “I set out to make a comedy. It’s kind of a tearjerker, but it’s also a celebration. And that’s it – it’s short and sweet and meant to be something that hopefully gives you all the feels and makes you love your parents.”
“The cultural global assumption is that fathers are not meant to be caregivers in the same way that mothers are meant to be caregivers and that’s scientifically, biologically not true at all,” she adds. “It puts enormous pressure on the women and it equally completely undermines the father — his natural instincts, where he wants to take care of his child and his family and puts them in places that are not fair at all.”
Amid the rising support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Howard is conscious that putting the spotlight on two Black fathers — Selby and Henry — resonates even more.
“Our imaginations as human beings, as vast as they are, they are very limited by the things that we see, consume and experience. If we’re seeing examples of dads in the media being these incompetent, bumbling fathers or absentee dads or whatever, we’re going to think, ‘Oh that’s what is normal.’ What both Glen and Robert are doing is they’re normalizing being a father and being a caregiver as a father. Because the idea of what a father is, is often a provider [and] a protector — yes, a father is all of those things — but they are caregivers,” she says. “And specifically, a Black father who is a caregiver is so essential.”
“Stories are so powerful,” she adds. “There is this moment right now where there is an opportunity for us to evolve. And I feel just so privileged that in my first documentary happens to be some stories that inspired me so much. These men are heroes, so I just feel very lucky.”
Howard has been vocal about the ways she’s examining her own privilege, posting on social media in recent weeks about how she’s focusing on educating herself and others about how to be a better ally for Black people. After learning the news that her 2011 film “The Help” was at one point the most popular film on Netflix, Howard took to social media to suggest that her fans watch other content instead, explaining that while the experience of making the film was amazing, audiences should move beyond it for more education.
“The Help is a fictional story told through the perspective of a white character and was created by predominantly white storytellers. We can all go further,” she captioned her post. “If you are seeking ways to learn about the Civil Rights Movement, lynchings, segregation, Jim Crow, and all the ways in which those have an impact on us today, here are a handful of powerful, essential, masterful films and shows that center Black lives, stories, creators, and performers.”
The filmmaker and star also participated in initiatives like #SharetheMicNow and “I Take Responsibility.” And though the latter video, presented in partnership with the NAACP, was met with criticism, Howard aims to continue to do her part.
“The thing that I’ve been holding on to the most is understanding what it is to be anti-racist. Because I think, speaking for myself as a white woman, the worst thing you could ever be called, or think that you are, is racist,” she explains. “And yet, talking about race within the white community is so taboo. [But] it’s our issue…And so, if we don’t start to talk about it, then we’re not going to be able to learn about it.”
One example of how she’s learning, Howard says is by starting with the books she reads to her children. “If the distribution of authors and their backgrounds is not reflective of reality, what am I doing as a parent? Why am I creating a world for my children that’s not reflective of our actual amazing planet?” she explains. “Black voices have been excluded, diminished, oppressed for centuries, particularly in this country. It’s our responsibility to do something about it as a white person.”