I Want More Women To Make Films I Loathe (2015)

Last week, I made a decision to alter my viewing habits: for every film directed or written by a man I watched, I would watch one written or directed by a woman.

After I saw Joss Whedon's The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, I went home and watched Lynn Shelton's Laggies. I followed Galaxy Quest, written by David Howard and Robert Gordon, with Testament Of Youth, the war memoir of Vera Brittain adapted by Juliette Towhidi. When David Gordon Green's Your Highness had a TV rerun, I put Penelope Spheeris'Wayne's World in the DVD player. David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook on Netflix? Liz Garcia's The Lifeguard on Netflix.

I know people typically begin these sorts of projects at the start of the year, but perhaps it was just the right week for it, since the issue of women's work behind the scenes was fresh in my mind: Rose Byrne launched a woman-centric production company, and Rita Wilson and a bunch of hilarious broads banded together to raise awareness of the plight of men in Hollywood.

The video was a satirical promo for The Make It Fair Project, which pushes for gender equality in the entertainment industry, particularly within film and television. It'll be a long road, if the blood-curdling anecdotes shared by the anonymous blog Shit People Say To Women Directors (& Other Women In Film) is any indication.

It's a well-worn discussion by now: women, roughly reflecting the sex ratio of the general population, make up just over half of moviegoers (that's in the US; internationally it's often more than that), and yet the 16th annual Celluloid Ceiling report in 2014 demonstrated that women accounted for "just 16 per cent of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013".

If we zero in on writers, there are more women currently in active service with the armed forces (14.5 per cent) than female screenwriters who sold spec scripts between 2010-2012 (9 per cent).

There are already plenty of women in my 'regularly watched' collection, from Kelly Reichardt's moody Oregon Trail meditation Meek's Cutoff and Catherine Hardwicke's wacky Red Riding Hood riff on The Uses Of Enchantment (not to mention Twilight), to Kathryn Bigelow's woozy Strange Days, Lorene Scarfaria's Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, and Lone Scherfig's ten-hankie weepie An Education (I have a lot of time for her maligned follow up, One Day, too). I'm hanging out for Karyn Kusama's The Invitation and Ava DuVernay's narrative exploration of Hurricane Katrina.

But given how many movies (often dreadful) I sit through that are written and directed by men, much like Hollywood itself, I can do better. There are films by women that have flown through cinemas before I even knew they were in general release just as there are films by women I was too slack to see.

And as we should be aware by now, money talks: female filmmakers are regularly knocked back by producers and studios who don't believe that people see "women's films" (this despite Nate Silver's findings last year that films featuring more than two prominent female characters make "$2.68 for each dollar spent, as opposed to $2.45 for a film that failed the test"). Ticket sales and LEGAL downloads (come on, people, be adults) are important.

So, why not go all the way and watch solely films directed or written by women? A number of things spring to mind, not the least of which is because there are more than a handful of male directors who are either dedicated to showcasing women's stories (as I noted last week), or who are committed to working with women behind the scenes (like Martin Scorsese's 40 year collaboration with editor Thelma Schoonmaker).

The latter is especially important, given that as last year's Celluloid Ceiling report demonstrated, the stats concerning women working in roles beyond writer, director or producer are fairly grim; some "highlights" include that women make up only 2 per cent of composers, 4 per cent of sound designers, and 5 per cent of visual effects supervisors.

There's another reason why it's important to support the women working in non-directorial roles: getting in "at the ground floor" is a long-established pathway to directing. The release of Ex Machina (directed by frequent Danny Boyle collaborator, writer Alex Garland), Transcendence (Wally Pfister, best known for his work as Christopher Nolan's preferred cinematographer) and Ain't Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery, a widely lauded editor), among many others, demonstrates this.

More women behind the scenes means a greater possibility that said women can one day take their script or film idea to a producer and get a meeting rather than a blank stare.  

Inevitably, discussion about these sorts of projects - and thought processes that fall within the same Venn diagram, like the Bechdel Test - labour under some misapprehension that films by women are automatically blessed with quality by the feminist fairy. That is of course, not true: I hated The Lifeguard, and I think Bigelow has become a sinister peddler of the military industrial complex even as she claims to maintain an anti-war stance. (And many films that pass the Bechdel Test were made by the most egregious villains of Hollywood sexism.)

But this, to me, is equality: I want more women to make films I loathe, and to write crappy, one-dimensional screenplays, just as I want to celebrate the films by women that are truly great. I want women to be responsible for the sort of revolting eye-searing cinematography that Michael Bay's films are known for, just as I want for them to take after the fine work of DPs like Dagmar Weaver-Madsen and Natasha Braier. I just want more women in film; good, bad, who cares?

After all, that's how it is for the guys.


- originally published on Daily Life, 2015