A tribute to Angelina Jolie, Kathryn Bigelow, and other women in the director’s chair http://t.co/rFUyzf9BUl pic.twitter.com/RzPvVm96kk
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) March 19, 2015
Amid fresh critiques of Hollywood’s gender divide, here’s ample proof that women can thrive in the director’s chair. Whether they’ve leveraged screen stardom or simply leaned in and charged ahead, who would dare stop the creative forces on these pages?
Women have stormed the top tiers of government, business, literature, and media, but when it comes to certain art forms, they’re still dancing between raindrops. We’ve yet to see significant numbers of female choreographers in classical dance or as maestros on the podiums of high-budget American orchestras. And while the dominatrix is much in play in the millennial psyche, the foundational whip-and-riding-boot roles—circus ringmaster, four-star general—are stubbornly masculine. Recently, the studios have been criticized for not hiring more female directors. Manohla Dargis in The New York Times made the point that sexism in Hollywood “works like a virus that spreads through ideas, gossip, and stories about women ... and doubts about whether they can hack it in that male-dominated world.” Well, women directors have proved over and over again that not only can they hack it on the big screen, they can make a mark and a box-office hit. (Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, anyone?)
The feisty Ida Lupino was one of the first to crack the whip. Periodically suspended by Warner Bros. for refusing roles she deemed poor, she used her free time while on hiatus to study directing and then, rather effortlessly, dropped into the director’s chair to make eight films from 1949 to 1966. Like Lupino, the actresses Barbra Streisand, Jodie Foster, and Jolie—all formidable in their field—moved from one side of the lens to the other. (And who would dare stop them?) This spring, the actress Elizabeth Banks hops on the bandwagon with her direction of Pitch Perfect 2, a May release that’s already generating excitement.
Coming into the craft without superstar clout, though having been employed and mentored by Federico Fellini, Lina Wertmüller became the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination, in 1977, for best director (Seven Beauties). And Kathryn Bigelow, with 2009’s The Hurt Locker, was the first and only woman to win in that category. (The film was also named best picture.) Perhaps the biggest brouhaha in recent months was the snub to the much-heralded Selma: the movie received an Oscar nod for best picture, but Ava DuVernay was not nominated as a director. (To be fair, this happens to men all the time.)
Awards aside, it is determined apprenticeship and a refusal to go away that make the difference. For both Nancy Meyers and the late Nora Ephron, for example, many small and varied successes lifted them up the ladder to triple-threat stature (screenwriter-director-producer). Knowing a good story when they saw one didn’t hurt. So, here we are in 2015, and two movies with completely opposed definitions of female strength—Fifty Shades of Grey (which scored a record-breaking opening weekend) and Wonder Woman (due in 2017)—have female directors at the helm, respectively Sam Taylor-Johnson and Michelle MacLaren. Who needs a whip when you’ve got Amazonium bracelets and the Lasso of Truth!