Iliana Sosa is a young Mexican American director who has just wrapped up her first feature film, Detained in the Desert (2013), that was produced and based on a play by the screenwriter of Real Women Have Curves (2002), Josefina Lopez. Even as someone who has found work opportunities outside of film school, she feels that it is harder for women.
“You have to prove yourself that much more… Especially if you want to be a female director you have to work harder to be seen as an equal,” Sosa said.
How does a young woman succeed in the film industry? There is obviously no one way to do so but looking at this list of women certain trends begin to emerge and it is good to be cognizant of them.
It never hurts to have family in the business. Nearly all the women on this list have or had parents or a husband that is in the industry; or if they are not involved in the industry they happen to be wealthy enough to fund the director’s project, like in the case of Joan Micklin Silver. This does not mean that women need more help. This trend could be attributed to the fact that executives and producers take less chances on women and so women have to rely on getting help from people who know them and are confidant in their work. In a study conducted by the Sundance Institute, is was found that it is far more common for women to be producers or screenwriters and that often women directors feel as though people do not trust their vision.
Mimi White is a film professor at Northwestern University who taught a class on female directors. In White’s class she had her students look up reviews of a particular director’s films and see how the reviewers wrote about them. White found that for many directors like Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow, there were nearly no reviews that did not mention their connections (in Coppola’s case her father, Francis Ford Coppola, and in Bigelow’s her ex-husband, James Cameron). Yet nearly no reviews of Cameron’s films mention that he was once married to Bigelow. It seems that powerful women need to be attributed to powerful men.
Women directors, even commercial ones, do not need to make teen flicks or even radical feminist movies. They are apt at making all kinds of movies. On this list of women we see all kinds of genres: thrillers, period pieces, family dramas, and comedies. But just because they can does not mean they always do.
“Women do work in Hollywood. As often as not they’re relegated to girl genres: romantic comedies, children films, and teen films. Women are seen as specialty acts,” White said.
As child-bearers sometimes women are seen to be less flexible than men.
“People higher up in the industry will rationalize the possibility of women directing as related to women’s choice. ‘Women choose to direct television because they don’t like to travel because they want to be close to their children.’ And then there are quotes from women saying, ‘I would’ve been happy to travel’ or ‘all I asked for two extra assistants and an extra trailer so my children could come along and they said no’,” White said.
White has a theory that part of the reason there are few female directors is that within Hollywood the idea is that women have to be young and sexy,
“I think there’s something about being a director where you’re very visible and present and you’re in the middle of a group of arts and crafts people that involves technology and the idea of young, skinny, hot looking sexy thing doing that is just hard for anyone to swallow,” White said.
However when we look at other areas in film such as independent or documentary film, there are much more women represented. When there is less money required females tend to have more control over their own work since there are less investors. A couple films that have women directors and have recently gained quite a lot of recognition in the realm of independent cinema are Winter’s Bone (2010), directed by Debra Granik and starring Jennifer Lawrence, and Your Sister’s Sister (2011), directed by Lynne Shelton starring Emily Blunt. These two films, one a thriller set in the south and the other, and Edward Albee-esque drama, are not considered feminist or even chick flicks. There is a place and an audience for stories created by women.
“The more women you have, the more people of color you have, the more people you have from diverse backgrounds, the more nuance, and difference, and diversity of vision you will have,” White said. “And so I just think it’s a general good.”