Where are the women directors?

Female directors are rare in Hollywood – there is one woman for every 23 men behind the camera in 1,300 films between 2002 and last year, according to a University of South California study.

Colin Trevorrow, who made this year’s hit dinosaur flick Jurassic World, argues that the gender imbalance is not the result of sexism, but the fact that many top female directors are simply not interested in making big studio blockbusters “involving superheroes or spaceships or dinosaurs”.

He was being interviewed for a Los Angeles Times article that observed how big studios have shut out budding female film-makers while handing big-budget films to inexperienced male directors such as himself and Fantastic Four’s Josh Trank.

Nancy Meyers, 65, who directs Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in the new comedy The Intern, believes it is more a case of studios not immediately thinking of women for the job.

“So I’m not saying women don’t want to direct those movies, but I think studios assume they don’t. And they’re probably wrong. I think there are women who would have a lot of fun doing them,” says Meyers, who at one point had the highest-grossing film made by a female director – the Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt comedy What Women Want (2000), which earned more than US$374 million 15 years ago.

“It’s a very male job, historically – such as being president of the United States. Directors have almost always and exclusively been men and there are all these ways of describing directors that are kind of militaristic and non-female, philosophically – like, the director is the captain of the ship, the general on the battlefield.”

This is exacerbated by the increasing popularity of special effects-driven or comic bookinspired films.

Meyers says: “Movies have changed a lot in the last five, 10 years and they’re getting farther away from human stories and more into effects films or films about people that aren’t people. I don’t think superheroes are people, are they?’’

Lake Bell, star of the recent thriller No Escape and writer-director of indie hit comedy In A World… (2013) – says the dearth of women directors is a complex phenomenon and not just a straightforward case of discrimination.

“There’s no one answer for why there aren’t more female filmmakers, it’s complicated,” says the 36-year-old actress, who had her first child in October last year.

“Women are so multifaceted and do so many things – we can choose to have children or not have children, and choose to make movies or not to. But I think having children makes it harder, just time- management-wise and I think it’s okay to admit that it’s harder.

“If you do have a family... and you want to be a great mum, it’s going to take time away from your other babies, which is the films that you make. You can nurture only so many babies at the same time.”

One sign of progress, Meyers says, is that more people are aware of the issue and willing to discuss it. “I think everybody’s talking about it. This is my first press junket in 35 years where anyone’s asking me about it,” says the director of Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Holiday (2006) and It’s Complicated (2009).

Hopefully, this will filter up to the decision-makers at the major studios, she says. “I’m not an executive, but I imagine when they’re putting a list together of who could direct this or that movie... there has been a consciousness-raising now where they are going to have to say, ‘Are there any women who could do this?’ So I think making all this noise has been great.”

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Where are the women directors?'. Print Edition | Subscribe