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GENDER WATCH: The Telling Ignorance of THR’s Directors Roundtable

GENDER WATCH: The Telling Ignorance of THR's Directors Roundtable

We don’t blame Women and Hollywood for being outraged at THR‘s careless and condescending approach to their 2011 Directors Roundtable. While we agree that Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Steve McQueen (“Shame”), Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”), Mike Mills (“Beginners”), Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) and Jason Reitman (“Young Adult”) are well worth interviewing, there are plenty more who could easily be sitting there with THR’s Matthew Belloni and Stephen Galloway — including several women.

At the same time as THR’s Directors Roundtable should be thoughtfully curated, it should be representative of the year in film–whether it’s an Awards publicity tool or not. Consider this specific portion of the roundtable:


THR: You’re all men, and only one of you, Steve, is a minority — why is that?
McQueen: I must be in America.
Mills: Yeah, why isn’t there a woman here? My wife could be sitting here.
THR: Name a female director who made a major film this year.
Mills: Miranda July [“The Future”].
Payne: Lynne Ramsay [“We Need to Talk About Kevin”], Andrea Arnold [“Wuthering Heights”].
THR: OK, but you’re talking about small films that have been little seen in America.
McQueen: I mean, the question could be different. The question could be, “Why aren’t there more black directors?” because there are obviously more women directors than black directors.
THR: So what’s the answer?
McQueen: I have no idea. I mean, it’s opportunity, isn’t it? That’s what it’s about — opportunity. And access, because some people just give up. I’m always astonished by American filmmakers, particularly living in certain areas, when they never cast one black person, or have never put them in a lead in the movie. I’m astonished. It’s shameful. How do you live in New York and not cast a black actor or a Latino actor? It’s shameful. It’s unbelievable.
Reitman: Not stepping into that.
Miller: I don’t know.
 

First of all, the questions are uninformed and presumptuous. The directors themselves are better versed in the films of 2011 (too bad they couldn’t have interviewed each other).

Then, after getting three examples of women who’ve directed quality films this year (Women and Hollywood adds to that list with Maryam Keshavarz – “Circumstance,” Dee Rees – “Pariah,” Larysa Kondracki – “The Whistleblower”;  and so can we: Céline Sciamma – “Tomboy,” Julia Leigh – “Sleeping Beauty,” Sarah Polley – “Take this Waltz,” Andrea Arnold* – “Wuthering Heights”), THR contradicts and justifies itself by calling these “small films” that have been “little seen.” Perhaps, but as of right now the general public also hasn’t seen “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Shame” or “Young Adult,” which could also be called “small films.”

While McQueen may be a minority among these six directors, the focus of each of their films is on white characters, and only “Young Adult” features a female protagonist (and she’s a raging bitch). “Tomboy” focuses on a young girl who wants to be a boy; “Circumstance” is about female sexuality and sexism within the Iranian culture; “Sleeping Beauty” looks at the objectification of women; “Kevin” deals with an ugly side of motherhood; “Pariah” looks at race and female sexuality, “Wuthering Heights” is a gothic period romance with a black man replacing a white male protagonist. Not only are these films dealing with more diverse subject matter than the films of the six roundtable directors – they are all significantly more threatening to the comfort of white males, which is why they are dismissed as “small” and “little seen.” “The Artist” is about a man’s ego, “Shame” is about a man’s addiction to sex, “Moneyball” is about changing the rules of baseball, “The Descendants” is about a wealthy landowner (with some Hawaiian blood) seeking revenge on the guy who banged his cheating wife, and “Beginners” is about a man who’s trying to figure out how to grow up and deal with his dying gay Dad.

Let’s open our eyes. If the media is a filter through which the public digests the culture, we should serve a full buffet. Otherwise we’re part of the problem.

*”Wuthering Heights” played Venice, Toronto, and many other fests. While not being released this year, it is worth mentioning as the follow up to Arnold’s “Fish Tank.”

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Comments

Dan Mueller

Be part of the solution…
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Mike

Some of the people who commented below should be ashamed of themselves. I'm talking specifically about the ignorant comments from cinedog and Shawn that make it seem as if there is no racism at play in Hollywood.

A UCLA statistic showed that for lead roles in Hollywood the amount of non whites that get casted are 11.1% Blacks, 1.2% Latino and 1.8% Asian. You could not make an argument that equality exists when you see real numbers like that. If one were to use population as a measure it would be much lower than the actual people who live in the U.S. and it would be even lower if one would use the amount of actual movie ticket buyers as the measure because according to the MPAA 40% of them are nonwhite. Yet over 80% of lead roles in Hollywood go to white actors. There is no doubt about it. Racism is the problem.

The core problem is that the media is white supremacist since all of it is owned by whites and are cut from the same cloth as the people who started it decades ago. Everybody exposed to this kind of media and is not mentally prepared for it will take it in and it will form minds to see only whites as the default, as the beautiful, as the center of the universe, etc… Studies, like the famous Clark doll test, prove how a white supremacist environment will effect the minds of even children of color to think less of their own kind.

The fact that the white directors on the panel had nothing to say about the issue of why nonwhites aren't hired as leads says plenty about why this enormous and disgusting problem exists in the American film industry.

I certainly hope that Steve McQueen will do something about this in future movies because his first two were with white leads. His third is about slavery which is obvious it would have a black lead but I hope after that more of his films will continue to feature people of color as leads.

Finally, while I appreciate the author of this article bringing to light the lack of female representation in the field of directing, especially on that panel, I do not appreciate completely belittling the issue of nonwhites not being casted as leads. Even the point that McQueen is relevant that there are more white female directors than black directors. Yet, you ignore that and only concentrate on the female portion going as far as to not even acknowledge the significant moment when none of the white directors had anything to say in regards to why nonwhites are not casted often as leads.

I highly doubt you are a female of color as even your transcript is biased. When asked to name one female director it was Black British director Steve McQueen that said Lynne Ramsay's name first before Alexander Payne but you note it as if it was only Payne.

Craig Ranapia

"only "Young Adult" features a female protagonist (and she's a raging bitch). "Tomboy" focuses on a young girl who wants to be a boy;"

Woah, please continue calling out Hollywood sexism but you might want to think about what you just did there. Have you actually seen 'Tomboy' because I don't think Celine Sciamma made the film you seem to think she did.

Miss Jones

I love how Steve basically lets the world know where he stands with regards to Race in film. I think he is spot on. I know a lot of Non black folks or maybe even black folks who have stopped caring are wondering why in almost 2012 Race is still on the forefront. Because RACE matters. There isn't anything wrong with saying "Hey, why aren't there more people of color" on the big screen? Its a fact of life and its time someone stood up and said something.

JP

Including "Sleeping Beauty," which was panned across the board at Cannes, as a "quality" film only because it had a female director (Julia Leigh) is really grasping at straws.

cinedog

"there are constantly Mia Wasikowska's, Rooney Mara's, Amanda Seyfried's, and Carrie Mulligan's popping up who come on the scene and get every role imaginable. What about Jurnee Smolett? Nicole Beharie? Nate Parker? Anthony Mackie? Michael K. Williams? Denzel Whitaker?"

Sorry, but it's hard to take a comment like this seriously when the poster hasn't grasped the proper usage of apostrophes.

And probably except for Mackie, not many people have even heard of these other actors and it has nothing to do with race.

Dana Kephart

THIS IS A CALL TO ARMS!! ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE BOYS IN THE BOYS CLUB CAN'T SEE BEYOND THE TREES !!!

SohoDriver

Okay, whilst I agree with you that what THR did was completely unjustified, ignorant and should certainly be reprimanded for that horrible interview, I fail to see why you decided to attack the males at the end of your article. That was completely uncalled for. "The Artist is about a man's ego, "Shame" is about a man's addiction to sex, "Moneyball" is about changing the rules of baseball"…you say these things as if they are subjects that can be discussed in an offhand manner, as they do not deal with subjects of sexism or how a woman came to triumph over a man.

I do realize that I may be overreacting, and if you truly didn't mean to patronizingly describe said films, then I apologize. However, I find it quite irritating that, after complaining (and yes, you are right to complain, I COMPLETELY agree with you there) about how THR put down the female directors like that, you then go and make it out like the women directors of this year all dealt with much better subjects because they are women, and are therefore on higher maturity levels and know how to deal with emotional resonance.

As a male, I was deeply offended at the insinuation. If I am looking too much into this, and your penultimate paragraph was just a case of poorly used words considering the situation, then I do genuinely apologize. I sincerely hope you do not think that the female directors this year all delivered much more mature, intelligent films because some of them dealed with discriminatory situations.

If there is one thing to have been learned from this whole THR ordeal, it is that males and females are completely and utterly equal. Neither is remotely better or worse than the other, only individuals can make that claim. It shouldn't matter if you're a woman or a man, if you direct a good film, you direct a good film.

cinephile

So good to bring that up Sophia. It's really an incredible that there are not some female filmmakers invited.
Miranda July's film is a small one, yes, but it was at the Berlin Film Festival.
Phillida Loyd's "Iron Lady" is a big film.
Lynne Ramsays's film won at the London Film Festival and was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
and so on and on and on.

And it's understandable that McQueen makes this a topic about black directors, but I think this discussion should have focused on the lack of WOMEN filmmakers.

The supposedly concerned, but actually condescending question "Name one woman filmmaker who's made a film this year" is a self-fulfilling prophecy. He acts like there are NO female directors at all, and thus this perception and the lack of opportunity for them will continue.

Cinesnatch

It's really outrageous for the THR to be so glaringly, shamelessly sexist. Lynne Ramsey should have been included for some diversity … at a minimum.

What a Joke

McQueen is a hypocrite and a wanna-be. The Two movies he's made thus far (Hunger and Shame) star white people and are about white people (both star Fassbender). So it's ridiculous that he thinks he can take a stand against not casting black people. Furthermore, he's BRITISH! I am, by no means, saying that it was a walk in the park to grow up as a black man in the UK…but the UK is no USA. His "solidarity" with "African-Americans" is such crap.

The real issue I have with him is that he's never made a movie about something he innately and intrinsically understands. Hunger was about Irish prisoners on a hunger strike. Shame is about a NEW YORKER who's addicted to sex. (BTW: all the leads in this are Brits playing Americans…which is another issue…but also outrageous). His upcoming picture "Twelve Years a Slave" is about an AMERICAN SLAVE — kidnapped in NYC and sent to work the fields in the American South. Three Films that, if we're being honest, he knows nothing about personally.

The Great Directors — Allen, Scorsese, Kazan, etc., etc. — (whom, one could argue are the "target' of McQueen's "no black actors" rant) made their name and their mark on the history of film by making movies about people and places they knew…and knew inside and out. All the press on Shame is about Fassbender's preformance…and if you read all Fassbender's interviews and the reviews, it's common knowledge that Fassbender created the character not FROM the page, but DESPITE what was on the page. All accounts are that McQueen's script for this was not fully flushed out — and, to my point, how could it be…he's not a white-New Yorker/sex addict.

Get off it, McQueen. You're a British Man with African Ancestry. You are not American. You are not African American! Stop trying to be.

Iamthenewblack

I hardly think it's racial bean counting when there is nothing to count. You named very few examples in comparison. It's really the absence of. The white washing. I'm glad you mentioned Spike Lee because most of Spike Lee movies have a diverse cast. I would challenge you to go through each Spike Lee movies through the years and juxtapose that with Scorcese and Allen. What is the general picture you gather from the comparison . I can only name She's Gotta Have It and School Daze as having an all black cast. I know you mentioned Spain and Asians but you have to admit that Black and White ppl have a unique history in this country. The statistics by race in movies are staggering in America, you would really have to be in a fantasy land not to see that or one of those people who laughably trumpets that we live in a colorblind society.

Shawn

Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground).

The racial bean counting bugs me. McQueen seems to be talking about a general phenomenon rather than a particular director, but times have changed. Jarmusch has been casting black actors for years. Woody Allen cast Chiwetel Ejiofor as a lead in Miranda and Miranda, although few people noticed. And now Whit Stillman has cast an African American actress–incidentally another child of Igbo parents. Allen, Jarmusch and Stillman have all shot in Spain, and Allen has employed two of Spain's greatest actors in lead roles. Sidney Lumet, may he rest in peace, used black actors in substantial supporting roles and put Andy Garcia in a leading role–oh yeah, and he directed the Wiz. So who is McQueen talking about? Hal Hartley? Martin Scorsese?

If there's a point to McQueen's criticism, is that something we want to see applied across the board? Who wants to look over Kasi Lemmons' shoulders to see how many white people she's cast? Who wants to make sure that McQueen is giving Asians the proper amount of screen time? Should we evaluate Spike Lee's oeuvre on the basis of his portrayals of Jews? Should we fault Dee Rees if she continues to focus on the African diaspora?

I understand the reasoning behind affirmative action and I think the film industry could benefit from it. As film criticism, however, it sucks. New York is a center of independent cinema, not big studios. These independent directors largely begin by drawing from their own life experiences, and one truth about life in New York is that people have historically lived in ethnic enclaves. It takes time to grow and expand one's horizons, and not all growth is in the direction of casting black and latino actors in lead roles.

Iamthenewblack

I will pick up where Steve Mcqueen left off and say this post is shameful. I challenge you Mrs. Savage to name five Black directors let alone ones that came out with movies that are getting any type of attention this year, that is the real story. There are at least 2 or 3X more white women directors working than black women and men directors combined. Where is your outrage for that? Lest we forget who has benefited the most from Affirmative Action, I'll give you a clue: it's not black folks or white men. White Women make more in corporate America than both black men and black women, and there are constantly Mia Wasikowska's, Rooney Mara's, Amanda Seyfried's, and Carrie Mulligan's popping up who come on the scene and get every role imaginable. What about Jurnee Smolett? Nicole Beharie? Nate Parker? Anthony Mackie? Michael K. Williams? Denzel Whitaker? and many more black actors/actresses who do exceptional work, where are the roles, where is the OPPORTUNITY. This is what McQueen was getting at and it is far more egregious.

jingmei

Tomboy is about a young boy who wants to be a girl, instead of the opposite transition. And any online live version of this awesome roundtable thanks.

Zach

Re: Jesse and Martha

Despite the independent nature of the films that some of these men directed they are much more in Oscar contention that any female directed film. Even Shame is being given a strong push for Actor and Supporting Actress. Last year, the female director of The Kids are All Right was included. Of course, female directors need more attention in Hollywood but I don't think the roudtable choices bring a new (or really any) injustice to the table.

Jesse Carp

Excellent read. I also couldn't believe when the interviewer asked that question and couldn't name significant female directed films from this year (theatrical release). How about Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, Phyllida Lloyd's Iron Lady (unseen in America but…) and Jennifer Yuh's Kung Fu Panda might sneak into the Animation race. Of course this is just naming a few.

Amused

RE>

Substitute other arts or pursuits in this unfortunate template and giggle freely about what a silly statement this is.
"But you're talking about classical music that the average American doesn't listen to."
"But you're talking about epic poems that nobody in America memorizes anymore."
"But you're talking about traditional non-drug treatments that big pharmaceutical companies haven't packaged for distribution in chain drugstores."
"But you're talking about people who ride bicycles or take the bus, not people who drive their own expensive automobiles."
"But you're talking about people who read good writing instead of THR…."

Martha

Thank you!

Honestly, last year women directed 1/2 of the top performing indies and yet still you must have a certain appendage to be considered a worthy director in many quarters, it seems. And re: Zach's comments, while I applaud the inclusion of an African American, I highly doubt Shame will be considered as a directing achievement in the Oscar race because it doesn't seem to be the sort of thing the Academy recognizes (not because it was or was not well-directed).

Zach

This is all well and good except this whole thing really surrounds the Oscar race and not great filmmaking, and its true that there are no female directors really in the Oscar race.

Sophia Savage

Feel free to add to our list – it's just a sampling of what THR forgot.

Jeanne

Thank you for this. I'd like to add Kelly Reichardt with "Meek's Cutoff" to the list. Best film of the year, in my humble (and female) opinion.

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