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Women Directors and Why Language Matters

Women Directors and Why Language Matters

A couple of weeks ago I read that the two male directors — Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg — of Kon-Tiki which was nominated for best foreign language film got the gig of directing the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  Here’s a line from the Deadline story that announces the gig: “They made a lot of movie with a little money and showed they knew how to shoot on the water.”

These are the latest dudes who make small movies and get kicked up to franchise level.  Other members of that club include Marc Forster who made Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland and was propelled up to a Bond movie and the newest zombie film starring Brad Pitt, and Marc Webb director of 500 Days of Summer who is now the director of the Spiderman franchise.  And I’m sure there are many more.

As we reported last week, Sam Taylor-Johnson is directing 50 Shades of Grey, the first film in what I’m sure the studio will hopefully become a lucrative trilogy.  So I have to say I was disheartened to read this headline from the NY Times entitled: “Relative Unknown Chosen to Direct Fifty Shades

Why is she portrayed as a relative newcomer male directors are looked at differently?  Is it because we have no context for women being propelled into bigger budgeted films?  It is perfectly normal for men to jump from relative obscurity to big picture deal.  And be real.  Ms. Taylor-Johnson is no novice.  She has a full body of creative work under her belt.  First, she has made a successfully reviewed feature, Nowhere Boy.  She also made a short.  She was mentored by Anthony Minghella, and she had a hugely successful career as a photographer and has done many installations before she became a filmmaker.  That type of work is embraced in male creatives, as is making commercials, but it does not have the same credibility for women.

As I keep saying, language matters, a woman is a relative newcomer and men are never seen that way, they are seen as entitled to these jobs.  

Kon-Tiki Helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg Land Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 (Deadline)

Relative Unknown Chosen to Direct ‘Fifty Shades’ (NY Times)

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Megan Lopez

I agree with this article completely. I feel that women have been looked down in the industry and are always viewed as not being "as accomplished" as men. Although women are more than capable of directing, producing and acting, men are viewed as that they are entitled to these positions over women. When one is making a movie, they seem to be more comfortable with a male directing the film, instead of a woman. Regardless of a women's accomplishments or resume, there is a large stigma in female directed films. Zero Dark Thirty, one of the top box office movies was directed by a female, but surprisingly, not many people knew it was female directed. There are assumptions in the film industry that women are given movies that are not complicated to direct, or movies that are "rental movies" not ones you would see in the theaters. As mentioned in a class reading textbook titled, "America on Film" the author talks about how men have dominated this industry from the beginning. This goes for many occupations currently, as sometimes we see an occupation where a female is present and are surprised that a female is working in that career. Same with filmmaking, people are shocked when they see a successful woman director, and assume that are films are being directed by men. When we think of women directing films, we think of them directing "woman's films" which includes romantic, sob, soap opera movies that are low budgeted and not worth spending our time watching. As a society, we need to start making the adaption that women are just as capable of producing the same films that men are, and if we did our research, we would see that females are producing high caliber films but are not being recognized for their work.

Nicole Kotara

Yes! I feel that it is important to distinguish women just as well as men for achieving such a position. The general public does not always recognize that although just as many women are vying for these positions, they are frequently given to men. I do understand that camera operators and equipment specialists positions are often given to men because of the physical demands of the job, but that does not exclude women as a whole from these positions. Language is important, it wasn't so long ago that we labeled people of different class, gender, sexual preference and race with derogatory words, why would we want to step back and let language like "relative unknown" be used to describe a woman that is clearly accomplished enough to land such a job. I suppose it can only make for a better success in the end when the film is premiered. The gendered expectations of this time are slowly being broken, so it is unfortunate that we see language like this used in such an unappreciative way. I look forward to seeing the direction the film takes, whether it stays true to the rave-reviewed book or if it diverges to please the more faint of heart, whether the female characters take on the classical narrative Hollywood form, or if they are given a different type of role.

Rachel Feldman

YES Melissa, this is such an important point to distinguish! And a tandem point in the process of hiring directors is that we must change the conversation and ask different questions. "What you direct last?" is not going to help most women. Neither is "Who is your agent?" How about tell me about what you've done and created to get you to this point? What drives you and defines you as a director? In your body of work what are you proud of and what not so proud of? ETC?? Then look at a person's life and experience. I personally have been a DGA director for over 25 years with dozens and dozens of one hour network shows, 5 Lifetime movies and 5 award winning shorts and yet I am still considered a "first-time director" and the features that I am writing now and are being considered by major studios, exclude me from directing. Tragic.

Sean Adams

From what I have learned through reading America on Film I have noticed that these patterns of women not being fully credited for their movie directing skills has been going on a long time. Louis Weber was one of the well-known directors in the silent age but never got a chance to do anything bigger. A lot of early women who did get a chance to direct a film often credited there husband with the work and would go unnoticed by the public. Men have dominated the director’s chairs in the biggest box office titles and have an easier time getting recognized for these positions. Is it because most of the larger movies produced are made to draw in a male audience or maybe solely based on the large amount of power Hollywood gives to men.

Michael Medeiros

The way to change is to take action for change and/or to support those that do.
–Michael Medeiros, Tiger Lily Road.


The headline you complain about reads, "Relative Unknown Chosen to Direct Fifty Shades." Then you complain about Ms. Taylor-Johnson being described as a "relative newcomer." Which is it? They are not nearly the same and since you assert language matters you should make better use of it. As it stands your missive is little more than a woman bitching about men.

Loren E Chadima

Thank you Melissa – language is important. And this language keeps all women from making that leap.

Julia Chasman

You are absolutely right, and the best place to post this comment would be in the NY Times. You should submit an editorial — I bet they run it….


I have been saying this for years. It's really quite disheartening to a budding woman director, but thankfully people like you and blogs like yours highlight the inequalities. Things have to change soon, right?

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