The Unbelievable Privilege of Being a Male Director

The Unbelievable Privilege of Being a Male Director

To say this post is a long time coming would be an understatement. I’ve been thinking about it for months. But last night I was pushed over the edge so here we are. The line that women directors hear from the folks in Hollywood is that they don’t want to “risk” a tentpole film, or quite frankly as the statistics show, any film on a woman director. That goes along with the line that women just don’t have the experience to direct these movies. 

That my friends is a giant big pile of poop. 

They have no problem hiring men with no experience or promoting men from low budget films to the big leagues. It’s not about risk, it’s about gender. This is about male privilege and the belief that untested men can handle films better than women with experience. How can we believe that this is about experience when last night Paramount hired writer Robert Orci to direct the latest Star Trek film. This is a man WHO HAS NEVER DIRECTED A FILM BEFORE.

Please tell me how it is not risky to give a person around $170 million for a first time directing gig. If this was the only man being given the keys to the kingdom like it is his playhouse, I would keep my mouth shut (well, maybe not.) But this happens ALL THE TIME.

Here are some additional examples of men who have never directed before, and also those who have made the huge jump from an indie feature to a studio film.

First Films

Robert Stromberg – Maleficent – budget $200 million (release date May 30)

Wally Pfister – Transcendence – budget $100 million (released)

Andy Serkis – Jungle Book – no budget yet (yes, there are 2 Jungle Book movies happening)

Second Films

Colin Trevorrow – Jurassic World – second film – budget $150 million; 

1st film – Safety Not Guaranteed – budget – $750,000

Gareth Edwards – Godzilla – second film – budget $160 million; 

1st film – Monsters – budget – $500,000

Marc Webb – The Amazing Spiderman – budget – $230 million

1st film – 500 Days of (Summer) – budget $7.5 million

I know there are many others that I can add to the list. I just wanted to get it started. Please add info in the comments and we will continue to add to the piece.

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I believe a concern for the male dominated field could be the fear of a one sided film. If there is a female director, the film can be preserved as feminist. May threaten the male counterpart’s stance in film. This is true for a lot of male directed film. The men are stronger, smarter, and more involved in a meaningful roles than any of the women in film. Why should this be of any concern?
Risk is not a valid argument if referred to talent and experience. This is purely sexist. Women can produce exceptional products with a verity of different flavors to put into their films. The argument can be made that people would not accept women directors, but it’s a new era and that is highly unlikely. I think the industry is worried about the term feminism. It is miss understood and sounds very powerful. Women directors’ equal man hater films in the eyes of irrational people who don’t understand the term. There is a lot of room for people to make their own interpretations.


It's telling that many "indie" directors with little or no experience can raise $500K or $750K. Like it or not, men are perceived as being able to handle the money. The resulting films tend to be more polished than micro-budget films, and they receive greater critical latitude. The buzz for these young, white male directors stays with them as they move into Hollywood. Some very lucky and well -financed women share the same fate (Lena Dunham, Sophia Coppola), but mostly it's an uphill battle for women, as well as under-represented minorities and poor folk of every strip.


Andy Serkis has served as 2nd Unit Director on the Hobbit films. He has plenty of directing experience for a large-budget film, I'd say, particularly given the scope and massive army-marshaling those films require, and his deep personal/technological involvement in so many big-budget films. Personally I'd leave him off this list as an example of simple male privilege. He's played a very unique role in the development of film the past 15 years, and with all that acting AND directing experience on massive films, I'd feel quite confident handing him a film like Jungle Book.


Line three. 'or quite frankly' requires a comma after the adverbial clause.

Maybe if you were as prepared with your grammar and criticism as the men you mention are with their story-telling abilities, you might have some increment of awareness as to what is necessary to plan these tent-pole films. They present concepts, pre-visual art, visions, beyond the stories they have already proven as being production-worthy.

Women are supposed to be better at language than men, but you have shown to have niether talent, as your little tirade on men's success exposes.

Stick to your blog.




With the exception of Chris Larson and Michael Rigler, I get the feeling that most of the men participating in this conversation are emotional 15-year-old boys and not film professionals who happen to be men. Is it just me?


If you think this has anything to do with gender and nothing to do with money, then you're sorely misinformed on how the film industry (or any industry) works.

To say that he was given the chance because he's a male is to be willfully shortsighted.

He was given the reins to direct because the producers feel he will provide the best return on their investment. NOT because he is a male.

Catherine Campbell

It's about the female philosophy, duh! They want male to be everything and that's why the amature male writers get everything…called geniuses and they maybe they are…spinning that same old shiite into a new story means new chase, new sex scene, latest female star beauty to ravage and male great body, great guns…and voila the latest tentpost to foist on 4000 theaters…and say that's what the american public wants…it's NOT, and the boys in charge know it! Are we still falling for the "oh women can't handle it myth…with their awards, and great films???


Yeah, hopefully, there will be more females given director gigs. Fingers crossed. :)


"Please add info in comments"? You mean, write the article for you?

As a film student and "privileged white male" on benefits who lives in community housing and can barely afford $60 a week for food, I can assure you less women are interested in filmmaking than men. We have one woman in all three classes. Women work well with the production side, and guys are great at creativity. It's a fact. Now, the only thing I agree with you on is Orci. There's film politics going on there, and that's got nothing to do with gender. The "second film" seems like a petty cheap shot to prove hatred towards males, and is irrelevant from your actual point.

It's great to say "where all the women?" It's another thing to say "are there actually any women who want to be directors?"


I know your meme says it, but uh that title should really read "white male directors". Harvey never ever gave that kind of budget to Robert Rodriguez


I've worked in the film industry for 12 years, in that time I've worked with many first time directors so far out of their depth it's almost comical. Some were taken off the project early, they were so inept. All were cocky males. Certainly first time female directors might be just as bad but there's no way they could be worse. Hubris is a hell of a sword to fall on and it seems to be a primarily male problem.

venom of the day

Talent can take you there, but only character can keep you there.

Dustin Schwindt

These kinds of articles always feel a little bit like shouting at the rain. I heard this kind of conversation a hundred times in film school and it always bothered me because I felt like it was directed at men in general and that the only action suggested was to "let" women direct. Meanwhile, the most talented directors and cinematographers in my department were women who I would have no trouble working for.

Baseball was integrated because one owner opened the door and the individual players that walked through the door were just really good. After that it was all about money. Politics has been integrated because women ran for office and won elections (but unfortunately we still haven't had a woman president, partly because some women don't vote for other women).

If this is to be solved in Hollywood it will come only partly through patronage and mostly through audacity, persistence and excellence. It's a hard truth about any process of integration, but until the playing field levels, women will just have to be better at their jobs then the men around them. That or start their own giant production companies and make more movies like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hunger Games.

Chris larsen

I'm a white male, I'm a camera assistant and I work on features and commercials. There is a massive amount of privilege for white men, and men in general in film. I have worked for female DP's and female Directors and they were perfectly competent. Women are underrepresented in almost all departments of crew. There is a problem in all departments from the bottom up, and a lot of departments act still exercise a boy's club mentality. I've seen progress and I always try to hire my female assistant first. It's a long road and articles like this will help, despite all the people taking offense because they don't want to see it. With filmmaking becoming more affordable to entry level artists, hopefully there will be more diversity in films, and that will effect the big budget films.


Maybe women can't direct? Maybe the reason women aren't behind big action movies is cause they don't like big action movies. Not to say of course there aren't women who do enjoy those films or work in that genre, but you're speaking for all women directors here.
And you're taking naive, dumb, cheap shots at men here. Wally Pfister is a LONG time DOP. He knows his stuff. It was an easy transition. Andy Serkis is a long time MoCap professional. So don't say these guys are coming from nothing.
Men have proven themselves as great directors, name 3 great women directors.
Rest my case.

Maria Giese

Orci is insignificant. The whole argument, however, is fascinating and relevant. It points precisely to why women should be hired at parity with men across the board in film and television. There are no required qualifications for directing, therefore women should be directing 50-50. Everyone director must have a "first film." Orson Welles' first film, "Citizen Kane," is often cited as the greatest film ever made. When guys like Orci get these mega-budget movies to helm, it demonstrates the arbitrary nature of our industry that does not bother with the hard-won civil rights laws we American's are so proud of, and tout around the globe as a signifier of our moral superiority. Orci's hiring provides us the best argument of all to combat the ludicrous arguments against equity for women directors: that men have more experience. Without the "experience" position, there is no other viable excuse that gender ratios among directors are so bizarrely skewed (96:4 male to female) except for unlawful discrimination against women. The new president of the Directors Guild (a TV director) says on Twitter: "Why not?" to Orci's getting the job, yet when it comes to hiring women for TV gigs he says (to paraphrase) "Directing is not an entry-level job." The message to the studios should be "Hire whoever you want, but drop the hypocritical BS about why only 4% of American studio features are directed by women." Hollywood is not Hollywood DC, a jurisdiction that exists outside of US laws. Employment parity for women is happening in even the most conservative sectors of our society. Why not Hollywood?


I agree with you. I do just want to say that Orci has a HUGE track record as a writer and producer and Pfister is an award-winning cinematographer. So perhaps they've earned the opportunities. HOWEVER, so has Ellen Kuras and has she been handed the keys? No. And many more like her. Someone like Michelle MacLaren had powerful (male) mentors who believed in her and gave her a chance and she ran with it. It's about being given the chance and opportunity and so far it's mostly to members of the White Male Club. This is an issue for African-American directors as well of both genders. Thanks for posting. It's a conversation that needs to continue until the problems stop. We're missing out on entire world-views.


While I completely agree with your point, Andy Serkis worked as second-unit director on the Hobbit films… I feel like that's pretty significant experience.

Michael Rigler

I think this is the biggest part of the problem is clearly illustrated by the list of the 20 highest paid media executives in America (Google it!).
Instead of getting directors' backs up and putting them in the position of defending their right to a particular job, maybe we could start looking at where they can influence positive change. For one, directors and producers get to choose who's on their crew. I would love to see more women working as DPs, grips, sound recordists, props … you get the idea.
There are some small signs of change in writing rooms but by and large, the WGA has equally abysmal figures for women and minorities. However, they're not the ones making the final script decisions. One of my biggest problems with the industry is the overproduced pablum that gets green-lighted for production.
If Hollywood insists on sticking to tired, mysogynistic stereotypes and story lines then audiences won't have an opportunity to expand or change their appetites. If that doesn't change, then studio execs will be able to continue saying things like: "films with strong female leads don't sell" – a ridiculous argument considering they're the ones who tell the public how and what they should consume.
If we want the numbers to change, I humbly suggest that we need to keep the spotlight on the rich, white men at the top who get to choose what gets made while doing whatever we can to provide opportunities for people who aren't well represented in the industry and desperately want in.

Miles Maker

To have lumped EVERY male director into this conversation is unfortunate. Simply Google the faces of the examples you've mentioned, and my point will be illustriously made.


There are more female CEO's of Fortune 500 companies than there female directors of studio films. Percentage-wise, there are more female senators than females who wrote studio features last year, and twice as many female senators than female directors. The studios not only ignore female talent, they ignore the female audience. Anyone who suggests that there is no sexism in Hollywood is in serious denial. Show business is one of the most sexist (and racist) businesses in the world. Period.


1st Films
Jennifer Lee – Frozen – budget – $150mil

This isn't to say that it is being balanced out, but that there is – at least – some change happening.


This is a ridiculous 'article' on a website that until now has always been impartial and actually a solid bastion of film criticism. This is just a rant with no substance.

Instead of giving examples of men who have jumped from low to high budget, why don't you give examples of women who you think should be given the chance?

And can you give these male directors their due before trying to bring them down? Edwards shot a film at $500K that looked like a budget 50 times that. And Orci has been working in TV/Film for 20 years now and is always on set and working directly with huge directors (Bay, Abrams, etc.).

Get off your pulpit or stop drinking at work.


that's interesting

Laura Shapiro

In general, I passionately share your opinion, but I think this post lacks necessary granularity.

Stromberg has won multiple Oscars and Emmys for his art direction and visual effects on high-budget, high profile films. Pfister is an Oscar winning cinematographer and veteran of many big-budget films, Serkis is renowned for his performance capture work on films with huge budgets. The reason these three men are considered qualified to direct these large, tentpole films when they are first-time directors is because they have specific and successful repeated experience working in key visual positions at that budget level, where visuals are a very important aspect. The same is true for Robert Orci directing Star Trek 3, though in his case his strength is in a track record of writing numerous films at that level. Gender aside, all these men have reasonable credentials for landing a tentpole film as their first directing job. They have relevant experience, maybe more so than the second group.

The real issue here is that there are very, very few women who have that same relevant experience, at least in the realm of big-budget films. The problem is that there are not female equivalents for Orci, Stromberg, and Pfster. There are certainly female actors who should be elevated to direct, but there isn't anyone who has the specific position of Serkis as a ground breaker in performance capture – he's kind of a unique case.

The case for the second time directors who moved from small budgets to tentpole films is more problematic from the gender perspective. It's hard for me to believe, in the abstract, that a person who directed a $500,000 film is automatically qualified to direct a $160 million film, but by many reports I've read, the new Godzilla is well-done and has elements that transcend the usual monster movie. My educated guess is that Edwards got in the room and pitched his more nuanced take on the Godzilla reboot and they went for it. Edwards, Webb and Trevorrow made really good and successful films the first time out; that's what got them in the room. Women struggle to make their first films, and they rarely get in the room as a result.

I share your passion about this – my life has been profoundly affected by gender discrimination in the industry. But I think more a more granular discussion of how things work in the industry is necessary if we're ever going to get things to change.


500 Days of Summer was a great film. They clearly only chose Mark to direct the Spiderman film due to the hilariousness of his coincidental last name.

Hilary Swank

sigh. another nauseating and bitter article about women in Hollywood, with half baked research. Roberto Orci is on board with Star Trek 3 because he co-wrote the first two, so he's familiar with the environment and the story that he is taking on.


This may not be the place to voice the opinion I'm about to give but here it goes. Whether there may be corroborating personal and anecdotal experience to validate this perception or not, there is a point of view that believes that women in a managerial position often invite drama and needless fraught relationships when they think "acting like a bitch" is the only way to get things done. Men are Assholes too but they run the studios. They're simply more comfortable collaborating with fellow men.

Pants Aflame

"They have no problem hiring men with no experience"

Oh, really? Who's "they"? As a male trying to get his first feature off the ground, I can assure you that only having done shorts that played reputable fests is still a liability to investors. We need more women directors, but you don't need to lie to make your point.

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