Read the first part of this series, “The A to M of Women in Film in 2014,” here.
N is for Nicole Perlman
The male domination of the Marvel universe became an increasingly hot topic this year, but much of the credit for the continued box-office potency of the Marvel brand in 2014 can go to Nicole Perlman, who picked out Guardians of the Galaxy ahead of much better-known properties when participating in the Marvel writers program. Though her screenplay was subsequently handed over to writer-director James Gunn, Perlman became Marvel’s first female screenwriter — and the undoubted genesis of what turned out to be a $772 million worldwide smash.
O is for Obvious Child
Gillian Robespierre’s so-called “abortion rom-com” may be limited by such an epithet, but it also demonstrates exactly what was so subversive about her debut film, starring SNL alumna Jenny Slate. By making abortion just one, manageable aspect of a young woman’s wider frame of concerns, it made a hugely subversive cultural statement without alienating viewers with its message — indeed, quite the opposite. It will be fascinating to see where Robespierre goes next.
P is for Gina Prince-Bythewood
By the time Beyond the Lights hit theaters, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was already one of the year’s rising stars, obscuring the struggle that writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood had endured to get her feature funded with the then-unknown lead she insisted on. The film is diverse, unashamedly romantic, and essentially the kind of movie that studios don’t bother to make anymore. But that only makes its existence in the current landscape all the more refreshing.
Q is for Quotas
The contentious debate over whether quotas are needed to reverse the appalling statistics on women-directed films took an interesting turn this year when the UK’s BFI Film Fund, a £27 million pot of government money, announced a “three ticks” policy which ensures a certain level of diversity behind and in front of the camera on any films they support. While the US does not have a similar funding body that can lobby for similar action, studios might do well to observe the fruits of such a strategy. A filmmaker like Amma Asante, for example, now helming a project at Warner Bros, is a proud product of the BFI’s hugely pro-active support of her directorial career.
R is for Reese Witherspoon
One of the major comebacks of the year belonged to Reese Witherspoon, not only for her soon-to-be Oscar-nominated performance in Wild, but the achievements of her production company Pacific Standard, which produced Wild, as well as Gone Girl and the forthcoming Don’t Mess With Texas, despite having only three employees, including Witherspoon. With an explicit remit for female-driven stories, Witherspoon told Variety, “We are open to all genres at this company. We just want to see different, dynamic women on film.”
S is for Aaron Sorkin
If anyone doubted that Witherspoon’s efforts were badly needed, they need look no further than Aaron Sorkin, who is increasingly resembling less an industry titan and more a dinosaur. Yes, he gave us CJ on The West Wing, but since then, he’s been reliably disparaging of the female perspective, on screen and off. His recent leaked emails from the Sony hack, complaining about the lack of great roles for women while continuing to churn out scripts that do nothing to solve the problem, only confirmed a mindset that was already clearly visible from his own output.
T is for Tina and Amy
It’s depressingly rare to see two women — especially two women over 40 — lark about and make jokes on their own terms in a prominent public forum. But nobody is in any doubt about why Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have been invited back to perform at the Globes for a third time this January. Zinger of the year for 2014 has to go for Fey for her quip that Gravity is “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.” We can’t wait to see what the pair come up with for 2015.
U is for Liv Ullmann
August Strindberg is widely acknowledged as a misogynist with a problematic attitude towards women. It surely, then, would have horrified him to see a 76-year-old woman reinterpret his classic Miss Julie, inspired by the belief that female artists need to reinterpret his work in order to expose what is troublesome about it. For everyone other than Strindberg’s ghost, it was a delight to see Ullmann return to the stage this year, subverting her reputation as Bergman’s muse by taking on the directorial role herself over no less than Jessica Chastain.
V is for Agnes Varda
Liv Ullmann was not the only veteran director unafraid to mince her words this year. Agnes Varda took her acceptance of a lifetime-achievement honor at the European Film Awards this month to bemoan the lack of fellow female nominees. “It is very sweet to receive this award”, she said, “but when I see the nominees here, I feel there are not enough women.” The fact that it’s a sentiment that could be repeated at pretty much any films awards ceremony ever makes it all the more important that someone finally said it.
W is for Wonder Woman
Why is a film that won’t be released for several years on a 2014 list? Because, for better or worse, it’s been a major news story all year. The hiring of Michele MacLaren as director is great news because it’s high time a woman directed a superhero film (not forgetting Marvel’s first woman director, Lexi Alexander). It would be even better if talent on the level of Michelle MacLaren were considered for superhero films with male leads, too.
X is for Xavier Dolan
There was a lot of fuss over Xavier Dolan’s apparent lack of reverence to Jean-Luc Godard at Cannes this year. But the “respect your elders” criticism is somewhat quashed when we look at just how much time he took in his Jury Prize acceptance speech to acknowledge Jane Campion’s influence on his career. As this site has documented so well, Cannes has become an unfortunate bastion of male dominance which cannot be solved alone by its repeated invitations to Campion. But that only makes it more powerful when Dolan reminds the festival audience that Campion’s The Piano “made me want to write roles for women, beautiful women with soul, and will, and strength. Not victims, not objects.”
Y is for Young Adult
This year, the Hunger Games franchise was back for a third helping, cementing its position as one of the industry’s most valuable commercial properties. It was joined in the $100+ million bracket by both Divergent and The Fault in our Stars, and in doing so proved the young-adult genre as one of the most reliable generators of female protagonists, who continue to prove themselves as worthy box-office champions. Now it’s time to pair them with some women directors.
Z is for Renee Zellweger
Renee Zellweger returned to the headlines this year for all the wrong reasons. The Guardian summed up the damning double standard at play in the coverage of her appearance: “Dare to age? Face-shame at best and be out of work at worst. Get noticeable plastic surgery on your face to combat the inevitable aging? At best you will be mocked for your narcissism and delusional attempts at hanging on to your youth; at worst, you’ll be out of work again.”
The whole episode was thoroughly disheartening, but let’s not end on quite such a depressing note. Some of the coverage may have been offensive, but it also prompted powerful articles and analysis such as that quoted above. Thankfully, we live in an age where feminist discussion is more thriving and diverse than ever. The conversation is constantly evolving. We can only keep it going, and hope it is a matter of time before the film industry catches up.