This week at CinemaCon, the annual convention run by The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), 20th Century Fox revealed its slate for their upcoming 2016 and 2017 films. Some big, money-making movies are on there, like next month’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the “Independence Day” sequel, the adaptation of “Assassin’s Creed” and more. But one trend running through the entire 23-film list is clear: not a single female director is on the list.
Did 20th Century Fox seriously think it was going to get through the next two years without anyone noticing that they don’t have a single woman director helming one of their projects? Remembering that this isn’t Fox 2000 or Fox Searchlight, which makes smaller, awards-driven dramas and prestige films, both of which have slightly better track records. This is big Fox, whose slate is mostly made up of giant tent-pole films.
We all know that the numbers for women directors are dismal, but at the six major studios they’re even worse. The idea that women can’t direct a tent-pole is a frustratingly inaccurate idea that permeates the film industry. The incorrect assumptions span everything from “women don’t go see them,” to “women can’t be trusted with special effects” and even outright sexism contributes to the fact that women aren’t offered big budget, studio jobs. Male festival darlings or up-and-coming young men are offered giant, blockbuster films before women who are far more experienced have a chance to enter the room.
Lexi Alexander, director of 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone,” and one of very few women to direct a comic book movie directing gig, said late last year, “I think in industries riddled with bias, you tend to hire women only if their previous work is very masculine, which is hilarious given that this is not how male directors are chosen. I am pretty sure when Kenneth Branagh came up for ‘Thor,’ nobody at Marvel thought: ‘Yes, that Kenneth Branagh is masculine enough to do action, just look at “Henry V” and “The Magic Flute.”‘ Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge Branagh fan, I’m just trying to demonstrate how ridiculous it is that women have to be ‘one of the boys’ to get in on the superhero business, whereas male directors don’t have to have any proof on their résumé that they can deliver hardcore action.”
While the coming two years don’t have a woman director listed, this issue is not out of character for Fox since the studio has a terrible track record for hiring female directors. Jennifer Yuh Nelson co-directed this year’s “Kung Fu Panda 3,” and she co-directed “Kung Fu Panda 2” in 2011, but no woman has directed a live-action film at Fox since 2010: “Ramona and Beezus,” directed by Elizabeth Allen.
Of the 23 films that 20th Century Fox is hyping up at CinemaCon, even the female-centric films don’t feature female directors. “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” is directed by Tim Burton. “Hidden Gems,” the story of NASA’s African-American women, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, is directed by Ted Melfi — a white guy. A 2017 release called “Mother/Daughter,” starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, is being directed Jonathan Levine.
Perhaps, for the two films listed that don’t have directors attached, we can hope for a woman to be hired, but don’t hold your breath. They include a Hugh Jackman vehicle called “The Greatest Showman,” and “Untitled Fox/Marvel” for October 2017. We all know how well women directors do when it comes to comic book adaptations. Patty Jenkins may have “Wonder Woman” coming up but that’s about it so far.
The insult is compounded when by the fact that 21st Century Fox, 20th Century Fox’s parent arm, launched a mentoring program for female directors back in 2014. “To connect with viewers today, we need stories that represent the amazing range of experiences and voices in the real world. Along with writers, the vision of directors is key as they obviously bring those stories to life through their own lens,” said Joe Earley, Fox Broadcasting Co. chief operating officer.
It looks like 20th Century Fox decision makers didn’t get the memo.
Women and Hollywood reached out to 20th Century Fox for comment, but received no reply.