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Women Directors Delpy & DuVernay Talk Leveling the Playing Field

Women Directors Delpy & DuVernay Talk Leveling the Playing Field

Three women filmmakers with new movies are inspiring mofe discussion of the state of women directors in Hollywood. The LA Times’ Nicole Sperling talks to Julie Delpy (“2 Days in New York,” “2 Days in Paris”), Ava DuVerney (“Middle of Nowhere”) and Leslye Headland (the upcoming “Bachelorette”).

It’s a grim time for independent cinema and original content across the board, and the battle as a female director continues to be the toughest fight. In 1998, 9% of the top 250 highest-grossing films were directed by women, and last year that percentage dropped to 5%. Below, highlights from the LA Times conversation (read it in its entirety here) – from Hollywood’s fear of women and emotions, to the assumption that women have no imagination.

The issues are complex, and this just scratches the surface. From the no-women-in-competition-at-Cannes controversy to the latest Sight & Sound Top 50’s inclusion of just one woman director–Chantal Akerman (we’re compiling our own list of Best Films Directed by Women)–we need to encourage thoughtful conversation about the systemic roots of the problem. One trend we’ve noticed is how media coverage on female directors (and actresses) are often skewed more personally (ie. Barbra Streisand’s fingernails), while male directors are treated more deferentially with questions targeted at craft and concepts.

What other trends are counter-productive to leveling the playing field for women and men directors?

Women going the independent route

DuVernay: “I think we see a lot of women entering the foray of independent filmmaking for very much this reason: You’re empowered by private equity and less about going into a room and pitching ‘This is my vision.'”

Is it getting any easier for women directors?

Delpy: It’s still complicated. When my friends that are aspiring women directors tell me they walked into a room and didn’t get the job and say, “I don’t know what I did wrong — they didn’t go for it. I was passionate, I was telling them how much the project means to me.” I always tell them, “Don’t do that. Don’t be passionate! Ever! Be an accountant.” Because I think being a woman director, being this person in charge, [they think] we are weird, crazy animals. We can’t have this kind of calm — they really want people that they feel have no emotions. So I think emotions and women, it’s always been kind of a scary thing, I think, for a few financiers. I think they need reassurance that women are unemotional, because they feel that a good director should be kind of unemotional. They don’t make movies because they like movies — they make movies because it’s a business. So you have to be a businesswoman.

DuVernay: I think for female filmmakers a big issue is making their second and third films. You see the statistics, and the dropoff on the second and third [films] are dire. I think women are finding a way to kind of circumvent a lot of what you’re talking about and get that first film made but the big question for me is, where do you go after the first and second? You know, who has the longevity? Woody Allen had the opening-night film at L.A. Film Festival, and I was really just struck that this is a 70-something-year-old man. Where’s his American woman equivalent?

Insulting assumptions

Headland: I don’t know if you guys have this experience, but with my film, a lot of times people just assume that it’s based on real life. Like, they sort of assume because I’m writing about women that I must know women exactly like this and I’m sort of reporting from the field.

Delpy: Yeah, because we have no imagination…. It’s actually kind of insulting.

DuVernay: No, it is insulting…. There’s not one interview that I’ve done for “Middle of Nowhere” through the whole Sundance experience where someone didn’t ask me if this was my story…. Or how do I know about this? It couldn’t have come out of my imagination. There’s always an automatic assumption that this is a film about a black woman whose husband is incarcerated and I’m a black woman, so … “Is your husband incarcerated?”

Delpy: It’s insulting. Like, they don’t ask [Paul Thomas] Anderson if, like, when he did “Boogie Nights” if he’s a porn actor, ex-porn actor. That wouldn’t even come to people’s minds.

Longevity and women supporting women

Delpy: It’s terrifying. Women make their first film, their second film, and then it’s like a nightmare, right, to make the third or fourth? I mean, it’s almost like men can have three films in a row that don’t do that well and keep on going…. I think it’s the perception of people with money. I mean, the people in power. It’s their perception. And you know what’s interesting, what I find interesting? That that’s not just in the movie business, is that some women are at the heads of studio or very powerful women that could be promoting women directors. But I think there’s a tendency — you know, the kind of sisterhood of women doesn’t really exist. Like, women will not help other women. Women doubt other women — as much as men if not more. Women hate each other.

DuVernay: I will note that I disagree with that.

Delpy: I’m joking, obviously. But I feel like you would think that if there’s a woman at the head of a production company, that she would help women. But she won’t do that. It’s not gonna come. I mean, they’re more doubtful than anything else…. Maybe it’s my interpretation. It takes forever for things to change…. I know that in France, you couldn’t have your own bank account as a woman before 1969. So it’s 40 years ago — it’s not that long ago.

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