“People carry around an image around in their head of what a director looks like. It’s a dude, and there’s kind of a baseball hat, and there’s maybe some cargo shorts,” said “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna in an interview with IndieWire. “We just need different images. Images are very valuable, so seeing images of women direct while they’re pregnant, and petite women, and tall women, and just all different types of women. I think is important to show that.”
Born out of this need, Brosh McKenna started the hashtag social movement #FemaleFilmmakerFriday on Twitter last week. She was inspired after seeing her friend Tamra Davis’ Instagram post, which in turn was inspired by a comment made by actress Saorise Ronan about her Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig.
“It’s just a simple picture, and it really stuck with me. It really stayed in my head,” said Brosh McKenna. “I’m on hiatus right now. I have a lot more time than I usually do. So I was kind of mulling it over like, what if we asked a bunch of, between Tamra and I, what if we asked a bunch of female filmmakers to put up pictures of themselves on set? They tend to be such badass pictures of people, you know holding boom, or have headphones on, or whatever.”
She began reaching out to friends and work acquaintances through email, including Davis, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ava Duvernay, Jill Soloway, Shiri Appleby, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” directors Erin Ehrlich, Jude Weng, Daisy von Scherler Mayer, and more about the idea. Initially she set the launch date for over a week away (Feb. 2) thinking that people would need to prepare and hunt down photos.
“I don’t know what I thought, that they had to go get like a tintype from the sepia man,” she said. “I sent an email that said, ‘a week from Friday, not this Friday but next Friday,’ and the second I did it, my 17-year-old son was like, ‘Mom, everyone’s gonna do it this Friday! No one’s gonna read your email close enough.’”
Sure enough, many of the people she contacted jumped the gun and started sending out their hashtagged photo tweets on Friday, Jan. 26. That’s when Brosh McKenna gave in to the movement with her own post:
We were planning this for 2/2 but people were excited, so let's go for it! My friend Tamra Davis recently posted a photo of herself directing and it inspired me, so I invited some women to do the same. It's hard to become what you do not see. #femalefilmmakerfriday pic.twitter.com/be9w7qh10A
— Aline Brosh McKenna (@alinebmckenna) January 26, 2018
The resulting flurry of posts took over Twitter, including bleeding over into other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
— Gina Prince-Bythewood (@GPBmadeit) January 26, 2018
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 26, 2018
— Jill Soloway (@jillsoloway) January 27, 2018
The need for visualization of female role models began long before that for Brosh McKenna who began her career as a screenwriter and eventually went on to adapt “The Devil Wears Prada” starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
“I just try and imagine myself sitting on my twin bed in New Jersey… when I was coming up I knew who Merrill Markoe was. She was working on [‘Late Night With David Letterman,’]” she said. “I remember trying desperately to find pictures of Merrill Markoe just to see what a lady writer looked like. I knew some of the more famous writers, but I wanted to know and have images of women who were behind the scenes.
“We had nothing resembling the internet. So I didn’t know where to look for images of women who were sort of doing these things behind the scenes,” she continued. “I was always very desperate, hungry to know who they were. There’s something in human nature, you just also kind of want to know what they look like, and what the job looks like, and what outfit you’re gonna wear.”
The response to the hashtag was overwhelming, even though some thought it was a pre-existing movement. Even “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” co-creator and star Rachel Bloom had no clue that her own partner had started it. Overall, though, it had the desired effect. Beyond just providing inspirational images, it also provided exposure for women who are currently living the dream that so many can’t even envision.
“There was a lot of people that I didn’t know were directors,” admitted Brosh McKenna. “Particularly there were some actresses that I didn’t know had directed. People are out there and they’re making it happen and they’re doing great work, and more than you know. I think that not everybody knew a bunch of showrunners had directed their own episodes. That’s happening more and more, and we’re retaining that creative control.
“It’s good to show people there are people out there making their dreams happen, and that means everybody from a 12-year-old who’s out in the backyard with her friends and her iPhone, to people who are directing $100 million movies,” she added. “I think you need to see all of that to see the next step for yourself. Because the next step for yourself might be film school. You know, it might not be becoming Ava right away.”
— tamra davis (@davistamra) January 27, 2018
The flood of images from the hashtag also provides perspective on how the entertainment industry still needs work when it comes to gender equity.
“We need everybody to identify and understand that there is a system in place that has been keeping women from having these jobs,” she said. “I think that we’re just starting to really understand the numbers of ways in which the system was sort of set up to not encourage, to not wick women into the system. I think it’s been these divisions have been invisible, these barriers have been invisible. I think women have always felt them, and known what they are, but I think that it’s about people hiring looking past the obvious person.”
The upshot of course is that with visibility, even more women will find work.
Brosh McKenna said, “I hope that people are looking for female directors more now than they have in the past, and here I’m hoping somewhere someone saw an image of someone and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that person was directing. I didn’t realize that writer, or that director, or that person was directing now. So hopefully there’s some people who get discovered by virtue of the hashtag. Wouldn’t that be great?”