Cathy Yan’s recent recruitment to the DC Universe was a welcome surprise: Deadline reported April 17 that she will direct an upcoming Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment collaboration starring Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and a band of fellow female supervillains. The untitled project by screenwriter Christina Hodson (“Bumbleblee”) — likely adapted from the “Birds of Prey” comics — will be just the second feature from Yan, whose “Dead Pigs” won the World Cinema Dramatic Award For Ensemble Acting at January’s Sundance Film Festival.
With this assignment, Yan becomes the first Asian woman to oversee a superhero epic, and only the third woman ever to direct for DC (Patty Jenkins has the “Wonder Woman” series, while Ava DuVernay will helm “The New Gods”). During the junket for Robbie’s May 11 release “Terminal,” IndieWire asked the actress — who will also produce Yan’s tentpole — why she was adamant that studio hire a female director.
“Well, it’s a female girl gang film,” Robbie chuckled. “Historically, female filmmakers aren’t given the same opportunities, and we all need to be making conscious efforts to even out those statistics. But beyond that, there was going to be so many integral female characters in this story, in the Harley Quinn one, the girl gang film, that I wanted a truly female point of view and perspective on telling that story.” According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only eight of last year’s 100 top-grossing movies were directed by women.
However, Robbie does not believe “male directors can’t tell female stories, and vice versa[…]I don’t think we need it segregated into male/female. [In] ‘Terminal,’ Vaughn [Stein] obviously wrote and directed a female-driven film. Same thing with ‘I, Tonya’: Steven [Rogers] wrote it, a guy; Craig [Gillespie] directed it, a guy, and they understood that character in and out. I love directors who don’t really see the gender, they just see a person.”
As to why Yan’s vision won out, Robbie cites the “really amazing” “Dead Pigs,” which left no doubts in Yan’s “incredible” talent. “Half the pitch was seeing her film,” said Robbie. “You could just see that that’s someone who’s a very capable filmmaker. It doesn’t scare me to see her do a film on a much larger scale because she clearly has the instincts and the organizational skills, and she can delegate. You can’t pull off a film in China for as little money as she had, and make it look so incredible, and still care about the characters more than anything, right? I mean, she just — in my mind — nailed it. And though [the Harley Quinn project]’s a very different movie, it’s all the things that I needed to see that a filmmaker could accomplish to to feel confident that they could accomplish this movie. So, ‘Dead Pigs’ had that in spades. I loved the film.”
Yan also mastered the DC material. “It’s just fun to work on anything for that long and then hear someone understand what you’ve been looking at on the page for three years, and have them come in and speak about it,” said Robbie. “It’s exciting.”
Although “I, Tonya” came out first — earning Robbie an acting Oscar nod — her first project as both lead and producer was noir thriller “Terminal,” shot in Budapest during Summer 2016 (Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment signed a first-look deal with Warner Bros. in December). She’d like to direct herself, one day. “I feel like I haven’t earned the right to direct yet,” she said. “Until there’s a story that I feel like I could really give a truly unique perspective on, that no one else could, then I don’t think I should be the one to tell it.”