Danny Boyle Doesn’t Need to Be Afraid of Making Movies About Women

The filmmaker confessed to worrying about being seen as "an imposter" if he took on a female-centric project, but he's missing the point.
danny boyle on set
Danny Boyle on the set of "Steve Jobs"

Danny Boyle is finally talking about James Bond. The filmmaker exited the film in August of last year after months of chatter about his involvement, and production is currently underway with Cary Fukunaga as director and “Fleabag” creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a script polisher. The Brit breakout has intimated that the bulk of her work on the script isn’t just to add a “female voice” to the continued adventures of the super-spy and his various female cohorts, but instead to liven up the entire enterprise.

Now, Boyle has indicated that he wouldn’t have gone that route. In a new interview with The Independent, Boyle was asked about the lack of female characters across his entire filmmaking canon, including his new release “Yesterday,” out later this week. On some level, it’s an unfair question: While Jacob Stolworthy writes that, of Boyle’s films, “only one has featured a female character who stands toe-to-toe with the male lead,” pointing to Rosario Dawson in “Trance,” he’s overlooked some other standouts in Boyle’s work, like Tilda Swinton in “The Beach,” Cameron Diaz in “A Life Less Ordinary,” and even Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs.”

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock (1631384a) The Beach, Tilda Swinton Film and Television
Tilda Swinton in “The Beach”Moviestore/Shutterstock

However, Boyle seems to have overlooked them as well, since he offers up a stilted answer to the question that provides some uncomfortable insight into how he’s approaching the current cultural moment. “You obviously have a concern, especially now — and it’s a growing concern — where you don’t want to [make a female-led film as a male director], because you’d feel like an imposter,” he said. “I certainly respond to that.”

Of course, Boyle could easily circumvent such worries by directing a film written by a woman. The director has almost exclusively worked with male screenwriters across the course of his filmmaking career, including regular partners like John Hodge and Alex Garland, both of whom he intends to work with again.

In fact, the only film Boyle has ever directed that was written by a woman was his very first, the 1987 TV movie “The Venus de Milo Instead,” written by Anne Devlin. Since then, his only other credit for a female-penned story is his creatively mounted National Theatre Live production of “Frankenstein,” as inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel (and Nick Dear’s play).

And yet Boyle doesn’t seem to be slacking off on consuming content made by and about women (like the majority of the moviegoing public). In The Independent, he singles out “Fleabag” and Suranne Jones’ performance in “Gentlemen Jack” as his favorite shows. While Boyle might address his hesitations around a female-centric film by teaming up with a woman screenwriter, it shouldn’t be considered as an either-or proposition. Boyle’s filmmaking suggests he’s readily capable of telling many different stories regardless of whether or not he can relate directly to them.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock (5884451b)Kate WinsletSteve Jobs - 2015Director: Danny BoyleUniversal PicturesUSAScene StillDrama
Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs”Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures/Kobal/Shutterstock

Over the course of his career, Boyle has turned out a number of deeply human films that transcend gender and instead capture the depth of the human experience, from “127 Hours” to “Slumdog Millionaire.” Even darker entries like “The Beach” and “Sunshine” are adept at navigating the twisted nature of what it means to be a person with wants, needs, desires, and often very bad decision-making powers. Boyle has always excelled at making characters from disparate backgrounds into relatable people. That’s what makes him a great filmmaker.

Of course, the current cultural climate — in which creators who have not typically received the chance to tell their own stories in an industry dominated by cis white men — is a tricky one; to act as if cis white men like Boyle aren’t subject to scrutiny when making films about women is to miss the point. And yet the ability to empathize with others and to craft narratives around human identity is the bedrock of storytelling.

Asked later if he feels “heat to make a film with a woman in the lead role,” Boyle told The Independent, “Only from my daughters.” They’re certainly not the only ones who would like to see him try.

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