Make Films Like a Girl: Women in Film, Gender Issues, and Cinematic Politics

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On Sunday afternoon, a nearly capacity audience gathered in Hyatt Spring to listen to four brilliant women filmmakers, all writers and directors, to talk about the trials and the (slow) changes toward the positive that exist for women breaking past the boys’ club in Hollywood. Unsurprisingly, the conversation started with Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins, and how this one film has put cracks in the glass ceiling.

Ibba Armancas shared an anecdote of trying to get a short story she owns the rights to made into a film. The studio did not want her as a director—they seemed to be looking for a man to take that role—but the weekend Wonder Woman opened with huge box office numbers, she got a call saying, “Congratulations, you can be the director.”

The emotional aspect of Wonder Woman was a hot topic as well, because it was, for the most part, the first time many women had seen something that powerful for them. Devi Snively said she cried, not in typical “emotional” scenes, but in the battle scenes, because it was something she realized was missing, and she found it within that film.

There has been a shift in television as well, with Yfke van Berckelaer pointing out that Jessica Jones made it a point to only hire female directors for season two, which is a huge change for the better in getting equality and access to these types of behind-the-scenes positions. There are more places that are trying to work out their diversity issues, but we’re moving in the right direction.

A recent study out of the Creative Artists Agency said that more diverse films, with more diverse voices, are making more money. “Capitalism does listen to money,” said Armancas with a laugh, but it’s accurate. Women have more buying power, Snively pointed out, so the industry is starting to listen to our voices.

An audience member asked if the change is because people are actually looking for diverse voices, or if it’s because we’ve learned that we need to, as women, be better just to get ahead. “It’s probably both,” offered Lynne Hansen, while van Berckelaer wants to see the day when women can make mediocre films and still be offered the chance to do more. There was a collective tension among many women in Hollywood about Wonder Woman, because there was a legitimate concern that if it tanked, women filmmakers weren’t getting another major studio blockbuster for a long time. Thankfully, this was not the case, but men get to make bad movies, and keep making them, so that’s a change everyone wants to see.

“All ships rise when you let more voices speak,” offered Armancas. She explained that when you allow different people to get involved, suddenly all your characters, even the ones that may normally seem boring and cookie-cutter become more interesting.

A concept that was discussed a number of times in the course of the panel was talking to people who are in the group that the characters are—speak to people of color if you’re white, talk to women if you’re a man, talk to LGBTQ+ people if you’re straight. In novel writing, there are people called “sensitivity readers,” who will read over a book with aspects that they are directly familiar with, to ensure they aren’t being horribly miswritten. There is not a huge push for this practice within the film world, but everyone agreed we should be making that a standard thing, because it makes characters better, and it makes the inclusion factor for the audience better as well.

Another place where particularly women need more representation within the film industry is executive producers, because they are the ones who need to say things like, as Armancas said, “Hey, it looks like your film needs a woman/non-white voice to make this work.” Hansen attended a workshop in Atlanta recently led by a female executive who talked about how diverse voices were important, and needed, but when someone else asked about how many of those voices they had, the answer ended up being “none of them.” So there’s still a lot of work to be done.

It seems silly, but we still have to pitch everything to the “money talks” bottom line. However, Armancas added in that after you’ve pitched all the money-related reasons why your film will be awesome, as almost an aside, “Oh, and women will probably love it. Women are trendy now!” Everyone laughed, but the reality of that statement was also profound. Women are trending, as if we weren’t ten years ago.

An audience member, after a few comments about the idea of political correctness as a shield to keep intersectionality quiet offered this thought: “Challenging normativity is not ‘PC,’ it’s honest, and [in these situations], not letting people make the PC argument is critically important.” Women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people still have to fight the boys’ club framework, and political correctness is always a stumbling block put in their way.

At the end of the day, what everyone wants is to not have to have these panels, and these discussions, because we’ve managed to get to a point that everyone is taken seriously for who they are, not what they are. But until then, as Hansen had printed on her t-shirt, and handed out on buttons, women will keep “mak[ing] film like a girl.”

About the author

Brynna Owens Brynna Owens is a mild-mannered freelancer by day, but by night, she's working on joining the Justice League. Cutting her teeth on fanfic before she knew there was such a thing (Frodo/Sam based on the books, anyone??), she's been writing since she learned that you put words together and form sentences. Her calling as a Professional Fangirl started with the X-Files, where she honed her writing and editing skills via fanfic that she finally had a name for, and discovered the amazing world of online fandom via IRC and AOL chats. And now, having written that, she feels old! She currently resides just outside Seattle, is owned by a cat named Gandalf, aspires to save the world, and owns over 100 tubes of lipstick.

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