Chick Flicks and Wonder Woman: Why Female Directors Still Don’t Win

Wonder Woman’s hot bod and bullet-proof suit weren’t enough to save Hollywood from itself.

As of July 31, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman has grossed over $800 million and broken records with all combinations of “female,” “director,” “superhero,” “summer,” “origin story” and “blockbuster.”

People, myself included, are throwing themselves at her leather-clad feet.

Meanwhile, Kathryn Bigelow, the world’s only Academy Award-winning female director, has made a name directing dark historical dramas, her latest being Detroit.

A summer that includes both Bigelow and Jenkins, two ceiling-shattering female directors, seems like the summer audiences realize the future of film is female. But it won’t be.

Hollywood has squandered its many opportunities to put female directors in the spotlight. Female directors have produced some of the most famous, lasting, and profitable movies in the past few decades. But despite those successes, those directors are too often ignored or discounted.

Society places less value on careers dominated by women than work performed mainly by men. Pilots (more men) and flight attendants (more women), doctors and nurses, teachers, secretaries—men’s jobs “deserve” higher salaries and more respect.

Take Nora Ephron. Known for directing mega-hit romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail—both of which grossed over $200 million—Ephron was relegated to “merely” being a chick flick director. That isn’t a knock on “chick flicks.” But we have to realize the genre’s been relegated to second class because the content and audience both tend to be

female.
Then there’s female director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who helmed Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in the popular franchise targeting sexually frustrated housewives. Regardless of your feelings on its depiction of BDSM, you can’t deny its financial success and cultural impact. Grey was in the top ten highest grossing R-rated movies of all time. But because it was masturbatory fodder for women, it’s a joke.

Nancy Meyers has directed hits like The Parent Trap, What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, and It’s Complicated. Her movies average $147 million, according to IndieWire’s tally, and she’s grossed over $1 billion in the domestic box office alone. Yet she’s not a household name, nor is she spoken of with the reverence saved for Spielberg’s unrelenting sentimentality or Christopher Nolan’s dreary takes on the human soul.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker boast numerous Academy Award nominations and wins but they are also hyper-masculine. The Hurt Locker is a war thriller set in Iraq, written by a man and featuring zero female leads. Zero Dark Thirty starred Jessica Chastain (and she won an Oscar for her role) but the movie was still pulse-pounding war porn centered on men nonetheless.

As in STEM fields, women are deterred from participating because of misogynistic assumptions about their abilities. The resulting gender gap further discourages women from participating. But just as women have contributed more to STEM fields than we think, we don’t give enough attention or acclaim to the accomplishments of women in the entertainment industry. As a result, women are shut out.

Women have directed hits in every genre, yet we ridicule the chick flicks or give acclaim to actors and producers, not the female directors. While male directors are geniuses who mold their actors and actresses, female directors are simply a means for male stars to become famous.

I’m looking at you, Channing Tatum. Tatum’s breakout role was the female directed Step Up, ridiculed for being a girl dance movie yet Tatum was singled out for his talent. He became an uber-celebrity, he, like so many actors, has worked almost exclusively with male directors.

The biggest offense is this: Kathryn Bigelow’s ex-husband, James Cameron, made Titanic, the biggest chick flick of all and a jazzed up version of Disney’s Pocahontas (Avatar). Male directors who do the same thing female directors do get higher budgets, more accolades and respect for their artistry.

Women make girl movies and have too many periods.

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