Hurting for Female Directors.

In graduate school, I had to attend a series of talks from magazine editors and one* of them, from Harper’s, faced a tough question from a friend of mine who asked a lot of tough questions of our guests. She read through the masthead’s list of all-male, mostly Anglo-sounding names and asked, “Where’s the diversity?”

His answer was that he simply hired the best writers, whether that led to any sort of fair representation from women or non-whites. What he didn’t realize, of course, was that his definition of  “best” probably excluded, intentionally or not, all but white males.

He added that he didn’t want to sit around and count quotas because he felt that was condescending. But it’s not just about parity; making sure his organization was more representative was about realizing there are varied points of view that his history as a white male might prevent him from immediately understanding. When you’re talking about writers good enough to get an assignment from Harper’s, there isn’t just one best. After a certain level of quality, distinctions from one writer to another become a matter of taste, and this particular editor was showing his bias toward white males. Pulling in other perspectives would enrich Harper’s voice.

So it goes Hollywood. If you haven’t yet read Manhola Dargis’s full-on assault at Jezebel against the mainstream movie industry for shutting out good female directors, you should read it and then go see The Hurt Locker, the fantastic war film for which Kathryn Bigelow seems poised to get a Best Director nod from the Academy.

Locker might be the best movie I’ve ever seen about war. There are few missteps, and I spent the movie so on edge I nearly had a stomach ache. I actually rooted for the soldiers to shoot some possibly innocent (but possibly not innocent!) civilians (who could have killed them!) because they were so surrounded by terrifying things, and the terror was so well-captured. But the best scenes were about the soldiers odd, contractual, conditional relationships with one other. There wasn’t the “We’re in this together, and we’re honorable, now let’s go boys!” sense that can ring false in movies like Saving Private Ryan. I’m not going to say that this was due to Bigelow’s special woman-sense or anything, because we don’t know why she was able to make it so good. That’s kind of the point. The excellence of the movie speaks to Dargis’s point and the problem with Harper’s at once. If we leave out half the population from movie-making, we’re leaving out half the perspectives that might be able to bring something new to the table. The major studios would be better off if they brought it, because I’d love to see more movies like The Hurt Locker.

*I don’t remember his name, and don’t want to call out the wrong guy.

  • I’ve long thought that about the lack of women directors. I heard awhile back that only 4% of Hollywood movies are directed by women. Maybe it’s a bit higher now, but not much, I’d bet.

    I thought Hurt Locker was a powerful portrait of how war can be addicting, and it did make me feel like I was there. But, I did think the portrayal of Iraqi resistance was simplistic, even cartoonish. This post does a better job of explaining why than I can do here.

  • Ladyfresh

    I’m not a war movie enthusiast. I’m not even sure why i went to see this movie but i saw it. It was excellent and I did not realize the director was female.

  • J.M.

    Sadly, I missed The Hurt Locker when it was out because I was overseas. But I want to add that Kathryn Bigelow is brilliant. She has a wonderful eye, a remarkable sense of timing and development, and a very modern perspective–one refreshingly free of pop psychology. Point Break, the first film of hers I ever saw in theaters, is a seriously underrated film, part arthouse experiment, part action flick. It’s about time she got her props.

  • Pingback: three rivers fog » Creative diversity()