Hollywood’s gender imbalance problem: Why aren’t women allowed to “fail [their] way to the top”?

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June 28, 2017 by Hope W.

Gal Gadot, director Patty Jenkins and Chris Pine behind the scenes of Wonder Woman

At a junket interview for her comedy The House, Amy Poehler was asked about Hollywood’s gender imbalance in which directing jobs and strong lead roles disproportionately go to men. She replied the below:

“It’s about a huge combination of things: allowing women to have as many chances to succeed and fail and to make a mediocre film just like a guy. Everything doesn’t have to be so god**** special.”

My colleague and I were discussing this, and we think it is very true. Letting a woman helm a blockbuster — or any movie actually — or even putting a woman or group of women or female superhero at the forefront of a movie’s story, is unfairly seen as a risky venture. When these movies succeed (Bridesmaids, Spy, the Pitch Perfect series, Wonder Woman etc.), everyone cheers and makes a big hullabaloo while studios pretend they have always been happy to be supportive of women. But when they aren’t as successful (Ghostbusters, Rough Night), they’re told as cautionary tales of why female movies are risky, and given less chances to succeed.

Which is stupid, because men make lousy films all the time, but no one ever stops giving jobs to men. They just stop giving jobs to that particular man who failed, but they also usually give him one or two more chances to redeem himself before writing him off. So why do women have to keep being successful all the time, otherwise they’re strung up as examples of why female-led movies are a bad idea?

Even a woman’s success isn’t an indication that she’ll find a job easily in future. After Patty Jenkins’ Monster in 2003, which won Charlize Theron an Oscar, she only directed some small TV stuff and had no other major feature film jobs until Wonder Woman (and that was only after the studio’s first choice Michelle MacLaren left due to creative differences). I don’t believe it’s for lack of trying to direct any other feature films. She was supposed to direct Thor: The Dark World at one point, but she walked away from it, knowing it was trouble, and knowing that if the movie didn’t do well, it would have caused people to blame it on her as a female director, and not on the studio for making a mistake.

“There have been things that have crossed my path that seemed like troubled projects,” she says. “And I thought, ‘If I take this, it’ll be a big disservice to women. If I take this knowing it’s going to be trouble and then it looks like it was me, that’s going to be a problem. If they do it with a man, it will just be yet another mistake that the studio made. But with me, it’s going to look like I dropped the ball, and it’s going to send a very bad message.’ So I’ve been very careful about what I take for that reason.”

Like I said before, I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World and had fun watching it, but it is nowhere near Marvel’s best. Yet when people criticise it, they blame it on the villain, the plot, the misuse of characters etc. No one says it’s because director Alan Taylor was male and his male sensibilities in making the film caused it to suck. You know why? Because gender doesn’t matter. Women make up only 7% of directors on the top 250 highest-grossing movies, despite being half the population of the world, but that doesn’t mean that women are lousier directors, or much less women want to be directors than men. It just means that they are often passed over for opportunities to direct movies, including good ones, and so the pool of successful women examples is really small. Human beings learn through failure, but if women aren’t allowed to make bad films or even mediocre films without being seen as representatives of their gender being unfit for the job, we won’t have the chance to “fail [our] way to the top”, as Amy Poehler says.

Also, when I say I want more lead roles and directing roles for women, I don’t mean more lead roles and directing roles in romcoms. They aren’t bad things, but I want to see more movies with powerful characters like Wonder Woman, where she is the badass yet “empathisable” lead; or Mad Max: Fury Road, where Furiosa is an equal, non-romantic partner to Max, and the Wives and the Vulvalini are fierce, strong women. (And now I’m reminded, once again, just how much I LOVE Mad Max: Fury Road.)


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