Opinion: Hollywood…Lots Of Activism, Not Much Actual Acting On Anything

February 12, 2020
Many of Hollywood’s big names like to talk about making change, but not many of them actually do much about it.

At the Oscars, Natalie Portman now famously wore a gown embroidered with the names of the female directors – Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Mati Diop (Atlantics), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Alma Har’el (Honeyboy), and Céline Sciamma (Portrait Of A Lady On Fire) – that she believed had been snubbed at the awards ceremony. “I wanted to recognise the women who were not recognised for their incredible work this year in my subtle way,” Portman told The Los Angeles Times’ Amy Kaufman. It was an admirable move (though not really that subtle, considering that she spoke about it with the media), and a nice way to acknowledge some fine filmmakers and fine films. But Hustlers, really? It’s a solid film, but an Oscars contender? Anyway, that’s just a matter of taste.

Natalie Portman has already been pilloried online – somewhat justifiably – as a hypocrite due to the fact that her very own production company, handsomecharliefilms, has produced eleven films, and they’ve all been directed by men, except for one film…which was directed by Portman herself. Also, Natalie Portman has only appeared in one film directed by a woman (Rebecca Zlotowski’s Planetarium) in the last ten years (though she did appear in two films – Jane Got A Gun and Thor: The Dark World – that originated with eventually departing female directors).

Brie Larson, Sigourney Weaver, and Gal Gadot talking at the Oscars.

And this is where Hollywood’s major players need to force the shift themselves. As with most industries, it’s those with the power that can make the change. That, of course, principally falls on the shoulders of studio heads. You don’t hear studio execs talking much about gender diversity in the directing ranks, because their main aim is to make money…and they need to be shown that female directors can, indeed, make money for them. There have been positive moves in this area (much of it obviously influenced by online discussion and media commentary), with Marvel Studios hiring Chloe Zhao (on the back of her excellent 2017 drama, The Rider) to direct their upcoming juggernaut, The Eternals, and our own Cate Shortland to helm Black Widow (with Anna Boden also co-directing Captain Marvel), and Warner/DC striking box office gold courtesy of Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) and Cathy Yan (Harley Quinn: Birds Of Prey). With these kind of obvious examples showing that female filmmakers are more than capable of handling big budget tentpole flicks, hopefully Hollywood’s studios (and independent production companies too) will continue to hire women filmmakers, particularly to direct female-focused blockbusters…and maybe even non female-focused blockbusters.

But Hollywood’s powerful actors – both male and female – also have a part to play in forcing this change. Instead of just clapping, cheering, standing and grandstanding at events like the Oscars, they need to actually do something. Nicole Kidman, for instance, has publicly pledged to work with more female filmmakers. “As a woman in this industry, if you have a little power, if you have the chance to get something greenlit, if you have the chance to say who you want to direct it, if you go, ‘I want a female to do this,’ that will help,” the actress said at a Variety event, and truer words have never been spoken. Yes, the powerless can grab the power themselves, but it’s usually easier if they’re given a hand up from those up above.

Nicole Kidman in Destroyer, directed by Karyn Kusama.

“I think it’s necessary to say that every 18 months I’ll make a movie with a female director,” Kidman followed up to The New Zealand Herald. “Because that’s the only way statistics will change when other women start to go, ‘Oh, I’m actually going to choose only a woman now.’ So every 18 months there has to be a female director in the equation.” It certainly paid off for Kidman when she worked with Karyn Kusama on the brilliant and horribly underrated Destroyer, which boasted some of the actress’ best work ever.

Hopefully, Nickers will stick to this pledge (unfortunately, her upcoming projects listed on imdb all have male directors), and other Hollywood superstars will flip their thinking too. Instead of merely paying lip service to gender diversity at the Oscars (where they’ll be noticed by everyone, and duly applauded), maybe some of the industry’s biggest stars (many of whom actually have the power of director approval) could back a female director instead of a male one for a change. That wouldn’t get as much attention (and it would be more difficult, and it would require more effort), but it would actually make a difference.

Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

Maybe Hollywood’s bigshots (and big talkers) should move from cracking jokes at the Oscars about the lack of female directors to actually pushing for them to get hired. The result could very well be a win for everyone, as it has been with Wonder Woman: smash hit box office results, a very good film, and a step in the right direction for gender diversity. And with more women directing movies, movie viewers would not only get to witness different perspectives on screen, but the Best Director category at the Oscars would actually have more possible female nominees.

The Hurt Locker helmer, Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar.

But if most of Hollywood’s showboating, Oscar-chasing, lecturing, over-privileged, hideously wealthy, cause-espousing actors and actresses had the choice of working with Martin Scorsese or Greta Gerwig, who would most of them choose? Would they look to amp up their career, or make a move for social change? Yes, it’s good to talk about making changes, but actually making them would be truly great. When it comes to getting more women behind the camera, Hollywood’s actors and actresses can – and should – actually act upon it, instead of just being attention-grabbing activists…

Click here for our report on The 2020 Oscars.

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