Cholodenko: Hollywood “lopsided” against female directors

Posted by · 5:41 pm · October 4th, 2010

In Oscar-watching, causes can be seasonal things: there’s no guarantee that what the industry and the media jointly declare a crucial issue one year will last to the next. In 1991, “Beauty and the Beast” earned applause for breaking the animation ceiling in Best Picture, but it took 18 years (and a format change) for the Academy to go there again. The year after voters redressed the balance by handing both their lead acting Oscars to African-American actors in 2001, not a single black face featured in either category. Every year has its own story.

We might well be learning that again this year. In many quarters, 2009 was dubbed “the year of the woman” as a string of successes for female filmmakers culminated in Kathryn Bigelow’s history-making Oscar win.

This year, however, that level of cheerleading has been largely absent, despite another strong year for women in the field: Debra Granik and Sofia Coppola were the toast of Sundance and Venice, respectively, box-office titan Pixar announced its first female-helmed feature and Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” was the crossover arthouse story of the summer.

For all that, while Cholodenko remains a dark horse to be reckoned with, the odds are against a woman breaking up an all-male Best Director lineup this year; Academy members may be basking in the righteous glow of Bigelow’s win, but one Oscar does not an entire industry change.

So I was interested to read this quote by Cholodenko in the Guardian a few days ago, in which she addresses the perceived bias against female filmmakers in Hollywood — and concludes that sexism is not the cause so much as a key divergence of interests:

According to Cholodenko, Hollywood’s “bottom line” is still the dollar: bums on seats are all that really count. And what kinds of movies put bums on seats? Action movies, thrillers, comic-strip capers, films that involve CGI and special effects and stunt men. Cholodenko’s point – and it’s a good one – is that women generally don’t want to make those kinds of films. They are more interested in character, in human psychology, in motivation.

“I still think that it’s lopsided, the value we give to things,” she said. “Why should a film have to have all that stuff in it: the guns, the special effects? Why does a film like, say, Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola get called ‘petite’? We valued [the domestic aesthetic] in the Seventies, when films like The Graduate, Five Easy Pieces and Coming Home got made. But now? I don’t think that we do.”

Many, of course, will relate this point back to the theory held by some industry-watchers that it was Kathryn Bigelow’s mastery of a male-dominated genre that enabled her Oscar success — not one I particularly shared given that both Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola, while falling at the final hurdle, still garnered Academy notice for highly delicate, feminine works. But if “The Kids Are All Right” cruises to a Best Picture nod, as many assume it will, it’ll be interesting to see how much Cholodenko’s name even enters the Best Director discussion — or if, as was the case with Lone Scherfig last year, the director’s contribution to a so-called “actors’ film” will be deemed invisible.

[Photo: Ace Showbiz]

→ 16 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

16 responses so far

  • 1 10-04-2010 at 5:58 pm

    Drew said...

    Everytime I read about how films that were mentioned above were box-office success in another time it depresses me to think about what passes for “entertainment” now. It amazes me that the Studio didn’t try to work in one fight scene, chase, or random exlposion into The Social Network. Because that seems to be the only thing that can keep a persons interst for longer then 15 minutes. Sorry to go off-topic there, but what audeinces have become accustomed to is just pathetic.

  • 2 10-04-2010 at 6:31 pm

    Tom Houseman said...

    So her argument is that Hollywood is right not to hire women? Or is it that Hollywood should make movies that will make less money? I’m sure that there are women like Biggelow that want to make action movies, and horror movies, and sci-fi movies. There are also plenty of movies targeted towards and directed by women that aren’t exactly praised for their depth. Think “Mamma Mia” and “What Women Want.”
    If she was saying that Hollywood is a boys club that doesn’t respect women, I’d buy it, but her argument is that Hollywood doesn’t want to hire women because they want to make money. I’m pretty certain the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

  • 3 10-04-2010 at 7:02 pm

    Jacob S. said...

    I read that Guardian piece yesterday and it was really fantastic. I strongly suggest everyone read the full piece.

  • 4 10-04-2010 at 9:16 pm

    Aaron said...

    The Kids are all Right is one of the most overrated films of the year, but I think Cholodenko’s argument re: women directors in Hollywood is persuasive.

  • 5 10-05-2010 at 4:54 am

    Isaac Richter said...

    “The year after voters redressed the balance by handing both their lead acting Oscars to African-American actors in 2001, not a single black face featured in either category.”

    That is entirely false. Since then we’ve had two winners of Best Actor in a Leading Role who were African-American. We had Jamie Foxx winning for playing Ray Charles in Ray, and Forest Whitaker for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Unless there’s a problem with my vision, they are both African-American actors. We’ve also had nominations for Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Will Smith and Gabourey Sidibe since then, and other wins (in supporting, but still) went to Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Hudson and Mo’Nique. So, I think the African-American ceiling did break, only the subsequent wins felt way less forced in my opinion (less like agenda wins, more momentum for the performances). As for women, well, we’ll have to wait and see.

  • 6 10-05-2010 at 6:14 am

    Hunter Tremayne said...

    She won’t make it in. Not it got out that she doctored the script ending because she didn’t want any sympathy for the poor sap of donor whatsoever. Hollywood is fine with female directors; out-and-out man-haters are a different kettle of fish.

  • 7 10-05-2010 at 6:36 am

    David Giancarlo said...

    Isaac, Guy obviously means that in 2002, there were no black Best Actor or Best Actress nominees. Lol

  • 8 10-05-2010 at 6:47 am

    Isaac Richter said...

    Oh, I just saw that. My apologies. Still, I do think 2001 kind of opened the door for African Americans to start winning Lead roles, and even if it didn’t hap`pen the following year, it’s happened a couple of times since, so we’ll have to see how Bigelow’s win affects the chances for women to win in the next decade, whether it was a fluke or whether it will start happening a bit more often.

  • 9 10-05-2010 at 6:56 am

    Joe said...

    I have to point out the obvious: Cholodenko isn’t quite up with her film decades.
    As to her point: not all filmmakers want to make action movies! It’s not like Danny Boyle or Garry Marshall love to make effects-driven spectacles. But they do make movies that audiences want to watch. Why is it the independent filmmakers (the ones that, say, make a movie about a dysfunctional lesbian couple) are always the ones to complain that nobody watches their films? Come on; if you go up to an executive and say “I don’t want to make a movie that people will go to see”, are they really going to give you enough money to make anything other than a “petite” film?

  • 10 10-05-2010 at 9:19 am

    Sam said...

    2001 was agenda driven, and not necessarily performance driven. I don’t have a problem with Halle Berry winning the Oscar. I know a lot of people did at the time, but really, the only other performance that was better (among the nominees) was Sissy Spacek in In The Bedroom. Berry’s speech was a little annoying, but I can understand her emotions getting the best of her. Denzel Washington should not have won the Oscar, however. I think it was less about rewarding a Black actor, and more about “make up” for the terrible slight in 1992. Washington should have won for Malcolm X. Alonzo Harris was a really good character, and we finally saw Washington play a well-rounded villain, but hands down the Oscar winner should have been Tom Wilkinson for In The Bedroom, and it is not even close in retrospect.

  • 11 10-05-2010 at 9:37 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Washington’s win is a makeup one but it’s still superior to Al Pacino’s Scent of a Woman win the year he was up for X.
    Malcolm X is too controversial to be awarded by the Academy when there’s a common misconception that X was anti-semite.

  • 12 10-05-2010 at 10:16 am

    Dana Kaminsky said...

    Nice open article, and grazing of some great points. The photo, however, is kinda like a backhanded compliment, or rather:
    It almost says you wanna put the article in but first you’re gonna put something that can be interpreted as almost a caveat.
    It’s tricky. Yes, this is an article who is making the point.
    Maybe I’m still sore from all those guys in my early 20’s who, when I didn’t want to sleep with them, told me I must be gay. (No, they weren’t attractive to me.)
    Same thing about women directors. Oh, sure, if you are a woman and you want to direct, then you want to take over the world, our man’s movie world…so you that means YOU ARE ALL DYKES ! (Similarly same secondary nature applies when observing women’s acting roles in movies.)
    Isn’t a lot of it, or most of it, about males and maintaining some kind of penispower?
    And about sex? And power, in unconscious sexual terms?

  • 13 10-05-2010 at 11:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Dana: I appreciate your thoughts, but I certainly didn’t mean any such thing with the photo choice. Apologies if it seemed demeaning. I simply thought it was a cute pic and more eye-catching than the dull Cholodenko portraits Google Image turned up.

  • 14 10-05-2010 at 11:45 am

    Rashad said...

    She sounds whiny. Nothing bothers me more than these backhanded insults to people by saying audiences don’t “appreciate” certain films. It’s old and tired.

    People don’t want to pay to see marriages break down or watch people deal some tragic event – we see that shit every day of our lives.

    The Kids Are All Right is a poor film too.

  • 15 10-05-2010 at 12:22 pm

    Movingon said...

    I think Debra Granik is likely to be nominated as best director for WINTER’S BONE this year. Hopefully we are reaching the point where gender won’t be as much of an issue with the Academy or the guilds. The only question will be “which films are great?” and deserve recognition.

  • 16 10-05-2010 at 12:37 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    I really wish more women were interested in directing action or suspense movies, because in the rare cases male directors choose to have a female action lead, they’re always (intentionally or not) fetishized. It needs to be less “look at this woman! Isn’t it novel that she is kicking ass?” and more “Look at this awesome badass (who is a woman)!”