Backlight: Women In the Director’s Chair

Seeing Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman turn into a huge commercial success is a special kind of schadenfreude. Superhero and other popcorn action films have been been particularly resistant to give female directors a chance, even while allowing mediocre white men to fail upwards, from mild indie successes to headlining major franchises. But it’s too easy for even huge hits like Wonder Woman to get written off by studio heads. Jenkins has now inked a deal for the sequel which makes her the highest paid woman director in Hollywood – but note that the deal wasn’t a given.

Actually turning around the abysmal — and incredibly, getting worse — numbers of women working in senior positions in Hollywood will take more than just a handful of high profile successes. That’s where advocacy groups and festivals come in.

1/3 of TIFF 2017 Films Are Directed by Women

Back in July the Toronto International Film Festival launched a new initiative to support women in the director’s chair. Importantly, they mean financial and mentoring support. Share Her Journey aims to raise $500,000 in 2017 in order to get their plan going, and $3 million within five years. The organization will,

  • Champion diversity of gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and physical and cognitive ability within gender equity initiatives;
  • Launch a three-month residency programme for emerging female creators;
  • Introduce a new producers’ accelerator programme for women;
  • Develop a speaker series to spark conversations on gender equity and gender identities in film;
  • Design comprehensive resources for educators to enhance the curriculum and support classroom discussions about women and gender in cinema;
  • Use industry data to track career trajectories and improve outcomes for women in film.

This breakdown reminds me of another Hollywood advocacy organization, Women In Animation, which has been successfully lobbying for women in every aspect of the animation industry (cartoons, games, VR, commercial animation) and helping to connect them with mentors and resources. (Look for my interview with WiA Co-President, Marge Dean, later this month.)

Share Her Journey, though, isn’t a just side gig for TIFF. This year one third of the feature films and almost a quarter of the shorts screening at the festival are by female-identified directors. Festivals are an important stop for indie and international films trying to find distribution, and TIFF is one of the most important for securing North American distribution. During festival it isn’t unusual to stop for coffee and stumble into producers and distributors hashing out the details of a potential deal. So moving over to shine on more female directors (and producers and writers) can make a real difference.

Cool Projects by Cool People

  • The CW has a new show coming from Drew Barrymore. The Black Rose Anthology is a one-hour horror drama entirely written and directed by women. Black Rose will “explore some of humanity’s deepest fears from a woman’s unique perspective.” Jill Blotevogel (Scream: The TV Series, Patriot) worked with Barrymore and her business partner Nancy Juvonen to develop the show, and will write the pilot.
  • A new sci-fi anthology series from Amazon and the UK’s Channel 4 is will feature Janelle! Monae! The ten episodes of Electric Dreams are all inspired by Phillip K. Dick short stories and will feature, along with Janelle! Monae!, a whole bunch of cool people, including  Steve Buscemi, Greg Kinnear, Mireille Enos, Anna Paquin, Timothy Spall, Richard Madden, Holliday Grainger, Jack Reynor, Benedict Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Vera Farmiga, Mel Rodriguez, Glenn Morshower, Sarah Brown, and Bryan Cranston. Check out the trailer below:

  • The afro-futurist novel Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson is being adapted to film! The project was crowdfunded on Indiegogo back in 2015 and also received support from the Canadian Film Centre. Longtime Canadian TV personality and director Sharon Lewis (everything from Property Brothers to The Raccoons) is writing and driecting the film, which is set to premiere September 23 at UrbanWorld Film Festival in New York.
  • True Detective has finally picked its season three lead and its your boy Mahershala Ali. Deadline reports that the new season “will tell the story of a macabre crime in the heart of the Ozarks, and a mystery that deepens over decades and plays out in three separate time periods. Ali will play the lead role of Wayne Hays, a state police detective from Northwest Arkansas.”
Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.