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Danny Boyle’s reasoning for the lack of female leads in his films shows we need more male allies

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Sarah Shaffi
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Danny Boyle on why he hasn't had more female leads in his films.

Male allies are essential if we’re going to see a change in Hollywood.

For every female director, there are 22 male film directors. In 2018 just four of the 100 highest-grossing films were directed by women. And of those 100 films, less than half (40) featured female leads

It’s difficult not to draw a parallel between the lack of female directors and the lack of female leads, and a new interview with Danny Boyle has just backed up that link.

Boyle’s newest film is Yesterday, which stars Himesh Patel as a man who decides to pass The Beatles’ songs off as his own after waking up to discover the group has been erased from existence.

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It is the latest in a long line of films by Boyle, from Trainspotting to Slumdog Millionaire and Steve Jobs, that feature male leads.

Speaking to the Independent, Boyle said he had a concern, “especially now – and it’s a growing concern – where you don’t want to [make a female-led film as a male director], because you’d feel like an imposter”.

Let’s unpick that, shall we?

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Firstly, there’s the use of “especially now”, which we assume is at least partly a reference to #MeToo and #TimesUp. We’d like to remind Boyle that in a post-#MeToo world it’s ok to work to women, and not something to be scared of. Unless of course you’re doing something wrong or are behaving in an unsavoury way.

The comment could also refer to the prevalence of conversations about the representation of minorities in Hollywood. From discussions on why there aren’t more female directors to revelations about pay inequality and how few leads and co-leads are women of colour or over the age of 45, Hollywood is finding that it has nowhere to hide.

All of that means that male allies are essential in Hollywood’s quest to course correct – it’s an undeniable fact that male directors dominate Hollywood, and that’s not going to change quickly. If Boyle thinks he’ll be an “imposter” for directing a film with a female lead, then does that mean no man can direct a film with a woman as the star?

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If Boyle’s thinking spreads, that’s a huge problem for a couple of reasons. First, it means the pace of change will be not just slow, but glacially slow, if we rely on the few female directors working in Hollywood to work on films with female leads. Secondly, just like racism can’t be solved by minority groups, it’s unfair and wrong to place the burden of driving change on the people who have been systematically disadvantaged, rather than on those who are in a privileged position.

Boyle’s comments are frustrating because he’s clearly aware of the lack of female leads in his films and appears to be shrugging off any responsibility for changing the situation, when as a successful director he could have a huge impact. We’ve seen that with someone like Ryan Coogler, whose Black Panther featured a number of female leads even though it was about a male superhero. (Coogler is also great at hiring women and minorities behind the camera.)

We need male directors like Boyle to understand they have a part to play in increasing the visibility of women on screen, and not to just expect someone else to do the heavy lifting.

Image: Getty

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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.

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