Hollywood proves, once again, that it doesn’t value women directors.
The five nominees for 2019’s best director award were all men. Only five women have ever been nominated and only one — Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker — has ever won.
According to Women and Hollywood, women accounted for 51% for moviegoers in 2018, but of the top 100 grossing films of the years, women represented just 4% of directors, 15% of writers and 18% of producers.
Those dire statistics are evidence that female filmmakers — and they do exist — have learnt to operate outside the industry, and are still facing hurdles even once they’ve achieved success. That’s certainly been the case for Ava DuVernay.
Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the release of her Netflix miniseries When They See Us, about the Central Park Five, DuVernay said that when she started out she created, marketed and distributed her first three films on her own.
“I wasn’t really seeking inclusion in that space, before inclusion was the word,” she said. “I just didn’t expect a lot.”
DuVernay has gone on to make critically acclaimed and commercially successful work, including the 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Extraordinarily, that film marked the first time an African American woman directed a film with a budget of over $100m.
DuVernay also made the documentary 13th, the film Selma about Martin Luther King Jr’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and last year signed a deal with Netflix worth a reported $100m.
Yet she, and other female directors she knows, are still not being offered tentpole films, she said. “I don’t get offered a lot, and what I do get offered is usually historical or something to do with women and black people,” DuVernay told the Guardian. “Like, I’m not getting John Wick 3, even though I’d love to make it.
“I have a good friend who directed second unit on Star Wars and is kicking ass. I have a friend who’s on Westworld right now. Are there enough of us? No. Certainly not for a lack of women being interested in or capable.”
After When They See Us, which hits Netflix on 31 May, DuVernay is directing the DC film The New Gods and a TV film called Battle of Versailles, about the 1973 Palace of Versailles Fashion Show.
Yet it’s astonishing that film studios aren’t falling over themselves to offer her big-budget or franchise films. Still, given the quality of the output that she’s created through her own steam, and the way she champions other women, we know that DuVernay will be just fine, even if we can’t say the same for a Hollywood that continues to shortchange women directors.