Sarah Mirk's post last month, Beat the Majority - Name a Female Scientist, reminded me of an ad I saw several years ago for a Women in Film festival here in Seattle. In it, a dominatrix flanked by muscle men is asking a man in an interrogation chair if he can name five female directors – five female directors who weren't actresses first.
Of course, he can't, and the dominatrix proceeds to list all the directors included in that year's festival line-up.
While many accomplished actresses have also directed – Barbara Streisand, Jodie Foster, Ida Lupino, Sofia Coppola, Penny Marshall, and Diane Keaton – to name but a few; it could be argued that it was their acting that helped them break into directing. This should in no way belittle any of their accomplishments, but what about women who set out to direct in the first place, without the benefit of already being recognized?
Could you name five? What about five female Asian directors? Or lesbian? Could you even name five African American male directors? (I'm ashamed to say I could only think of 3 off the top of my head: Antoine Fuqua, Spike Lee, and John Singleton.)
It's not easy – even for those of us who are in tune with popular culture. This is only one of the many reasons why we need to be extra vigilant calling attention to women producers of popular culture, as well as highlighting their absence. In fact, the Guerrilla Girls did the latter with their 2006 billboard, Unchain the Women Directors.
As you can see from the image, only 3 women have ever been nominated for an Oscar for Direction: Lina Wertmüller in 1977 for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion in 1994 for The Piano (the G-Girl's website has the year misrepresented as 1982 – according to IMDb this was the year she directed her first movie), and Sophia Coppola in 2004 for Lost in Translation. No woman of color has ever been nominated by the Academy for the Best Director category. Since this is Bitch, and this is Grrrl on Film for Bitch, I think we can do better than name five. So let's name an ambitious 10 (in no particular order):
Kathryn Bigelow (1951-)
Bigelow is an American director known for directing action films. Recently profiled in The New York Times by Manohla Dargis and currently receiving critical acclaim for her film, The Hurt Locker.
Select Filmography: Near Dark (1987), Blue Steel (1990), Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995), K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), The Hurt Locker (2008)
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Karyn Kusama (1968-)
Kusama's debut film, Girlfight, won two awards at the Sundance festival. Her latest directorial project is the Diablo Cody-penned, Jennifer's Body (the trailer for the film was recently discussed here on the Bitch Blogs).
Select Filmography: Girlfight (2000), Aeon Flux (2005), Jennifer's Body (2009).
Julie Taymor (1952-)
Director of stage and film known for her stylish and unique cinematic images.
Select Filmography: Titus (1999), Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007), and the forthcoming The Tempest (2009)
Deepa Mehta (1950-)
Mehta is an Academy award nominated director and screenwriter, best known for her "Elements Trilogy." The entire trilogy, on which Mehta collaborated with writer Bapsi Sidhwa, was set in India. In fact, the second film in the series, Earth, was an adaptation of Sidhwa's semi-autobiographical novel about her childhood experience of the partition of India (Cracking India, originally titled, Ice Candy Man).
Select Filmography: Fire (1996), Earth (1998), Water (2005), Heaven on Earth (2008)
Jane Campion (1954-)
This New Zealand native was the second woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director (she won instead for Best Original Screenplay).
Select Filmography: An Angel at My Table (1990), The Piano (1993), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Holy Smoke (1999), and In the Cut (2003).
Gurinder Chadha (1960-)
Chadha is a British filmmaker of Indian descent. She has received a number of nominations and awards for her films, Bend it Like Beckham and Bhaji on the Beach.
Select Filmography: Bhaji on the Beach (1993), What's Cooking? (2000), Bend it Like Beckham (2002).
Angela Robinson (1971-)
Robinson wrote and directed the short independent film, D.E.B.S. with the help of a grant from Power Up — an organization that promotes the visibility and integration of gay women in entertainment, the arts, and all forms of media. After winning several awards for the short it went on to become a film, also written and directed by Robinson. She is now an honorary member of Power Up's board of directors. (FYI – D.E.B.S. frequently runs on the Logo channel. So if you haven't seen it, and you have cable, set your dvrs!)
Select Filmography: D.E.B.S. (2004), Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005)
Nora Ephron (1941-)
Renaissance woman, Ephron, is a screenwriter, novelist, director and more. She was nominated by the Academy for three of her screenplays, Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle. She was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Director for Bewitched.
Select Filmography: Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You've Got Mail (1998), Bewitched (2005), and Julie and Julia (2009) – currently in theaters.
Marleen Gorris (1948-)
Dutch director, Gorris, won an Academy Award in 1996 for Best Foreign Language Film for Antonia's Line – the story of a matriarch and her family.
Select filmography: A Question of Silence (1982), Broken Mirrors (1984), The Last Island (1991), Antonia's Line, and Mrs. Dalloway (1997) (based on the novel by Virginia Woolf).
Mira Nair (1957-)
IMDb claims Nair started her career as an actress so I suppose I might be cheating by including her. Her first feature film, Salaam Bombay! was nominated for an Academy award and won the Golden Camera award at Cannes. She was born and raised in India and now lives in the United States.
Select Filmography: Salaam Bombay! (1988), Mississippi Masala (1991), Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Vanity Fair (2004), The Namesake (2006) (based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel of the same name).
Many of these women, and more, can be found in the book, Film Fatales, by Judith M. Redding and Victoria A. Brownworth.
So Readers, can you name five female directors? Do you have a favorite you'd like to make sure we're aware of? And finally, do you think women directors (and by extension women screenwriters) reflect women's lives and handle women's issues more authentically than men? More responsibly? Discuss away!