If you really want to know why more women directors don’t get work, take a look at this year’s presidential election. Take a look, specifically, at the progressive left movement that has created a sharp division among the ranks of Democrats, with one faction supporting Bernie Sanders and the larger segment supporting Hillary Clinton. While Sanders has no path to win the nomination, he is vowing to fight on. This prolonged fight does two things: it gives his supporters a chance to trip the light fantastic for a month or two more before shutting it down for good (unless they can find a way to make it more productive than it is now), but it also helps Donald Trump. A lot. Trump doesn’t really have to put much energy into attacking Clinton because the Sanders people are doing it for him. They’ve done a really good job spending all of their hard earned $27 donations on attack ads against her. They spent $2 million in New York City alone. This helps Trump because he is only now starting to raise the big money required to beat her. But Sanders has all done the preliminary work. When all is said and done, that is all the Sanders movement will have amounted to — assistance for the GOP to beat the Democrats in November.
Imagine the week of the Democratic Convention. Normally any Republican would be worried about the dominance of the Democratic party to beat the likes of Donald J. Trump, arguably the easiest GOP candidate to beat since… Richard Nixon? But here come thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters clamoring for attention on a national televised event with their “LIAR!” and “BERN THE WITCH!” signs — screaming, kicking, spitting, shouting, swearing at children. There’s Rosario Dawson standing on top of a tower shrieking “SHAME ON YOU HILLARY!” There’s Susan Sarandon leading a chorus of “We Shall Overcome.” There’s Donald J. Trump sitting in his royal opulence at Mar-a-Lago, rolling on the floor laughing his ass off, with no need to spend a dime to smear Hillary. He doesn’t need to. Just a few taunting tweets out to the Berners that say things like:
Crooked Hillary Clinton wants completely open borders. Millions of Democrats will run from her over this and support me.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2016
Crooked Hillary has ZERO leadership ability. As Bernie Sanders says, she has bad judgement. Constantly playing the women's card – it is sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 6, 2016
Bernie Sanders has been treated terribly by the Democrats—both with delegates & otherwise. He should show them, & run as an Independent.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
I would rather run against Crooked Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders and that will happen because the books are cooked against Bernie!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2016
Crooked Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most dishonest person to have ever run for the presidency, is also one of the all time great enablers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 29, 2016
Given the monstrous person we now potentially face as our president, and given the dire situation of women in power in movies, you would think that activists who support and fight for women, like Maria Giese or Miriam Bale, or even Susan Sarandon would, at the very least, refrain from attacking the first woman with a real chance to become president. You’d think. But you’d be wrong. Their argument will be that they should not support her “just because” she is a woman, or as Sarandon put it, “I don’t vote with my vagina” (weirdly implying that there are any women who do).
But let’s break that down. By that logic, if it’s okay for them not to support Clinton, then it is most certainly okay not to support women in Hollywood “just because” they’re women. You see, by taking this petulant stance, it’s a license to disregard the actual accomplishments of the women in question. The idea that anyone would support Secretary Clinton “just because” she’s a woman is ludicrous and yet that is exactly what many women working within the Hollywood system seem to believe and they shout it out loud. How, then, can we make the case that top male executives in Hollywood should take a chance on talented women directors if so many women themselves can sneer, “Why? Just because she’s a woman?” The answer to that is they won’t.
Hillary Clinton is maybe the most qualified candidate to run for president in decades. If these famous women voicing disdain can’t see a person this accomplished as anything but an “over-reaching woman,” then why should executives in Hollywood trust a woman to helm a production — no matter how talented she is? Women walk in the door distrusted for every upward move they’ve managed to make. Recently we’ve seen two prominent female directors viciously attacked by the left when their films succeeded, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Ava DuVernay for Selma. Not surprisingly, both films challenged the narrative of the iconic white male hero. With Zero Dark Thirty, discomfort with a female CIA operative got twisted into a touchy narrative choice; namely, did any incidents of torture lead to the capture of Osama bin Laden? With Selma the outrage was simpler: “How dare you portray LBJ in a grey area with any trace of negative light.” In essence, these female directors were easier to attack because the default setting for many men is to doubt that women know what they’re doing.
Even if you believe the outcry would have been just as severe if men had directed Zero Dark Thirty or Selma, you have to at least admit that fundamental and primal distrust in women in general is partly what led to the viral explosion of controversy surrounding these two films — the jack-in-the-box pops right up with the go-to explanation: “Well, of course massive mistakes were made because women were in charge.” Ditto Elaine May on the set of Ishtar, even though the egos of Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman can be just as easily blamed. In Hollywood, taking a chance on a woman on a large scale just isn’t done. Time after time, we see the reason why: too many men in power simply don’t trust women with millions on the line.
Is this fair by any reasonable standard? No. Of course it isn’t. It is even accurate? No, of course it’s not. But there is a reason why bogus charges against Clinton regarding Benghazi, and fishing expeditions into Clinton’s emails, and tabloid gossip regarding Vince Foster, and empty “scandals” stretching all the way back Whitewater ever see the light of day and get traction to begin with. Just as there is a reason why Bernie Sanders supporters, believe it or not, are not only using these same GOP talking points to justify squawking how “terrible, corrupt, and ineffective” Hillary Clinton has been — they’ve added more falsehoods to their own incomprehensible list. They don’t even need proof or specific accusations. They just point their fingers and shriek: “Liar!” or “Democratic Whore!” I once saw a proud father talking about his six-year-old daughter, telling her friends at school that “Hillary Clinton is a liar and you shouldn’t vote for her just because she’s a woman.” Six years old. Already indoctrinated.
“She’s a liar” seems an awful lot like “she’s a witch” – so this attitude dates back centuries. What I see emerging on both sides is mass hysteria based on nothing so much as fear and destructive innuendo. The person to blame for allowing this to get out of control is Bernie Sanders. Once a dignified and honorable man, Sanders became seduced by the dream of delivering a revolution, only to see it unravel — so his last desperate option was to depict his rival as a witch, a liar, a monster. His most impressionable followers, never really having lived through the consequences of idealistic downfall, simply don’t have the maturity to understand the complexities of what it means to lead a nation, much less comprehend the devastation brought upon when good intentions splinter off into useless counterproductive distractions.
If Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or even Donald Trump change positions on key issues, at worst they are called flip-floppers. But when Hillary does it, she’s “A LIAR!!!!!” The hatred came to a head a few days ago when Bernie supporters brandishing ugly signs spat at her supporters and screamed at (wait for it) fellow Democrats. It’s now so bad that Rachel Maddow had to ask Senator Sanders how he felt about this behavior. He shrugged. That was his chance to act presidential, an opportunity to help bring the party together, to subdue the witch hunt which has reached a fevered pitch. He did not seize that opportunity. Unwilling to scold his children, afraid to dampen their glazed eyes, he shrugged it off.
The accusations against Hillary Clinton go very very deep with some people. Irrationally deep. Some of their claims have enough merit for valid productive discussion. Most do not. If she accepts money from donors SHE is corrupt, but if Obama does it, he isn’t. If she speaks at Goldman Sachs — where John Lewis, Deepak Chopra and Muhammad Yunus, Tom Brokaw and Yao Ming have also spoken — Hillary is the only WHORE FOR GOLDMAN SACHS! If she makes $250K on one speech she is punished for that, even though it’s an achievement for any woman to be offered that kind of money to speak. She is after all, the 3rd most-admired woman in the world (following Queen Elizabeth and Angelina Jolie). Other successful women like Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow and even Kim Kardashian are hated because they’ve made money, yet people like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Leonardo DiCaprio aren’t pilloried for earning far more. It is considered a sign of power to amass a fortune as a man (hi there, Donnie Trump), yet if a woman is wealthy she must have whored her way to success and she certainly does not deserve it.
Turning our attention to Hollywood, let’s quickly look at the career of Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of the current #1 film at the box office, Captain America: Civil War. Their first movie was Welcome to Collinwood, an obscure heist movie starring George Clooney. A dud at the box office (to be precise, it cost $12 million and earned a little over $300k, total) with mostly middling reviews. So what happened? They were given the opportunity to make You, Me and Dupree, starring Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson. Cost $54, made $75 million. Okay, fine. At least it broke even. So they proved they were semi-competent and not snobs. Next they did a bunch of TV stuff, like episodes of Community, and then somehow lucked into getting a golden franchise gig, Captain America: Winter Soldier. Naturally that does really well, earns $259 million – almost $100 million more than the first Captain America movie at Paramount. Maybe Disney was looking to inject more comedy elements, which is what made The Avengers so much fun. Pull that lever. Jackpot. Now Captain America: Civil War has scored one of the biggest all-time opening weekends ever. Civil War is not my cup of tea. It is exactly the kind of film audiences want, and line up for, and pay good money for. I know it gives the audiences exactly what they want – jaw-dropping (though mind-numbing) effects, smirky superheroes out the ying yang, lots of Dolby THX fight scenes, a couple of tough pretty girls, a meta-wisecrack here and there. But this is not a good film if you’re talking about any traditional measure of what makes a good movie – that isn’t what they’re going for, and maybe women would not want to make that kind of film. None of that matters, though, because branding and pre-awareness and international box office rules the day (read Lynda Obst’s book, Sleepless in Hollywood). This piece of crap will spawn many more just like it. These guys, the Russo brothers, are now box office kings in Hollywood, careers totally made.
The question must then be asked, how differently would all of this had gone if they’d picked a woman to catapult off the success of her small indie film which did quite well, after she paid her dues on TV for a long time. Let’s say Lisa Cholodenko, for instance. Why then, could executives not have said, “Hey, you wanna make this big stupid movie that is guaranteed to make a shit-ton of money, no matter what?” But Hollywood would never do that. Whatever the reasons or the risks it would take to agree to make this movie, a woman’s judgment would be questioned from Day One. They would probably have no rights whatsoever to oversee final cut — I’m spit-balling here — and some dude from way higher up would be telling her what she needed to do. When hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, they aren’t going to put the woman in the driver’s seat. At least not where the tastes of pimply-faced superfans (of all ages) are concerned.
The presumed reason to hire a female director “just because” they are women is perhaps all tangled up with mistaken perceptions about the limits of their abilities. Maybe, just maybe, we’re the ones doing the pre-judging. Maybe, just maybe, a women might do as well as any man being hired if she ever received the moral support and confident backing that men take for granted. So if this is part of the problem, how can we find a way to make people trust women? Well, electing the first woman president would go a long way towards proving that women can be trusted to lead an entire country — so maybe, just maybe, a woman is equally capable of telling Chris Evans when to flex.
Please don’t make the mistake of assuming I’m saying if you’re a woman you are therefore required to support Hillary Clinton. Support whomever you choose. Just don’t buy into the notion that a woman can’t possibly be qualified, and don’t allow yourself to get caught up in centuries old witch-burning hysteria by calling her evil. Just admit that you don’t like her for… reasons. Maybe even reasons you can’t quite explain. Just bear in mind that many of those reasons are not much more than preconceived pre-packaged assumptions, the same reasons that prevent women from being considered for the biggest jobs in directing or any other business.
And don’t ask people in power in Hollywood to hire more women “just because” they’re women. They won’t take you any more seriously than you are taking me now. Why should they? But remember, whenever you hear that Hillary Clinton isn’t qualified to be President of the United States, ask yourself how could any sane person could conclude that the only downside to her qualifications is that she’s a woman.