If you didn’t already know, Dee Rees’ brilliant film Mudbound, was packed with not just women in the crew but women of color — including film composer Tamar-Kali and editor Mako Kamitsuna.
There are two phrases that hover around the collective lately. One is “smash the patriarchy” – that is annoying and patronizing in my opinion because the patriarchy will never be smashed. That’s just a way for women to be told to feel a little better about something. The other is “lead with light,” and that is Ava DuVernay’s approach to her life, her work and her activism. It is the single most productive approach I’ve personally seen, from anger to bitterness to resentment. Leading with light means, as DuVernay explains it, being the light that draws others to you. Dee Rees leads with light in the way she staffed this film and the way she presents each artist in the video above. She says she wanted the best and to her the best are women.
The Academy’s various branches – cinematography being the most exclusive in terms of only choosing well known men – do keep women out. I know because I helped write and research (along with Marshall Flores) a ten year study on the women represented in non-acting categories at the Oscars. Sound and makeup fared a bit better than composing and directing. But Cinematography showed that no woman has ever cracked the big five there.
How do you know the film industry is a patriarchy? Because even film critics seem hellbent on punishing Mudbound for being part of the Netflix rollout. They justify this, unbelievably, by saying stupid things like “well, it deserved to be seen in theaters.” Yeah, it does. But deserves got nothing to do with it. Either this is about rewarding great work or it’s not. If it isn’t let’s stop pretending it is.
I didn’t know Mudbound was made up of an all female crew. I had no idea watching the film therefore I had no particular judgments either way – I just saw one of the best films of the year. Under the guidance of Dee Rees, who clearly leads with light, the women craftspeople here had a director who not only trusted their competence but brought them in because she believed they were the best. You can see the results in the film. It isn’t just a matter of hiring women – it’s also a matter of believing in their ability to do great work.