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Director Catherine Hardwicke Speaks Out Against Hollywood’s Gender Imbalance

The Miss You Already director talks about the films living “in her garage” because she can’t get them made. Why? They star women.

Director Catherine Hardwicke Speaks Out Against Hollywood’s Gender Imbalance
[Photos: Nick Wall, courtesy of Roadside Attractions]

Of the small percentage of female directors in Hollywood, Catherine Hardwicke is one of the few who have been consistently working for over a decade now. She was responsible for the first Twilight film, which made nearly $400 million at the worldwide box office, as well as the ode to Venice Beach skate culture, Lords of Dogtown, and Thirteen, the coming-of-age indie starring Evan Rachel Wood as a tween gone wild, which first put Hardwicke on the map. There have been hiccups along the way, such as Red Riding Hood, and the erotic thriller Plush, which made less than $4,000 at the box office. But Hardwicke remains one of the few marquee names when it comes to female filmmakers.

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And yet she says that her latest film, Miss You Already–which stars Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore as best buddies whose friendship is tested when Collette’s character is diagnosed with breast cancer–probably never would have gotten made in the Hollywood studio system. Instead, it was produced and financed by the British film production and financing companies E1 and New Sparta Films.

Why? Because it’s a female-driven project not only directed (and written) by a woman, but with two female leads.

“How many movies have I tried to get made over here that had a female protagonist?” asks Hardwicke, a Texan with a surprisingly soft, gentle voice. “Now those movies live in my garage in notebooks and binders. My God. My garage! I call them the ghosts in my garage. The 20 or 25 movies that I’ve tried everything I could possibly think of–fairy dust, magic, hard work, everything! Making storyboards, soundtracks, posters, shooting scenes, scouting, everything to get people excited. But I got, ‘Eh.’ Didn’t happen.”

Catherine HardwickePhoto: Flickr user James Jeffrey

If this sounds surprising coming from a woman with Hardwicke’s credentials, it shouldn’t. Recent reports have brought to light just how poor Hollywood’s record is when it comes to giving women the opportunity to direct studio films. A University of Southern California study found that of the top-grossing 100 films from 2013 and 2014, just 1.9% were directed by women. And over the last dozen years, just 4% of top films were directed by women. As for acting parts, the results are just as dire: Less than a quarter of the films surveyed had a female lead or colead. These statistics prompted an investigation by the ACLU and, more recently, the EEOC, which Hardwicke said had summoned her in for an interview last week.

“I am going in later this week to the EEOC to do my testimony or whatever it is,” she said. “I’m so excited that people are talking about this, shining a light. We’re not letting it die this time. We’re gonna save the world–yes!”

As her tone suggests, if Hardwicke is frustrated by the glass ceiling in Hollywood, she’s also energized by the issue, and convinced that all of the media and government attention will have an effect this time. (There have been a number of other “Year of Woman” moments in the film industry, such as when Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, but they have all been short-lived.)

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She talked to Co.Create about why she thinks the gender imbalance persists in Hollywood; how millennials are helping the cause; and how making a film is like “pushing a rock up a hill.”

Lords Of Dogtown, 2005Photo: courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Beyond Kathryn Bigelow

When asked why Hollywood has such trouble hiring female directors, Hardwicke cited many issues, but one of them was fairly simple: that executives and producers don’t put enough effort into finding female directors, assuming that there are only one or two go-to names.

“We look at these fascinating studies that Women in Film and the University of San Diego have done that ask, Where are the leaks in the pipeline? Why aren’t women moving up? At film schools, women almost have gender parity, many of them do. Why can’t women break out of that and get to direct movies and get to have the careers men have? Why do we have this crazy 50-50 (in film school) down to 4%? It doesn’t make sense. Some of the studies say that people have this unconscious gender bias that a woman can’t direct action, can’t understand visual effects. That they don’t want to direct big movies. Why don’t you try asking us?

“You know, Vulture put out a list of 100 wonderful women directors. And I’ve heard it so many times, just a few days ago at this women’s conference, some guy had the nerve to say, I mean, I’m glad there were men there, but one guy said, ‘Hey, I tried to hire a woman on my TV show but we couldn’t find anybody. We offered it to one, she couldn’t direct it.’ Wait a minute, there’s not just two women. There’s not just like Mimi Leder. There are over 100 women. How far down the list did you go? And I literally called him out in the room. I said, Kimberly Peirce was there, I said, ‘Kimberly, did you get a call to direct that show? No. Did I? No. So how hard did you try?’ Yes, we love Kathryn Bigelow. She’s not the only director. She’s been out there a long time kicking ass and doing great movies. They’re amazing. But if she says no to your movie, call another woman.

“One thing we think will change is if people almost take a pledge and say, for every male-oriented film I back, I’m going to back a female-oriented film. For every writer that’s a man, I’m going to hire a female writer. If everybody did that right now, in one year, this conversation is over and we’d have cool movies!”

Thirteen, 2003Photo: courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Influence Of Millennials

One thing that is different about the debate this time around is that millennials are in power. Or, at least, they are the media consumers whom studios (and everyone else) care the most about. Hardwicke points out that a distinguishing characteristic of millennials is that they care about the values of the companies and corporations they transact with. This should spur Hollywood to follow in the footsteps of companies like Google, which has its employees go through training in unconscious gender bias as a way to increase the number of female employees.

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“We have one of the worst report cards of any industry for gender balance. And when other companies embrace this idea of gender balance and try to get closer to gender parity, their business does better. Their profits go up. That just happened at Google. We just had a fantastic person at a conference I just went to that talked about how they went in there and did unconscious gender bias training at Google, and they did better, came up with cooler ideas, reached more people, more diversity. So its proven over and over in countries all over the world, when you bring in these creative people that are not just like you, not all pale and male, bring in diversity, things blossom and things bloom.

“I think it’s exciting that people in Hollywood are starting to catch on to this . . . as these studio heads and distributors and execs start hearing this message and taking it to heart and wanting to be on the forefront and to be a leader and not last-century thinking. Because we know that millennials are very excited about values of the companies that they support. They actually care, want to be aligned with people that are doing good things. So to be with a studio that still has 100-year-old thinking, where women are only going to direct 4% of their movies–that’s ancient history, guys. Be on the right side of history. Be a leader!

Twilight, 2008Photo: courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment

When Stars Speak Up

Hardwicke admits that with or without a gender bias, it’s hard for anyone to get a film made. But she thinks that with more high-profile filmmakers and stars speaking out about the issue, finally, Hollywood may listen.

“Trying to get a film made is “literally pushing a rock up a hill. Every day. It’s almost like your’e still at square one. After I made Twilight and it made $400 million, I didn’t get a three-picture deal at a studio. I didn’t get a one-picture deal. I didn’t get an office the size of a closet. I didn’t get anything. It was still back to square one–how can you get a movie made? How do all of the elements come together to make a film, which we know is difficult for a man or a woman? But we know that 84%, 94% . . . more men get to do it than women. Now we can’t say we don’t get the statistics. People understand it. And it can’t stay this way anymore. As we see, Jennifer Lawrence [who wrote an essay expressing her anger about the pay gap between male and female actors in Hollywood] and Meryl Streep talking about Rotten Tomatoes [and how most of the site’s critics are male]. More and more people are not scared about speaking out and saying this isn’t right.”

About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety.

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