The Academy Awards air this weekend, and if you’re anything like me, a film lover without world or time enough to get past #3 on the To-List, let alone see half the nominated movies, you’ve probably still heard all the stories. There’s the horse race: (Is it Argo or Lincoln?) The dark horse host: (How did Seth MacFarland get this gig?) The snubs that will live in “Did They Direct Themselves?” infamy: (Argo and Zero Dark Thirty up for Best Picture but no Affleck or Bigelow noms for Best Director.)
It’s easy to forget the awards are supposed to be about the pictures. And that the folks who get the spokesmodel ask we love to hate–that’d be “Who are you wearing?”–are actually the rarest birds. Most of the flock never sees a red carpet. And very few of them have a uterus.
But that’s old news. And new. Sadly. Twenty plus years after Thelma and Louise, the American film industry is boy clubbier than ever. I find myself, like many of the directors interviewed in Melissa Silverstein’s In Her Voice, wanting to apologize for daring to mention the sorry state of women’s representation in Hollywood. Because it makes me angry. And embarrassed–as much by the facts as by being the bearer of them. Why bring it up when you can only see more tunnel at the end of the tunnel?
There’s no easy answer, but Melissa Silverstein’s book shines a lot of light in the right direction. A collection of interviews first published on the Women and Hollywood blog, In Her Voice gives the lie to a lot of the old sexist saws about women. The sheer number of women Silverstein covers–and this is only Volume One–makes it clear there is a female tradition to be found if one is looking for it. The breadth and depth of the directors’ work and their numerous successes (artistic and commercial) may never stop critics from saying that women don’t have what it takes to be a director, but they do deliver a bracing counterargument to help drown out the naysaying chorus.
Silverstein asks the questions you’d expect about sexism and opportunity and inspiration. She also leads the directors into unexpected places, asking them to consider the political and economic underpinnings of the industry and the implications they may have on them on a personal level and for women in general. (An unsurprising fact: women are better represented in countries that subsidize filmmaking.) But because Silverstein lets the directors speak for themselves–with their humor, their passion, and their all-too-human contradictions–the collection reads like a curious conversation. No self-important rants, no highfalutin’ flights of theoretic fancy, just a lot of great stories about telling great stories.
It’s an absolute pleasure to meet these directors. Whether they’re big names like Sally Potter and Callie Khouri or relative newcomers like Cherien Dabis, they’ve struggled, suffered setbacks, and had to find ways to appreciate their individuality in a culture where for good and ill, they are still defined by their gender. I dare you to read about them and not add their films to your Netflix queue. Don’t worry, Melissa Silverstein is a generous, media savvy author. She’s done the legwork. Links to the websites, the trailers, and films are already included.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR IN HER VOICE:
Melissa Silverstein’s media-savvy collection of interviews is an eye-opener.
So many talented and accomplished women can only pave the way for
more. For me, the revelation is the extraordinary range of interests among
these directors, and their incredible ingenuity in getting their projects to the
screen. This enterprise fills a huge gap and, unlike a hard-copy book, which
starts and stops, In Her Voice will be an ongoing record of information and
—MOLLY HASKELL, Film critic and author, From Reverence to Rape:
!e Treatment of Women in the Movies (1974; revised and reissued in 1987)
and Frankly, My Dear: “Gone with the Wind” Revisited
Melissa has created an incredibly inspiring piece for any filmmaker—not
only women. That said, Melissa’s book is a great source to learn from other
women’s experiences and perseverance—for the young or well seasoned!
—BRENDA CHAPMAN, co-director, Brave
When I first started out making films back in the early 1980s you could count the number or women directing movies on one hand. It’s encouraging that three decades later Melissa Silverstein has been able to compile an entire book of interviews with female filmmakers. It’s about time someone chronicled this important but overlooked piece of cinema history. However,this is only Volume 1. Let’s hope there will soon be Volumes 2 through 10.
—SUSAN SEIDELMAN, director, Desperately Seeking Susan,
The Boynton Beach Club