Lovecraft Country starring Jonathan Majors

New Shows + Movies by Women — August 21, 2020

Of the 10 entries this week, seven come from Netflix. Most weeks aren’t that exaggerated, but as I’ve done this the last several months, Netflix has tended to come up more than any other single service or distributor.

Obviously, a number of factors could influence this – they have the most new original and acquired programming of any streaming service, regularly outpacing their competitors in terms of sheer output. I feel confident in saying Netflix has put out the most projects directed or showrun by women these last several months. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had the highest ratio.

It also runs into the boundaries of a weekly feature like this. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not covering reality TV or kids shows. That may change how much content is being overseen by women. As “Unreal” once so deftly addressed through Constance Zimmer’s Quinn, women have an extremely difficult time breaking out of reality TV showrunning and into narrative projects in an industry that’s still extremely misogynist.

Is Netflix doing the best job? I don’t know, but they are who I’m seeing the most in researching this feature. Is it a good enough job? Still probably not – the majority of projects are still overseen by men. You can recognize that Netflix has made what seems like a dedicated push, and still recognize there’s a lot further to go.

SERIES

Lovecraft Country (HBO)
showrunner Misha Green

“Lovecraft Country” looks exceptional. It follows three Black characters in the 1950s as they search for the protagonist’s father amid rampant racism and Lovecraftian mysteries and monsters. It’s based on a book that tells eight stories weaving in and out of each other.

Showrunner Misha Green co-created the show with Jordan Peele. She started as a staff writer on “Sons of Anarchy” and writer on “Heroes”, and has more recently written and produced on “Helix” and “Underground”.

You can watch “Lovecraft Country” on HBO.

Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix)
showrunner Kathleen Jordan

Two 16 year olds essentially become bounty hunters while navigating the social pitfalls of high school. Played straight, I’d have a lot of questions, but as a comedy it has potential. Obviously, it’s a touchy time for a show about two white women taking on bounty work. Hopefully, this is acknowledged and addressed in some way.

Early reviews have been good, and it brings a segment of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and “GLOW” team over, so it has the behind-the-camera talent to excel.

Showrunner Kathleen Jordan created the show. She’s a fairly new name, having written on “American Princess” and served in a number of segment producer and associate producer roles.

You can watch “Teenage Bounty Hunters” on Netflix.

Hoops (Netflix)
showrunners Jeny Batten, M. Dickson

The central figure of “Hoops” is Coach Ben Hopkins. He dreams of coaching in the NBA, but can’t even get the high school team he coaches to win. He’s constantly on the verge of being fired because…well, if you watch the trailer, you can hear why.

Showrunners Jeny Batten and M. Dickson have both produced for another Netflix animation, “Disenchantment”. They’ve worked together on a few shows, including “Superstore” and “Instant Mom”.

You can watch “Hoops” on Netflix.

MOVIES

Birds of Prey (HBO)
directed by Cathy Yan

“Birds of Prey” may be the most underrated film this year. It’s easily the best entry in the DC Extended Universe, and might be the best superhero movie in the last decade. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is that rare, generational action comedy performance that gets into Johnny Depp-as-Jack Sparrow territory. It’s subversive, it has a point to make, it brings the big “Tank Girl” energy that a character like Harley Quinn demands, the fight scenes are incredibly varied and creative, its unreliable narrator is psychologically complex, and the directing manages to be both confrontational and fun.

“Birds of Prey” is lightning in a bottle. Its go-for-broke attitude is something that increasingly complex extended universes and their checklists of fan service homework have tended to forget recently. It’s one of the best films of the year, and you should just see it.

Read my review of “Birds of Prey” if you still haven’t decided.

You can watch “Birds of Prey” on HBO, or see where to rent it streaming right here.

International Falls (Showtime)
directed by Amber McGinnis

Dee lives in a small, northern town. She wants to be a stand-up comic. She works at a hotel, where a self-described mediocre comedian stays. The two connect, discussing her dreams of stand-up and his disillusion with it.

Director Amber McGinnis has a background in helming interactive movies. Some have been about foreclosure education, some have been instructional videos for the Army. It’s usually not the path one takes toward an indie comedy, so it’s an interesting background to see.

You can watch “International Falls” on Showtime.

Crazy Awesome Teachers (Netflix)
directed by Sammaria Simanjuntak

A down-on-his-luck substitute teacher essentially fakes his way into the job. He resents it until the teachers’ salaries and his own father’s retirement payout are robbed by a local gang. He leads a group of teachers who decide to steal the money back in an elaborate heist.

I can’t find an English trailer, something many streaming services can forget to put on YouTube despite making them, but the Indonesian comedy should be available with English options.

“Crazy Awesome Teachers”, or “Guru-Guru Gokil”, is directed by Sammaria Simanjuntak. It’s her fourth narrative feature. It’s also co-written by Dian Sastrowardoyo, the Indonesian actress’s first screenwriting credit.

You can watch “Crazy Awesome Teachers” on Netflix.

The Sleepover (Netflix)
directed by Trish Sie

“The Sleepover” looks like it’s taking the baton from the defunct “Spy Kids”. The nice thing about family films like this is that there’s usually enough for adults to feel invested, too.

You might not know director Trish Sie’s name, but she’s done as much to change music videos in the last 15 years as any director, and she’s done so in only a few attempts. She’s largely responsible for OK Go’s unique aesthetic of eyecatching, lo-fi, DIY visual concepts.

What first truly caught the zeitgeist was her treadmill hopping one-shot of “Here It Goes Again”. Her zero-G one-shot “Upside Down and Inside Out” is…I mean, just watch it, it’s one of the most jaw dropping music videos ever made. Trish Sie should just be enabled to make whatever the hell she wants at this point.

You can watch “The Sleepover” on Netflix.

Good Kisser (Netflix)
directed by Wendy Jo Carlton

“Good Kisser” is about two women in a relationship who decide to invite a third to join them. What they don’t expect is that it forces them to examine their fractures and dissatisfaction as partners.

Wendy Jo Carlton has made a number of dramatic comedies centering on same sex partners, starting with 2004’s “Brushfires” and continuing through “Hannah Free” and “Jamie and Jessie are Not Together”.

You can watch “Good Kisser” on Netflix, or see where to rent it streaming right here.

DOCUMENTARIES

Islands of Faith (Netflix documentary)
directed by Chairun Nissa

“Islands of Faith” examines how seven different communities in Indonesia are addressing climate change, and how these efforts intersect with faith and culture.

This is director Chairun Nissa’s second feature. Her first was “Cut”, covering how Indonesian films must face censorship before public release. Many are rejected for non-specific reasons and never see the light of day.

You can watch “Islands of Faith” on Netflix.

High Score (Netflix docu-series)
showrunner Melissa Wood

“High Score” covers the history of various older video games. What’s remarkable about this age is that we can still directly interview many of the people involved in the birth of an entire medium. We can’t still interview the first people who put words to page or the first filmmakers. We still have access to many of the first game developers.

One thing that “High Score” reveals is just how much diversity is hidden in the history of video games. Developers are often fairly faceless when compared with authors and filmmakers. There was a brief period in the late 90s/early 00s of rock star developers (such as Cliff Bleszinski and John Romero). This passed with AAA game studios treating developers as increasingly replaceable, developer figureheads turning into publisher figureheads (such as Gabe Newell and Todd Howard), and gaming communities becoming more segmented across a variety of indie developers.

There are good and bad aspects of this, but it means that most video game audiences don’t have a ton of access to knowledge about the history of the medium and the storytelling lessons that history can teach us. The point is, that history is often assumed to be largely male, straight, and white. It isn’t, and “High Score” shows at least some of this when talking about classic games.

Showrunner Melissa Wood is an experienced series producer who’s worked across documentary and reality TV.

You can watch “High Score” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

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