This is a good week to highlight one of the reasons I started this feature. Two of the directors whose films arrive this week are among the best directors working today. Yet if you look at any list of the best directors, you won’t see their names. Why? Those lists are going to be predominantly or entirely male.
When Complex named the 20 best current directors last year, two were women. This is what counts as a fairly progressive article.
On Ranker, which is a list voted on by community, you have to go all the way down to #45 to find a woman’s name (Kathryn Bigelow) among the greatest living directors. There are only three women in the top 100.
When Quartz analyzed Metacritic ratings to find the directors with the 100 best average scores across their filmography, it named only six women.
Well, hold on, that’s data, right? It’s some kind of proof, isn’t it? Well, data’s only as good as the sample used. Those are critics’ scores, an industry that’s still largely male. Women’s films also don’t get the same platforming or marketing as men’s films do, meaning that fewer critics review them and there’s less chance there’ll be the number of reviews needed to make a statistical cut-off. I’ve also written on how men as critics often tank a film’s average score when that film has anything to do with a woman’s perspective or the female gaze, let alone anything that’s more bluntly activist.
Go to any film buff and they’ll know Richard Linklater or Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or even Bill Condon and Ken Loach. Can they name the work of Andrea Arnold or Celine Sciamma, though?
Kitty Green, Isabel Sandoval, Annie Silverstein, Nora Fingscheidt, Julia Hart, Autumn de Wilde, Chinonye Chukwu each delivered searing, groundbreaking films last year. Where are their names in the conversation about the best new directors? Recognizing Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell at the Oscars last year was a great step, but in the 10 years prior, there was only one nomination for a woman as best director: Greta Gerwig in 2017. One out of 50.
I’d argue that the five best directing jobs last year belonged to women (Green, Zhao, Fingscheidt, Cathy Yan, and Hart). That’s not because I’m special or super woke or white knighting or anything other than the fact that writing this feature every week encouraged me to actually watch films by women at a consistent rate for the first time in my life. That should not be considered special, that should be considered the same fucking baseline we’ve used for films by men all our lives. That I did that is not a success; that I failed to do that at any point before in my life is a failure.
“Radiance”, a 2017 film by Naomi Kawase, finally makes it on a U.S. subscription service this week. Kawase’s name belongs in the conversation of greatest directors right now, but do a fifth of critics in the U.S. even know who she is?
Gabriela Cowperthwaite has a resume that exceeds Christopher Nolan’s when he was everyone’s favorite film wunderkind. Her film “Our Friend” arrives this week with a top-line cast. How often does her name come up?
Our familiarity with women directors pales in comparison to our familiarity with men directors. That has nothing to do with quality or talent. It has everything to do with who gets platformed, who gets budgets, who gets marketed. That’s beginning to improve, but it is still so far from anything resembling equality, and it’s held back by a critical industry that in many ways sits even further from that mark.
Kawase should be a legend. Cowperthwaite’s choices in next project should have film buffs on the edge of their seats. We should be looking at Zhao, Fennell, Green, Sandoval, Silverstein, Fingscheidt, Hart, de Wilde, Chukwu, Yan, Gerwig, the list goes on…we should be looking at them the same way we did at David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, or Darren Aronofsky when they were early in their careers, or the way we look at the Safdies or Rian Johnson today. We don’t, and that’s a failure – of our imaginations, ambition, of studios and distributors to prize talent over familiarity, of the narrow range of products we see as a result. It’s systemic, and even if it’s changing, it’s hardly doing so quickly enough.
We should be past groundbreaking and into ground broken, something structural and lasting and demanded by audiences being built on top of it, something audiences would sense missing by its not being there. We should have a baseline of watching as many films by women as men. How many have actually reached that for any year in their life? I didn’t until last year, and that’s only because I’ve been writing this since last year – I didn’t manage it until I gave myself a personal stake in doing so.
I’m still absolutely certain that across my life, I’ve easily watched 10 times as many movies directed by men as I have by women. That’s probably true for each of us, and for every single person in our lives. If that doesn’t change, the films that get made don’t change, the people who make them don’t change, none of it in the long run really changes. Everyone alike desperately needs the range of people who tell our stories to expand. As a man, I need the range of people who tell our stories to expand. Please change it by what you choose, by whose work you choose, by whose name you learn, by whose talent you argue for and share and anticipate, by who gets to be considered great, the best, admired.
Leverage: Redemption (Amazon, IMDB TV)
showrunner Kate Rorick
“Leverage” was a show about a talented bunch of professional criminals who each boasted different skills. There was a hacker, a hitter, a grifter, and a thief. They teamed up in what amounted to a modern day Robin Hood, to set wrongs right and highlight issues like income inequality. The original show ran from 2008-2012. It delighted in a mix of cleverness, earnest charm, and cheesy antics.
The show finally continues, with original cast members Gina Bellman, Aldis Hodge, Christian Kane, and Beth Riesgraf returning, alongside new stars Aleyse Shannon and frequent Dean Devlin collaborator Noah Wyle. Timothy Hutton was not invited back (you can read more about why that might be here; please be aware the article discusses the sexual assault of a minor).
You can watch “Leverage: Redemption” on Amazon or IMDB TV. You’ll find IMDB TV as a free, ad-supported service on Amazon, online, and included on a variety of devices such as Roku.
The Cook of Castamar (Netflix)
showrunner Tatiana Rodriguez
This Spanish drama takes place in 18th century Madrid. Based on a novel, Clara suffers agoraphobia and works in a Duke’s kitchens in order to remain inside. The widowed Duke takes a liking to her, to the objections of those concerned with his place in the royal hierarchy.
Tatiana Rodriguez created the series, and serves as showrunner and head writer. She’s a veteran writer in Spanish television.
You can watch “The Cook of Castamar” on Netflix.
The Dungeon of Black Company (Funimation)
directed by Minato Mirai
A young man has everything – wealth, popularity, fame. That is, until he’s transported to a world where he’s forced to mine crystals in a dungeon. He forms an adventuring party in order to escape however he can.
Minato Mirai also directed last year’s “Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World”.
You can watch “The Dungeon of Black Company” on Funimation.
Black Widow (Disney+)
directed by Cate Shortland
Scarlett Johansson returns as superspy Black Widow. The film falls in the middle of the MCU’s timeline, before she became leader of the Avengers. It finds her reuniting with family to stop the abuse of the Widow program that created her.
This is only the second MCU film directed by a woman (“Captain Marvel” was directed by filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck). Cate Shortland has had a skill for characters unveiling the hypocrisy and dissociation behind powerful systems in films like “Lore”, “Berlin Syndrome”, and “Somersault”.
You can watch “Black Widow” on Disney+.
directed by Naomi Kawase
Misako writes audio descriptions for the visually impaired. She’s withdrawn from the world due to tragedies in her family. She meets Masaya, a photographer who’s losing his eyesight. The two help each other cope as they grow closer.
The Japanese film is hailed as a poetic and deeply connective piece of cinema. Writer-director Naomi Kawase is one of the best directors working today. She has a knack for telling stories about those society tends to dismiss. Her lyrical visuals helped “Sweet Bean”, a film about a baker hiding a disease and a man trapped in debt, become her most watched film in the West. “Radiance” was made in 2017; I think this is the first time it’s been on a service in the U.S.
You can watch “Radiance”, also called “Hikari”, on MUBI.
Our Friend (Amazon)
directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Nicole doesn’t have long to live, and won’t get to see her daughters grow up. Her husband’s best friend moves in with them to help them through what’s to come. What starts as a few weeks turns into years as he becomes a part of their family.
Be aware that the film stars Casey Affleck, who was accused by two women of repeated and abusive sexual harassment in the workplace in 2010. He would acknowledge culpability in 2018, but he very understandably remains a triggering figure.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite helmed the industry-changing documentary on captive orcas, “Blackfish”, as well as the biographical drama on U.S. Marine K9 handler “Megan Leavey”. There is no question she’s one of the most important directors whose name almost no one knows.
Fear Street: 1978 (Netflix)
directed by Leigh Janiak
“Fear Street: 1978” is the second entry in a trilogy being released over three weeks. “Fear Street: 1994” came out last week, and “Fear Street: 1666” comes out next week. The trilogy keeps going back in time, this week to a 70s summer camp.
This is such an impressive experiment by director Leigh Janiak, who previously directed on the “Scream” and “Outcast” TV series.
You can watch “Fear Street: 1978” on Netflix.
Rock, Paper and Scissors (VOD)
co-directed by Macarena Garcia Lenzi
Two siblings resent their half-sister when she comes calling for her part of their father’s inheritance. They don’t want to sell the house they’ve inherited. They decide to hold her captive, playing a series of escalating and dangerous games.
The Argentinean thriller is directed by Macarena Garcia Lenzi and Martin Blousson. It’s the first narrative feature for either.
See where to rent “Rock, Paper and Scissors”.
This Little Love of Mine (Netflix)
directed by Christine Luby
Laura returns to the island where she grew up. Her goal is to convince a childhood friend to head up a company, while his goal is to respark the one who got away.
This is the first feature directed by Christine Luby, who’s been an assistant director on various Australian series and movies. Her series directing debut “Dive Club” should arrive on Netflix later this year – it’s about divers trying to solve a murder.
You can watch “This Little Love of Mine” on Netflix.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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