Movie Critic Dargis Angrily Demands More Female Film Directors

Movie reviewer Manohla Dargis demands more female directors and asks about the lack of same: "Feeling queasy yet? Resigned? Indifferent? A little angry?" Um, not yet.

Sunday Arts & Leisure section featured a rant from movie critic Manohla Dargis against the lack of women in film: "Women in the Seats but Not Behind the Camera." We join Dargis alrady in progress:

Bigger, not surprisingly, doesn't mean better, at least for women. Only a handful of female directors picked up their paychecks from one of the six major Hollywood studios and their remaining divisions this year....Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures, meanwhile, did not release a single film directed by a woman. Not one.

Feeling queasy yet? Resigned? Indifferent? A little angry? The usual line on Hollywood is that it cares only about box office, which is at once true and something of a convenient excuse. Money makes the movie world go round, sure. But there are exceptions to this perceived rule, as some of my favorite male directors, including Michael Mann, have routinely proved with various box office disappointments. Released in 2001, Mr. Mann's "Ali," a well-regarded if not universally beloved biography of Muhammad Ali with Will Smith, brought in nearly $88 million in global receipts. (The production budget, partly paid for by Sony, was an estimated $107 million.) The next year Ms. Bigelow's independently financed "K-19: The Widowmaker," a submarine adventure movie with Harrison Ford, was released to solid reviews, raking in just under $66 million globally (with a $100 million production budget).

What did a $22 million difference in box office mean for the directors of "Ali" and "K-19"? Well, Ms. Bigelow didn't direct another feature until 2007, when she began "The Hurt Locker," a thriller about a bomb squad in Iraq that was bankrolled by a French company and is said to cost under $20 million. For his part Mr. Mann directed "Collateral," a thriller with Tom Cruise, for Paramount and DreamWorks (with a budget of $65 million and global box office of more than $217 million), and "Miami Vice," a reimagining, with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, of Mr. Mann's popular 1980s television series. Paid for by Universal, that movie cost $135 million and is considered a disappointment with about a $164 million worldwide take.

I imagine there are a host of reasons why Mr. Mann has been able to persuade executives to keep writing such large checks. He's a dazzling innovator, and big stars keep flocking to his side, despite his reputation for difficulty. But Ms. Bigelow is one of the greatest action directors working today, and it's hard not to wonder why failure at the box office doesn't translate the same for the two sexes.

Dargis eventually got to the inconvenient truth - that it's women studio heads failing to bankroll women directors:

This isn't just about money, or even male sexism. There have been women running studios on and off since 1980, when Sherry Lansing became the president of 20th Century Fox. But trickle-down equality doesn't work in Hollywood, even when women are calling the shots and making the hires, as they presumably did a few years ago, when four out of the six big studios were run by women. Fat good it did the rest of us. Now, there's just Amy Pascal, a co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. In the 1990s Ms. Pascal made movies like "Little Women" and "A League of Their Own." In recent years, however, Sony has become a boy's club for superheroes like Spider-Man and funnymen like Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow.

This is becoming something of an annual tradition for Dargis. On May 4, 2008, she wrote a similar jeremiad, headlined "Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?," which managed to disparage a couple of pretty good summer blockbusters for the sin of being made by men:

Iron Man, Batman, Big Angry Green Man - to judge from the new popcorn season it seems as if Hollywood has realized that the best way to deal with its female troubles is to not have any, women, that is.