One director decided to confront Hollywood’s gender problem
She made her whole crew female
Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Stephanie Merry.
When it comes to addressing the gender discrepancy in Hollywood, there’s been a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. Men still get hired for jobs, especially behind the camera, much more frequently than women.
In 2016, for example, only 17 percent of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers for the top 250 domestic grossing films were women.
So when Zoe Lister-Jones decided to direct her first movie, “Band Aid,” she hired an all-female crew, from the cinematographer to the boom operator to the grip, because, as she put it, “there’s something amazing that happens when women are alone together.”
It wasn’t entirely easy. In certain departments — lighting and electric, for example — some positions were a challenge to fill.
“It’s not because there aren’t a lot of women who have the skill set,” Lister-Jones said. “It was more because even my female department heads were afraid to take a risk on someone who might not have as much experience as her male counterpart.”
There appears to be movement in a more equitable direction. “Band Aid” hits theaters just as Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” has become the highest grossing debut for a female director ever.
“Band Aid” won’t make quite that big of a splash. The small-budget Sundance favorite stars Lister-Jones and Adam Pally as a married couple who find a unique solution to their constant fighting: They start a band, along with their neighbor (Fred Armisen), and turn their bickering into songs. (Sample lyric: “Please do not ask me if you’ve gained weight, especially when we’re going out on a date.”)
The movie is charming and funny, but also poignant at times, especially when the story delves into the topic of miscarriage — a theme that doesn’t pop up much in movies, probably because of the people creating them.
That’s one benefit of diversifying the field of those telling the stories we see on screen. We get more authentic portrayals. Television has leapfrogged ahead of movies in this department, resulting in such acclaimed series as “Transparent” (Jill Soloway), “Queen Sugar” (Ava DuVernay) and “Insecure” (Issa Rae).
Thanks to a diverse slate of writers and directors, there are more realistic depictions of what it’s like to be many different types of people, including a transgender woman and a black millennial. In a recent episode of “Fargo,” two strangers in a public bathroom go through a ritual familiar to any woman when one asks the other for a tampon. It’s a jarring moment precisely because it’s so credible for female viewers; of course the episode was written by a woman, Monica Beletsky.
Actress Jessica Chastain made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival when she said she was disturbed by the way movies at the fest painted female characters. She didn’t recognize any of them from reality.
“I hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women I recognize in my day-to-day life,” she said. “Ones that are proactive, have their own agency, don’t just react to the men around them. They have their own point of view.”
“The beauty of women — and of course I’m speaking generally, there are exceptions to every rule — my experience at least is that there’s a consideration that goes into decision-making,” Lister-Jones said. “I think women tend to view the world with a lot of periphery in their viewpoint and kind of like to consider things and talk things through and so it felt like there was a really amazing lack of ego, which was something I’d never experienced before.”
There was also none of that unwarranted apologizing, a tic of the female worker that’s become a meme.
Every day on the set of “Transparent” starts with an inspirational speech from the showrunner, after which anyone from the cast and crew can get up and add anything they’d like.
That doesn’t mean that differences between female and male filmmakers are always what you’d expect. During an interview last summer for Meera Menon’s movie “Equity,” which was written and directed by women, actress and co-writer Alysia Reiner said that gender has little bearing on a director’s temperament. Having worked with two high-profile directors, one male, one female, she said, “the man was more gentle and more traditionally feminine than the woman. So, isn’t that interesting?”
With the success of “Wonder Woman,” you’d imagine that Hollywood’s decision-makers would realize the potential in movies made by and about women. But the same conversation happened after director-producer Kathryn Bigelow won two Oscars in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker.” And yet here we are.
“Band Aid” might not be a huge movie but Lister-Jones’s big hiring decision at least has one ripple effect. All the members of the female crew have another title to add to their resume.