Double the pressure, not even Half the Picture? Amy Adrion tackles female inequality in Hollywood

There are a few definitive documentaries looking at women’s struggles within entertainment. Rosanna Arquette’s sadly under-the-radar Searching for Debra Winger (about the mysterious disappearance of older actresses from Hollywood once they hit 40 )and Jennifer Siebel-Newsom’s great Miss Representation about the witch-or-whore portrayal of women in the media ( it’s on Netflix in some territories FYI.) Amy Adrion’s Half the Picture, which premiered at Sundance London at the weekend, may be hitting audiences at exactly the right time.

Amy Adrion is a filmmaker who was frustrated by not getting hired. She couldn’t put it down to being bad at her job, because it was also happening to all her female filmmaker friends – it was a struggle. At this point the statistics from the Directors Guild of America said it all – 9 to 1, the ratio of male to female directors working in the US industry. But before #oscarssowhite, #metoo and #timesup there was far less publicity about the inequality in Hollywood.

“I remember thinking, am I trying to do something impossible?” Amy says. “I wondered how other women film directors broke through and I thought it might help me. So I thought I’d make a film about my questions to other filmmakers.”

 Ava DuVernay is one of the interviewees in Amy Adrion's Half the Picture. CREDIT: Sundance London

Ava DuVernay is one of the interviewees in Amy Adrion's Half the Picture. CREDIT: Sundance London

"We all started out being underestimated and devalued, facing largely male reviewers and not getting money. "

 

One of the most telling frames of Amy’s film is where she googles ‘famous film directors’ and no women turn up at all on Google. I tried this myself and eventually Kathryn Bigelow popped up – literally about one amongst a hundred. It might be quite telling that Bigelow and Jane Campion, the most decorated women filmmakers of modern times (Campion wpn the Palme D’Or for The Piano, the one and only woman, while Bigelow is the only female Oscar directing winner) don’t take part in this documentary. However, there are plenty of successful female directors who do – including Ava DuVernay, Sam Taylor Wood, Kimberley Peirce and Penelope Spheeris ( she made Wayne’s World, a massive commercial success.)

All tell the same stories – doors closing in their faces, everyday sexism, plus questions from financiers no man could reasonably expect – such as who’ll look after your kids while you’re directing this film?

“I was heartened but at the same time it was discouraging because we all faced the same challenges, had the same stories,” Amy discloses.

‘We all started out being underestimated and devalued, facing largely male reviewers and not getting money. Some of these women were my heroes and it was upsetting to think they also faced the same problems. But they made it through and it just made me think I had to toughen up.”

  The Half the Picture all-female team

The Half the Picture all-female team

Amy believes that without the outcry of the last couple of years about the stodgy white maleness of Hollywood, such breakthroughs as Ava Du Vernay getting A Wrinkle In Time and Patty Jenkins helming Wonder Woman would never have happened.

“Without the outcry, no,” she agrees. “And I am a big believer in positive discrimination. People have been looking at white men’s vision forever, that’s been around for as long as the movies have been around. With certain films, that pressure is necessary and I think it worked. Look at Wonder Woman – I think that is a great example of a film whose vision is uniquely female – it’s there from the characters to the costumes.”

 Sam Taylor-Wood, whose 50 Shades of Grey broke box office records

Sam Taylor-Wood, whose 50 Shades of Grey broke box office records

"People are realising there’s an untapped group of talented women. But it is a boys club." 

So, where are we now, off the back of those box office successes? Those of you who remember the early 1990s might also recall Wayne’s World, Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, The Piano by Jane Campion and retrospectively it might occur that then too, the future of female filmmaking seemed to be on the rise.

“This issue has always ebbed and flowed,” says Amy. “When Kathryn Bigelow got her Oscar it was hailed as the year of the woman director. But I am cautiously optimistic. These issues are very entrenched and it will be particularly hard for studios to change. These are prestigious jobs with a lot of money involved. It really helps when a female star like Nicole Kidman hands them a shortlist of directors and they're all female and insists, "pick one of these." People are realising there’s an untapped group of talented women. But it is a boys club and these guys at the top – they’re still the kings of the world."

Half the Picture won the #whatsnext prize at Sundance London 2018

For more on Half the Picture - showing in New York on June 8 and in Santa Monica on June 29 - go to

http://amyadrion.com/half-the-picture/