You know her by the films she has directed, the first ‘Twilight’ installment, ’13’, and her recent feel-good holiday flick ‘Miss You Already’ starring Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore. But there’s a lot more to Hollywood director Catherine Hardwicke than the general media shares. Considering the Twilight movie franchise became a $3.3 billion box officer earner in the United States, and the first in the series made $400 million alone, it makes us (and many others) wonder why on earth she wasn’t chosen to direct the rest of the films based on the popular books by Stephenie Meyer.
Although she didn’t immediately go out and grab every headline she could about how unfair it was that she was replaced by a male director for the next ‘Twilight’ film, Catherine is not shy about talking about the blatant discrimination female directors face in Hollywood, at all levels.
She has continued to work on other films since leaving the Vampire-based cult hit, but there is another important aspect to her work that is worth talking about – her involvement in the ACLU discrimination case which is investigating Hollywood studios’ alleged discriminatory hiring practices toward female directors. A number of female directors are being called upon to share their experienced with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, including Catherine, in private sessions that will determine what course of action the ACLU will then take (whether they choose to then take it to court or recommend a course of action to change the situation for the better).
She hasn’t been ramming any angry viewpoints down people’s throats, but Catherine is sure as hell speaking about the injustice she has faced. In an interview with Buzzfeed to coincide with the release of ‘Miss You Already’ as well as the inaugural Women In Entertainment Summit held by Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood where she discussed the difficulties and obstacles she faced as a director on a panel of industry women, Catherine gives shares her very clear-headed perspective on the issue at large as well as how insane it is that female directors have an issue proving their “worth” to begin with.
First of all she debunks the myth that all female directors have one style of directing, as do men, by saying each director should be judged individually on their style, not according to gender.
“When I was a production designer, I worked with 19 male directors and two female directors. And each person was completely, out of the box different. The two women were Lisa Cholodenko and Rachel Talalay, and both of them were very unique. David O. Russell and Richard Linklater could not have a more different style. You can’t say, “Men direct like this, women direct like this.” There’s just no comparison. Every person that becomes a director is quite idiosyncratic and unique,” she said.
Her reason for getting involved in the ACLU is more about changing the future of the industry and making it more inclusive for more female directors in general, not merely to point the finger.
“I think that we want to change this equation by inspiration, by getting corporations, agents, producers, financiers to do it because they want to be on the right side of history. They want to be early adapters, they want to get ahead of the problem; they want to make more money and reach a more diverse audience. So I want it to be all positive and inspirational,” she said.
She said it has to be a multi-pronged attack in order to tackle the gender discrimination, but it also has to inspire creativity at the same time, because after all that’s what film in all about.
“We’ve been learning a lot about unconscious gender bias: Why does our industry have almost the worst report card of all industries when we should be the most creative? It’s just crazy,” she said.
It’s also an industry run on money, which is probably the biggest argument that should resonate with anyone, yet some executives and studios still don’t think a female-driven anything is a financial win.
“Right now, our film business knows how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars advertising to target teenaged boys, to get them to theaters. Well, that means that they’re just leaving on the table millions and millions of women — 50% of people. Why don’t we learn how to target women?” asks Catherine.
Proving bias can be hard, Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur points out, but the results are certainly obvious. However with recent blogsites such as ‘Sh*t people say to Women Directors & other Women in Film‘ emerging as a place for women in the industry to share their stories in abundance, it has become more and more clear that the idea of women being discriminated against or their gender is not a fairy tale, it is a fact.
“I’ve literally had a conversations[s]…where people…used the old-school code words: ’emotional,’ ‘difficult.’ When those are applied to a man who fights for his vision, he’s passionate. When that’s a woman, she’s difficult. This is all in the Sheryl Sandberg book, too; it’s not just our industry. When a man shows emotion, he’s so sensitive. When a woman does, she’s so emotional,” said Catherine.
“Why are you allowed to yell on set? Be rude, go over schedule, over budget, be just a total asshole? I’ve been on a movie where 95 people were fired. Over schedule, over budget. And those people got hired again and again and again. For all women, it’s different: Any tiny little thing people can pick on,” she added.
When it comes to gender bias, there is a strong argument against labeling it a battle of the sexes in favor of focusing purely on the merit and that will be enough to break down any barriers that may exist. In an ideal world merit WOULD be enough, but it is foolish to think that the world simply thinks women don’t work hard enough and that’s why they are on the back foot. Catherine says she first found out how true this was after not being asked to come back to direct the second ‘Twilight’ after the first one was such a box office success.
“I definitely realized it right after Twilight. Because that made $400 million on a very tight budget. $400 million — there’s just no reason why I couldn’t have been in the club of successful directors, getting offers. Why wouldn’t I have gotten offered a three-picture deal? Or a one-picture deal? Or a development deal? Or an office at a studio! Maybe they’re urban legends, but I’d always heard about directors getting things. I got a mini cupcake,” she says after the first film making $69 million in its opening weekend.
Although she says that if she was offered the sequel, she most likely would’ve turned it down as that is not the kind of artist she is, however the fact that women like her aren’t being considered for the big money leagues like male directors are (we’re pretty sure ‘Transformers’ director Michael Bay was never in doubt for directing all of the films in that franchise, for example) is what the underlying issue. As if Hollywood studios don’t think women are somehow “capable” of carrying such a big-budget film. With all this talk of discrimination and women making moves to stop the continuing cycle, Catherine says there are new strides being made, but it will take conscious effort from all parties involved.
“I think it is changing. I do. It feels like this great rising tide movement. The scales have fallen from our eyes. We’re not going to take it anymore. Come on! We’re not going to let this end. I think one way or another, it is going to change,” she said.
“The big goal, I keep saying, is it can change in one year. If every agent that sends out a list of 10 writers or 10 directors over to Paramount or whatever, instead of one woman on that list, it should be five and five. In one of these conferences, one of the agents got this text that said, ‘Hey, it’s great you’re doing this women’s conference — I just tried to hire a woman on our TV show, but couldn’t find one.’ That is the most bullshit thing. Kim Peirce was there. I said, ‘Kim, did you get a call to direct this episode? Because I didn’t.’ What do they mean they couldn’t find anybody? So they might have called Mimi Leder and Michelle MacLaren. Oh, they weren’t available! Well, we tried to get a woman. Bullshit. It’s just bullshit to say, ‘Oh, I couldn’t find anybody.’ You didn’t try, dude,” she added.
We are certainly eagerly awaiting the results of the ACLU investigation, and hope it will make the few powerful players at the very top of the Hollywood studios recognize that down at the bottom of the totem pole, we as the audiences are paying money to see female driven films, and those directed by women. Let’s continue to vote with our wallets and contribute to the oncoming change in Hollywood.