The short answer is “probably not.” And that is largely because films made by women still make up a very small percentage of the total number of films that get released—in the States at least. At the beginning of the year, The Week reported that 113 wide releases are scheduled for 2015, out of which only seven are directed by women. This equates to just 6.6%, but how ever small, it is still an improvement on last year’s measly 4%. Adding in the indie releases, the total figure jumps by five, however, it is the wide releases that reach audiences on a mass scale and are what counts when it comes to box office domination. So when we look at the figure of 6.6% again, it’s clear that we are destined to have male-dominated cinema for yet another year.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom—and recent studies do point to the fact that Hollywood and US cinema might be changing, slowly but surely. A study done by the Sundance Institute in 2013 revealed that 29.8% out of the 11,197 filmmakers surveyed (those who had their films screened at Sundance) were female. On the flipside, the survey found that from 2002 to 2012, just 4.4% of the top 100 box office films were by directed by females, pointing to the fact that while independent cinema is seeing a wider proliferation of female filmmakers, the box office is not.
The other big question is what is the effect of men behind the camera on the types of female characters we are seeing on screen? The top ten biggest grossing feature films released in the US in 2014 were not only directed by men, but eight had males as the main/lead character (with the exception of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Angelia Jolie’s title character in Maleficent). But ratings aside, we did see strong, complex, and flawed female characters in films such as Still Alice, Wild, Cake, Lucy, Obvious Child, Ida, and Tracks. So whereas the many shades of the female experience are being explored on screen, it seems people are not paying as much to see these films.
But Variety disagrees. In an article published last week, the venerable film magazine reports that only “three months into the new year, two of the three top-grossing films have been headlined by strong female characters”: Fifty Shades of Grey starring Dakota Johnson, with a worldwide gross of more than $550 million, and Cinderella with Lily James and Cate Blanchett, grossing $260 million worldwide. Now whereas I disagree on the use of the word “strong” when describing these characters (read Viva Bianca’s musings on Cinderella here), it’s plainly obvious that these films do have females in the lead roles and that they are raking in the most cash speaks volumes (although maybe so does the fact that one’s about bondage and the other is by Disney).
“As a working producer, I’m certainly hearing much more conversation about making movies for women and girls than I ever have at any point in my career,” says producer and Women in Film president Cathy Schulman in the same article. But she confirms that this is not changing for “women behind the camera.” Part of the reason, Variety says, is economic, with directors still having to face “numerous hurdles to cross when securing financing for a film headlined by a woman” (although I cannot think of any reason why). Brett Haley, the director of I’ll See You in My Dreams, told Variety that he was “turned down by everyone [he] sent it to…Everyone was like, ‘How can we market a movie about a 70-year-old woman?’”
So what does 2015 still have in store for females in cinema? Well, without much further ado, here are the top 12 films directed by or about women that we’re looking forward to this year.
A Girl Like Her
Recently released in the States, this topical film written and directed by Amy S. Weber tells the story of harassment set in a high school. Tackling topics such as friendship, bullying, and teenage angst in the digital age, the film’s virtue comes from its hand-held camera filming style.
Pitch Perfect 2
Elizabeth Banks is in the director’s chair of this all-singing, all-dancing, all-female led musical/comedy that is sure to (erhm) hit a high note. Out in May.
In July, Judd Apatow (and he certainly knows a thing or too about girls being the exec producer of Girls) is back with a comedy about the modern girl, who has a great career, apartment, etc but is a commitment phobe that doesn’t want (rather than can’t) have a long-term relationship…until she meets sports doctor Aaron. Another fairy tale wrapped up as a story of a “strong,” independent woman? We’ll have to wait and see.
Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated documentaries of the year is the one on the late singer/songwriter, Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. It hits the cinemas in July, on the anniversary of Winehouse’s death, and by the trailer alone, it looks like it’s going to be one emotional journey.
Ricki and the Flash
Due for release in August, this film penned by the awesome Diablo Cody (of Juno and Young Adult fame) and directed by Jonathan Demme stars everyone’s favorite matriarch Meryl Street as an ageing rocker who comes home to make amends with her family. Expect laughs and heart.
Jane Got a Gun
Although it’s been shrouded in production woes, another film set for release in August is Gavin O’Connor’s homage to Westerns, Jane Got a Gun, with Natalie Portman in the starring role as a woman who enlists the help of an ex to kill her outlaw husband.
Rom-com queen Nancy Meyers teams up with rom-com queen Anne Hathaway for a comedy about a fashion company that hires a senior man as an intern. Hilarity ensues? Probably, with Meyers expert directing skills and comedy timing. Due for release in September.
In October, the British director Sarah Gavron’s much anticipated look at the stirrings of the early feminist movement in the 19th and early 20th century will be released. With a cast of excellent actress including Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, and Helena Bonham Carter, and written by one of the brightest screenwriters working in the UK today, Abi Morgan, this drama about women fighting for the right to vote is sure to go to the number 1 spot of female-driven movies of the year.
The Danish Girl
Based on the novel by David Ebershoff, this is the story (inspired by true events) of the transgender painter Lili Elbe, who was one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery, and the relationship she had with her wife, Gerda. Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne is sure to shine in the starring role (and looks very pretty as a woman). Out in November.
Two paragons of comedy, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, star as sisters who decide to throw a party before their parents sell their family home. Add the equally funny Maya Rudolph into the mix and you’ve got yourself a film you actually want to see on Boxing Day.
Another film due out at Christmas time is David O. Russell’s latest, starring his dream team of Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro. The film follows a single mother from Long Island who rises to become the matriarch of a powerful business dynasty. Hells yeah!
Although no director or writer has yet been secured, it has been confirmed that Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo will star in an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel of the same name that tells the story of young immigrants coming from Nigeria to the States.
Title image source: geeknation.com