It’s no secret that Hollywood and the film industry is completely saturated with men — often white men — who tend to take up a large portion of the head position pie. Not only do men receive priority access and personally tailored positions, but they also seem to get handed the reigns of sequels to women-directed movies that had standout numbers. This also is not some one-off occurrence, but rather a trend for popular movies, such as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Twilight. Both of these movies’ first installments had standout performances and were also directed by women. However, when it came time for a second and third installment, the torch was subtly, yet unceremoniously, passed to male directors.
On more than one occasion, we have seen the trade-off between directors — specifically in movies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which was a stand-out movie that produced massive numbers on Netflix and ran the social media cycle for weeks. This movie came out of the blue, and was a prime example of a women-led movie, directed by a woman, that really stood apart from its Romantic Comedy peers. The movie covered the usual, enjoyable, love-struck protagonists — however, with a bit more of a progressive parental spin, as well as a more open discourse on the whole idea of relationships themselves. After all the hype and excitement, the sequel was announced, only it was lacking Susan Johnson, the original director.
In lieu of our original director, viewers were given Michael Fimognari, a cinematographer with 61 cinemagraph credits to his name. Although it was Fimognari in the director’s seat, it did not mean Susan Johnson was completely gone from the project. In taking a deeper look, we can see that she was still on board, but as the executive producer. What does this all mean? It really does begin to beg the question of why Fimognari, a director who has three director credits to his name, was given the sequel, compared to Johnson, who has five director credits. Another instance of a director change for a successful movie and its sequel was the Twilight saga’s Twilight and New Moon. Twilight’s director Catherine Hardwicke had 23 director credits compared to Chris Weitzs’ (New Moon) eight director credits.
From looking at these director changes, and at the rating comparisons, we get a better view of what seems to be another downgrade. Almost all of the aforementioned movies had a drop off in ratings between the first movie and the sequels. All of these facts seem to disparage a large amount of conclusions one might actually jump to. Often, we would think the sequel would be given to a director who was more experienced, or that the production companies were fishing for an even more standout sequel, but the reigns are being handed off to male directors with even less directing experience than their female counterparts.
What does this tell us about the male bias in Hollywood? In 2020, there were no women directors nominated in the Golden Globes or the Oscars. At first glance, this might just be able to be written off as women not directing as many movies. Yet, when looking at 2019, it is clear that a fifth of the top 100 grossing films were directed by women. However, this is not necessarily a Hollywood-exclusive issue; it’s an American one.
Martha Lauzen is an executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, and is cited discussing the very idea of gender bias running deeper than we realize. Lauzen discusses how, when we think of directors, we think of white men in the director’s chair because that’s who the industry has always favored.
These experienced directors find themselves competing with male directors who are considerably less qualified, but have the leg up because they are white males. There is no question that the glass ceiling is difficult to break through, and, for these women directors, it remains a difficult situation even after breaking through. Simply put: there is no rhyme or reason as to why these sequels are directed by men aside from blatant bias. After looking at all these bleak statistics, we realize that women directors are constantly getting the short end of the deal and are frequently overlooked for awards, as well as for pivotal roles. Women, compared to men, are far less often a major character, and have just recently progressed to lead roles. This shows that there is some growth, but it is coming in at the pace of a snail.
All in all, the gender bias seems to be more deeply rooted than some may consider. At first glance, it would seem to be a laughable sentiment to make a male director who is more than experienced compete for a sequel of a movie they directed with another director who has much less experience in the field. Yet this is the norm for women directors in Hollywood. The real change only comes when there is enough attention brought upon the issue, and there are enough people to call out the clear bias within Hollywood, award shows, and ceremonies.
Featured Photo Collage Couresty of Emerson Little / Matias J. Ocner under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic / Michael Fimognari