Lucasfilm Will Hire Female ‘Star Wars’ Director ‘When the Time Is Right,’ But We’re Tired of Waiting
Colin Trevorrow, Jordan Vogt-Roberts and Josh Trank are just a few of the names among those that have transitioned from acclaimed first-time indie filmmakers to first-time blockbuster directors. The list of filmmakers who have made that giant leap includes very few women, and it’s something that Disney and subsidiaries Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios have been working to address. Change comes slowly, and it’s been even slower for Star Wars, which has yet to hire a woman to direct any of their upcoming films. While it’s definitely a priority for Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, we might have to wait a bit longer for it to happen.
Kennedy’s comments were somewhat lost in the pre-Thanksgiving shuffle, but I kept them bookmarked for today — you know, when we’re all a little more alert and less stymied by turkey and family. Speaking with Variety last week, Kennedy broached the subject of hiring a woman to direct a Star Wars movie, something she’s previously spoken passionately — an diplomatically — about:
We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do “Star Wars,” they’re set up for success. They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience. We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right.
That same thinking does not seem to apply elsewhere in the magic kingdom of Disney filmmaking. Directors James Gunn and Taika Waititi were given the keys to major Marvel Studios properties based on their acclaimed indie films. Scott Derrickson previously directed successful, smaller studio horror flicks like Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and his only major credit prior to Doctor Strange was the critically-derided The Day the Earth Stood Still remake.
Before helming Thor: The Dark World, Alan Taylor was primarily a TV director whose credits included episodes of Mad Men and Game of Thrones. (He replaced Patty Jenkins, who went on to direct Wonder Woman.) The biggest film Jon Favreau had directed before Iron Man was Elf, the Will Ferrell holiday comedy.
That’s just Marvel. As for Disney, although Selma director Ava DuVernay is helming A Wrinkle in Time, most of the studio’s films — particularly their live-action remakes and re-imaginings — are or will be directed by men. And despite the commercial success of Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow’s film was largely derided by critics and fans alike — and he was still hired to direct Episode IX.
All of which is to say that when it comes to hiring filmmakers with little to no experience in making big budget blockbusters, there’s little hesitation in hiring a man for the job. On the one hand, Kennedy’s reasoning is sound, if a bit depressing: Let’s say she hires a woman who is relatively inexperienced with making films of this size and scope to direct a Star Wars movie, and that movie is met with mixed-to-negative reviews. Who is to blame? Not Kennedy, who has backed other successful Star Wars films directed by men. The person who will receive the bulk of the blame is the relatively inexperienced woman director, who will likely have a difficult, if not impossible time landing future big budget projects at major studios because the one time someone gave her a chance, she blew it.
As Kennedy puts it, she wants to make sure that when they do hire a woman to direct Star Wars, “they’re set up for success” — that means not only matching a director with the right story, but ensuring that every element, including the script and the crew, has the most potential to succeed. Similar concerns aren’t usually expressed when hiring a relatively inexperienced male director, but male directors are usually given more leeway and forgiven much more easily for their mistakes (see also: Trevorrow). Those attitudes aren’t going to change overnight, which is why Kennedy’s approach will continue to be the most diplomatic one until major studios make the practice of hiring women a habit, and stop treating talented women like anomalies.
(If Lucasfilm needs help finding talented, experienced women to direct a Star Wars movie, they should check out The Alice Initiative — the Black List for rising female filmmakers. Just a thought.)
I can give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt, and I can even understand her sad-but-necessary logic, but it’s still unfortunate that Lucasfilm has yet to hire a woman to direct a Star Wars movie. And I can’t help but feel that this overly-careful line of thinking is devaluing the talent of a female director before she’s even hired, and reinforcing — however unwittingly — the idea that a woman cannot be trusted at the helm of a big budget blockbuster.