When you’re a kid, your pop culture reality is shaped for you by the people in your life who have what you don’t — money!
When my three sisters and I were young, the movies we saw were the ones my mother picked out to plop us in front of while she ran on the treadmill in the basement. Or they were carefully curated by other moms, hosting birthday-party sleepovers, or my aunt set us up with them in the back room of a vacation rental in Cape Cod the summer all the girl cousins got lice at the same time. Without making any conscious choice, I grew up on films written or directed by women: Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham, Anne Fletcher’s Step Up, Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, and Sharon Maguire’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. 10 Things I Hate About You, adapted from Shakespeare by Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah. Miss Congeniality, one of four movies my grandmother owned, written by Katie Ford and Caryn Lucas. Dirty Dancing, the huge, but only writing credit for Eleanor Bergstein! The whole Nora Ephron oeuvre. Sister Act, which I have seen more times than any other movie, has a script cleaned up by Carrie Fisher, and it stars Whoopi Goldberg in her late 30s, with 60-year-old Maggie Smith as her narrative foil.
Everyone has movies they watched dozens of times as pre-teens, less out of affection than sheer convenience, and these were mine.
As far as I knew — until I got a job and a driver’s license — this is what movies were. They were often created by women, they starred women, and they were, you could often guess, made with an audience of women in mind. And these movies were at least somewhat representative of the Hollywood atmosphere in the late 1990s — one where (broadly speaking) a movie could easily quadruple a modest budget at the domestic box office, and international markets didn’t have the woman-adverse chokehold they developed later in the 2000s. (Thanks a lot, Marvel!)
In 2015, when many people expressed disgust and surprise at the profitability of 50 Shades of Grey, a film that made more money in its opening weekend than any other movie directed by a woman, The Verge’s former entertainment editor, Emily Yoshida, wrote about why this nonsense film was so important to women who love the movies:
Women want to see movies that are made with them in mind. The quality of these movies is of secondary import. We want good, Oscar-worthy films made with us in mind. We want R-rated comedies made with us in mind. Sometimes, we also want trash and sensationalist bullshit made with us in mind. (Just like men — I know, crazy, right?) We want to see evidence that studios want our money — that they have remembered that we have money, and moreover, have the wherewithal to spend it wherever we want.
I miss living in the little VHS bubble I grew up in. It would be stupid to argue that the films I saw were concerned with diversity, but at the very least, they weren’t invested in making me see my life and goals through the eyes of some dude. Abby Kohn co-wrote a romantic comedy that was a favorite of mine from sixth grade through college — Never Been Kissed, a 1999 film in which Drew Barrymore plays a socially awkward wannabe journalist with bad clothes and a terrible track record with boys. Who would I be without this gem? I could not tell you!
But for more than 800 top-grossing films released between 2007 and 2015, there were only 29 unique female directors. In 2015, only eight women had a hand in directing any of the top 100-grossing films, and all of them were white.
Thinking about this in December 2015, I tried to commit myself to a year of only paying for theatrical tickets to movies if they were directed by women. I figured it would be inconvenient but doable. If I really had to see Deadpool to know what all the fuss was about, surely I could wait until it was available to stream. But in January 2016, the only film my self-imposed constraints would allow me to see in theaters was Kung Fu Panda 3. I broke almost immediately.
In fact, the entire year, I only bought tickets to three movies directed by women: Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, and Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner. There were definitely others I could have seen (I just rented American Honey on Amazon!), but I slipped up in my ambitions to keep track. I noted at one point that a movie I loved, Hello, My Name Is Doris, was co-written by first-time screenwriter Laura Terruso. I was thrilled that Parks And Recreation’s Katie Dippold was involved in Ghostbusters. Other than that, it’s hard to name a female screenwriter I supported this year, because I forgot to pay attention.
In 2017, I will have to watch a lot of movies for my job. Many of them will be movies I don’t really want to see! But for the movies I watch on my own time, with my own money, I want to make sure they were all made, in some substantial way, by women.
This probably won’t be any easier in 2017 than it was in 2016. Sofia Coppola’s Beguiled is set for release in June. So is the debut feature of Broad City writer/director Lucia Anello. Amma Asante (A Way of Life, Belle) has a TIFF favorite about the first president of Botswana coming to America in February. On New Year’s Day I saw a screening of Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits at the Museum of the Moving Image. But Hollywood is still garbage — 20th Century Fox hasn’t put out a live-action feature with a female director since Elizabeth Allen’s Romana and Beezus in 2011 and isn’t scheduled to this year either. Scrolling through the list of major studio releases, I found only eight that were written or directed by women. That could change, and the major blessing of living in a city like New York is the constant bounty of independent films to choose from. I hope it ends up being easier than I imagine, but if not, I guess I can probably find a VCR on Craigslist!
Voting with your wallet isn’t a new idea. It also doesn’t feel particularly useful unless millions of people do it all at once. Am I going to organize a nationwide boycott of films without women at the top of the production credits? Probably not. I have a full-time job, and we will have plenty of more pressing nationwide issues to grapple with in 2017. Am I going to cop to buying a Ghostbusters ticket every time I went to the movies this summer, regardless of which theater I actually went into? No! Inappropriate, and possibly illegal.
But in the new year, I can choose to spend my money in a way that shapes my reality, and in a very tiny way, supports filmmakers who face an uphill battle every day in an industry that is actively trying to spit them out.
Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly identified Wonder Woman as a 20th Century Fox project, when it is actually a Warner Bros. project.