Just short of a year ago, Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy made headlines around the world when she said, in an interview with Variety, that the franchise hadn’t had a film directed by a woman yet because there wasn’t a woman with the appropriate resume.
“We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do “Star Wars,” they’re set up for success,” says Kennedy. “They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.”
Industry-watchers immediately pointed out that women in film are routinely held to a much higher standard than men for “experience,” that there’s already a hefty roster of women who’ve directed big-budget movies and action movies, and that men with comparatively little directorial experience have already been signed to helm Star Wars movies. Kennedy later clarified that she had “every intention” of hiring a woman at some point, eventually, which didn’t particularly help the uproar that followed.
Now, Blumhouse Pictures founder Jason Blum appears to be determined to put his foot just as far into his mouth as Kennedy did. During an insightful interview with The Verge’s sister publication Polygon, speaking about Blumhouse’s new Halloween sequel, Blum blithely asserted that Blumhouse hasn’t produced a theatrical release directed by a woman because “there are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.”
Blum’s comment is particularly jarring given that earlier in the same interview, he boasts about Blumhouse’s eagerness to work outside established horror canon directors:
“I really believe in the way our company makes movies,” Blum says. “I believe in our low budgets. I believe in using directors who aren’t necessarily from horror, like Jordan Peele or [Halloween director] David Gordon Green.”
But it’s even more off-putting due to Blum’s seemingly deep knowledge of the horror field. Blumhouse Pictures made its name by tapping into horror trends, taking advantage of everything from the found-footage horror movement (through Paranormal Activity and its sequels) to the appetite for cheaply made, virally marketed, culturally resonant horror like the Purge movies. Recent projects like Blumhouse’s 12-film Hulu anthology series Into the Dark are a reminder of the company’s wide-ranging interests and tastes, which run the gamut from smart, culturally thoughtful projects like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman to cheerfully campy, culturally relevant schlock like Unfriended.
So why does Jason Blum have such a blind spot that he doesn’t realize women also make horror films? Demographic studies consistently show that female viewers slightly outpace male viewers for horror films (on average, by about 2 percent, according to Variety, though more like 15 percent for some movies, according to Entertainment Weekly). And given that virtually every horror director ever interviewed says horror fandom led them directly to horror directing, it stands to reason that women want to be making horror movies as well as watching them.
More to the point, while Blum cites The Babadook director Jennifer Kent as someone he wants to work with, he struggles to come up with a second female name, while his assistant rattles off six. When the interview hit Twitter, users immediately started listing their favorite women who’ve directed horror films, including Kimberly Peirce, Karyn Kusama, Coralie Fargeat, Mary Harron, Ana Lily Amirpour, Jenn Wexler, Jovanka Vuckovic, Melanie Light, Issa López, and even Kathryn Bigelow. Others pointed out easily accessible online resources to find women working in film as well as online lists of female horror directors, essential horror films made by women, and (given Blum’s “directors not necessarily from horror” rubric), just terrific female directors, in general.
The funny thing is that when we did 100 Women Directors at Vulture, I heard that Blumhouse printed it out and put it on Jason's desk. But maybe he just thought of it as a really wordy paperweight.— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) October 17, 2018
It’s shocking that the celebrated head of one of the most responsive, zeitgeist-tapping, of-the-moment indie film studies would be so out of touch with the field that he’d fall back on the “Well, no women want to make these films” excuse. But it’s worse that he’s claiming the problem is the lack of women already in the field when that’s both untrue and incredibly easy to disprove. And even if it were true, given Blumhouse’s track record of working with first-time directors like Jordan Peele or reaching out to young male directors to expand their short films into features, it’d still be on Blum to help fix the problem, instead of claiming it’s tied his hands.
But above all, it feels strange that he’d put his foot into it this badly, having just seen Kathleen Kennedy do the same thing, setting off such a backlash in the process. At least there’s an upside: Blumhouse Pictures isn’t likely to lack suggestions for women to work with anytime soon.
And Blum himself is now clearly aware of the backlash. He’s since posted a Tweet apologizing for his statement:
Update, 10:06AM ET: Added Jason Blum’s Twitter apology addressing the issue.