Women at Dodge in the director’s chair

Junior film production major Nour Oubeid watches the monitor as she directs her advanced production project, “Twinkie.” Photo courtesy of Jeb Burroughs

The #oscarssowhite movement in 2016 showed many thought that the film industry wasn’t exactly inclusive. But this year, another hashtag was inspired: #oscarssomale. No Best Director nominees were women, and in fact, only four women have ever had a chance at the award.

Students at Dodge College of Film and Media Art can attest that the movie hub of America is commonly referred to as a “male-dominated industry.” Some female film production majors with a directing emphasis spoke on job prospects, why we need more female directors and whether Dodge is a microcosm of the industry’s gender discrimination.

For junior Nour Oubeid, the choice to go into directing was an easy one due to her curiosity for every technical aspect of film combined with a natural leadership disposition. These traits make an excellent director, who has to communicate his/her vision to every department.

“I think it might be that stigma that we can’t handle something larger,” Oubeid said about why there is a lack of female directors on big-budget productions. “I do hope to break through that because I would like to make something bigger budget.”

Women constitute 28 percent of directors in narrative short films, yet only 4.1 percent of the top-grossing movies from 2002 to 2004 were directed by women. This proves that women are interested in the leadership position, but once a film acquires a larger budget, the likelihood of hiring a female director plummets.

Junior Kiersten Vannest added that the industry needs to relinquish the conception that female directors are a risky business venture.

Kiersten Vannest, a junior film production major, overlooks the set of her advanced production projec,: “Plot 19.” Photo courtesy of Emerson Harris

“Either the business men need to change their minds, or women need to get in these businessmen’s positions, so now my plan is to open up my own production company,” Vannest said.

From crying at the end of “Titanic,” to outrage at the end of “Blackfish,” to the joy of watching “Bridesmaids,” few people doubt that films can have a profound impact on us. This impact is largely shaped by the point of view of the director.

Male directors tend to create movies from what Oubeid called the “male gaze,” and while she was quick to clarify that this point of view isn’t inferior, it is dominant in most films. This perspective can showcase women as “eye candy” rather than as developed characters. She believes having films from a female lens could break through stereotypes.  

Oubeid and Vannest had mixed reviews about whether or not Chapman stands up for the equity of female directors.

“Dodge itself as an institution encourages equity, maybe not always on the micro level but definitely on the macro level,” Vannest said.

Vannest works with her cinematographer to get her shot right. Photo courtesy of Emerson Harris

She referenced grants that only females in film can apply for, sponsored by outside programs wanting to encourage more women in Hollywood.

On Chapman sets, both attested that their authority is respected when they are directing.

Oubeid works with her actor before the camera rolls. Photo courtesy of Jeb Burr

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I was talked down to… but I haven’t had any negative experiences yet,” Oubeid said.

The sexism they described isn’t usually overt, but both spoke of feeling silenced or excluded in a way male counterparts aren’t. Vannest has noticed “the men will group together with a sense of commonality between them…As a woman, you not only have to be on the same level of skill as the men, you also have to fight the social aspect.”

Patty Jenkins has made waves in the media recently for being a woman directing a big budget superhero movie: (appropriately) “Wonder Woman.”  While Vannest believes Jenkins’ success is worthy of celebration, she called it a small victory in a long battle to even out Hollywood’s gender disparity.  A battle that hopefully our female Dodge alumni will fight in.  

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