Another day in Hollywood, another superhero film greenlit with a male director. It happens with such frequency – 99.8% of the time – that it should feel commonplace by now.
Jon Watts has been given the reins on Marvel and Sony”s attempt to co-parent Spider-Man, inserting a new Peter Parker within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where he can play with the Avengers. If you”ve never heard of Jon Watts, you”re not alone. His resume is sparse. Two independent films – supernatural horror “Clown” and road thriller “Cop Car” – and a smattering of episodes of The Onion New Network web show precede Watts” meteoric rise to the big leagues.
This is a fantastic underdog story; a plucky nobody is scooped from obscurity and plopped into the middle of one of the highest-profile franchises in the country. It”s a veritable “Cinderella” story and I”m sure Watts will do a fine job bringing the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the big screen.
The problem is with consistency.
The juxtaposition between what is required of female directors to “prove” themselves and that of their male counterparts is staggering.
The likes of Colin Trevorrow and Josh Trank were handed the reigns to $100+ million plus franchises with just one indie film under their belts each. Meanwhile, Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”) and Ava DuVernay (tentatively “Black Panther”) had to wrack up entire shelves of awards before they were considered baseline competent enough to be “in the running” to helm Marvel-sized projects.
So why no female upstarts?
It”s not that the women aren”t out there. Using “Spider-Man” as an example, Marvel”s choice of Watts – a director with thrillers and horror films to his name – there”s one female parallel that springs to mind: Ana Lily Amirpour. Like Watts, most people have no idea who she is. Like Watts, she wrote and directed a thriller that was showcased at independent film festivals. A bonus for Amirpour? Her film – “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” – was almost universally acclaimed. If Marvel wants to make the new Peter Parker feel young and vibrant, Amirpour would”ve brought a lot to the table with her style that blends darkness with humor and a killer soundtrack. “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” had the kind of effortless youthfulness that would serve a Spider-Man born in 1996 well. Amipour”s predilection towards well-rounded female characters would be welcome in a superhero story where women are often Sexy Lamps™ used to propel Peter”s storyline. Amipour even went so far as to publish a graphic novel to accompany the titular Girl”s background.
Should Amirpour”s resume be too robust with 10 directorial entries, perhaps “The Babadook”s” Jennifer Kent is more Marvel”s speed. Less credits to her name, but just as much command of a truly spooky story.
But to answer the question “Why no female upstarts?” the answer seems to be Hollywood sees any failure by a woman as indicative that women don”t sell.
Once upon a time there was an upstart female director. Lexi Alexander only had a few independent films to her name when she directed “Punisher: War Zone.” The film, made just before Marvel brought everything in-house with “Iron Man,” had an abysmal domestic gross of $8 million. No woman has helmed a Marvel movie since.
Whether due to misplaced skittishness that one flop means all future endeavors by will also fail or just good old-fashioned sexism, the dearth of women behind the camera reinforces the impression that Hollywood continues to believe any successful female-led film is a fluke. Nevermind the fact that women account for HALF of all movie ticket sales. When it comes to superhero movies, women accounted for 40-42% of purchased tickets with a high of 44% for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
From Kathryn Bigelow to Sofia Coppola to Ava DuVernay and beyond, women directors have proven they are capable of telling stories starring male leads. For decades, Hollywood has put men in charge of directing stories with female leads. As Spider-Man heads out into his third franchise outing, why play it safe when audiences are exhausted and over-saturated on Peter Parker? Why not hire someone who could look at Spider-Man”s life from a new angle?
If Marvel wanted to hire a young upstart filmmaker to breathe fresh life into this dead horse, they could”ve done way better than “that guy from ‘The Onion”.”