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David Oyelowo Encourages Male Stars to Give Working With Female Directors “Conscious Thought”

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Selma‘s David Oyelowo has worked with a female director on his past four films in a row. A remarkable thing when you consider that 20 of Hollywood’s top leading men have never worked with a female director, while only 8 of the top 100 have worked with a female director five times or more.

In a thought-provoking piece at Cosmopolitan, Oyelowo and Catherine Hardwicke among others, discuss the fact that the gender gap at all levels in Hollywood is something that needs to be tackled from all angles. In other words, actors themselves are not exempt from doing some work if this equality thing is actually gonna happen.

In addition to working with Ava DuVernay on Selma, Oyelowo has worked with Mira Nair (The Queen of Katwe), Cynthia Mort (Nina), Maris Curran (Five Nights in Maine), and Amma Asante (A United Kingdom):

For me, it’s completely selfish, actually, because some of the best directors working today are women. I’ve had to actively pursue working with female filmmakers. It is a tragedy and a travesty. We can complain about inclusion or diversity or all these words that have now become buzz phrases, but if you have the ability to do anything about it and you don’t, you are part of the problem.

Meanwhile, the Cosmopolitan piece contains infographics dividing up the 100 top leading men into categories:

  • have NEVER worked with a female director before (20)
  • have worked with a female director ONCE (21)
  • have worked with a female director TWICE (23)
  • have worked with a female director THREE times (16)
  • have worked with a female director FOUR times (12)
  • have worked with a female director FIVE+ times (8)

What makes these numbers important is that these men have film credits in the double-digits. For example, Sean Connery has made 64 films, not one of them has been directed by a woman (then again, given the time during which he was the most active, plus word on the street about him, that’s not surprising). Sylvester Stallone, 55 films and not one female director. And even those that have worked with female directors – it’s pretty shameful that so few women are given the opportunity to direct big-budget films that someone like Leonardo DiCaprio has only worked with a female director once. Then again, maybe he should expand his ouvre beyond the Scorceses of the world.

And that’s the real point of this piece. The fact that leading men tend to go back to the same wells over and over, getting stuck on a hamster wheel in the process. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is sexism elsewhere in the industry that affects how individual projects are made and perceived. Cosmopolitan points out that men are less likely to work with female directors when they’re in their “peak money-making years,” because women don’t get those big-budget opportunities. So, for example, Mark Wahlberg hasn’t worked for a female director since his first film, 1994’s Renaissance Man, which was directed by Penny Marshall.

Apparently, female directors are fine to work with in order to get your big break, but once you’re in, it’s off to play exclusively with the Big Boys. Who, of course, are indeed mostly boys.

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However, it isn’t only men who are only working with male directors. The shortage of female directors affects actresses, too:

[T]he statistics for female actresses aren’t fifty-fifty either, given the industry dominance of male directors. For instance, Melissa McCarthy’s 22 film credits are all in movies directed by men — and Julia Roberts hasn’t starred in a film directed by a woman since her debut, Satisfaction. (Her second will be Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, opening this spring.) However, the stats are generally better for Hollywood’s top women than men: Jennifer Lawrence (four of 18), Cate Blanchett (six of 43), Sandra Bullock (six of 43), Scarlett Johansson (five of 41), Meryl Streep (six of 54).

Both Oyelowo and Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke think that actors need to recognize the role they play (get it?) in upholding this messed up system, and step up to the plate and do what they can to change it. Oyelowo suggests this, not only because it’s the “right thing to do,” but because it would benefit these actors:

I know those guys have missed out on something. We’ve all seen those careers, where an actor is on a hamster wheel, churning out similar performances and doing similar kinds of roles. I can almost guarantee that some of their best performances have not been realized because they haven’t varied the gaze that they have been under as an actor.

You can have the same piece that’s directed by a veteran male white director and give that same piece to a fresh, female director of color and of course it’s going to be completely different. If movies are about the expression of humanity, and that’s largely being seen not only through one gender but through one racial demographic, then the world is definitely poorer for it, and actors are definitely poorer for it too.

Though Hardwicke has been told that actresses’ agents are also not interested in ensuring that their clients work on female-helmed films, she has a plea for leading men in particular:

[When male actors and their teams option a story or set up a project], and you make a list of possible directors, don’t just say it’s automatically going to be a guy and do not just put one female’s name on the list and 20 guys. Just make sure that your list is fifty-fifty. Look at their work, take the time to meet with them and hear their take. What we’re asking for is just a chance to be there at the table. Just a chance. Because if you go in there and pitch your case, good things can happen.

Definitely check out the full piece at Cosmopolitan.

(image via Paramount Pictures)

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