The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Is it a good thing to demand a female director?

with 20 comments

Mikael Persbrandt, known for an international audience from the Oscar winning In a Better World, was interviewed in the Swedish newspapers this morning regarding a new Swedish action movie which will open on Friday.

The director is the Danish Kathrine Windfeld  and her gender gets a bit of attention, which is natural. Not only is she a woman in a profession that still is dominated by men (only seven percent of the Hollywood productions are directed by women.) She’s also making an action movie, where the women are few an far between. There’s Kathrin Bigelow of course, but there isn’t an abundance of them.

So far, so good. I’m the first one to think that the film industry would do wise to try to include more women in the film production.

But Mikael Persbrandt goes a bit further than just acknowledging that the director is a woman. He says that it even was a condition for him to make the movie in the first place. If it had been a male director he probably wouldn’t have made it. He wanted a “woman who wouldn’t mainly be interested in the killing, but of the interpersonal”.

I know he probably has the best of intentions with this statement, but the more I think of it, the more does it bother me. I don’t know what annoys me most. Is it that women can’t make a traditional action movie with a lot of killing, since it somewhere is against their nature? Or is it that men are incapable of capturing the interpersonal aspects, since they’re mostly interested in killing?

I wouldn’t call this feminism. I think this is a case of classical stereotyping and even if it’s for a good cause, it makes me cringe. I cringe as much as I would have cringed if someone demanded a male director to make a movie where there was a lot of killing, since women probably would be more into the interpersonal.

Can’t we just get rid of those old ideas about male vs female once for all?

Written by Jessica

January 10, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

20 Responses

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  1. Totally agree with you on this one.

    Sure, it may have been said with the best intentions, but the point of feminism – well, the way that I see it anyway – is that it is about women AND men, not just solely women, and things like this kind of put a downer on men, too, which isn’t right.


    January 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    • Yes, I don’t think it achieves a lot really. Now there are a lot of different flavors of feminism and I figure some might agree with him. But I’m more of the “we’re all human and that’s what matters” school. Generalizations like this one don’t lead us anywhere forward.


      January 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm

  2. I think there could be times when specifying the gender of the director may make sense. Maybe you have a coming of age tale and feel (not unreasonably) that a woman would have a better sense of what it is like to come of age as a woman than a man would. Say you’ve got a film like Turn Me On Dammit that has a teen actress in a fairly sensitive role, a female director might be better situated to make sure it as comfortable for the actress as possible. I would say that female directors on average can bring different insights than male directors because the lived experience of being a woman in society is different in many ways.

    That said, that “males like killing and women understand interpersonal matters” isn’t a good reason. It plays way too far into stereotype like you say. I mean, maybe you get John Cameron Mitchell, you can’t tell me he doesn’t understand the interpersonal. Or say Mike Leigh, maybe he’d be an interesting director for the film.


    January 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    • Yes, I figure there are situations like the one you mention where chances are that a director of the same gender might be easier to work with. But again: there are always exceptions. I’m certain John Camerall Mitchell as you mention could make Turn Me On Dammit perfectly well.

      The more I think of it, the more insulting towards men do I find his statement.


      January 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm

  3. This makes me very, very angry. My opinion is that gender equality is important and that we need it – but it should happen naturally. As if we don’t notice it, because that’s when you can say that you’re not generalizing: when you act as if it’s the most normal thing in the world that a woman directs an action movie.
    I think the Danes did a pretty good job with the new head-of-state, because they never focused on her being a woman.


    January 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    • The ideal is that it will happen naturally, but since so little has happened in Hollywood in this aspect for a number of years, I’m afraid it won’t happen by itself. We need to make some efforts and that’s why I keep bringing up those aspects. But you need to weight your words and think twice on what you’re creating and in this case I think the approach makes more damage than it benefits the development towards a higher ratio of female actors. He makes it sound as if women will make some very different sort of action movies, which might scare away companies from hiring women if they just want to make an action movie that will make well in the box offices and not some kind of interpersonal drama.


      January 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm

  4. Believe it or not, I find myself to be influenced more by women directors rather than men. In fact, Sofia Coppola is my favorite filmmaker. I’m for gender equality and it doesn’t matter if you’re male and female. It’s all about what you can do as a filmmaker.

    Steven Flores

    January 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    • I know, we’ve got the same favorite movie, haven’t we? 🙂


      January 11, 2012 at 12:03 am

  5. I completely agree, Jess. There needs to be more taleneted female directors given a chance to make it in Hollywood – the likes of Jane Campion, Mimi Leder and Katherine Bigelow have done a lot for the merits of the cause, so I see no real reason to choose a man over a woman at all – creativity is creativity, and is not bound by what sex you are.


    January 11, 2012 at 2:43 am

    • Well we’ve still got a long way to go before female director are as common as male ones, maybe it won’t even happen in my lifetime. But I don’t think Persbrandt’s way of asking for a female director just because she’s a woman, expecting her gender to make the film into something particular, is the right way to go.


      January 11, 2012 at 7:35 am

  6. Yes, this is certainly gender stereotyping. Nope, it isn’t a good thing.

    However, another female director is given a chance to show her talents. Even if the reason for it isn’t the best, isn’t it good that it is happening?

    Steve Kimes

    January 11, 2012 at 4:25 am

    • It’s wonderful it’s happening Steve. It’s just Persbrandt who I think should think a little bit about the issues of stereotypes.


      January 11, 2012 at 7:38 am

  7. Does seem a strange statement to make in this day and age.

    I am on your side Jessica

    Scott Lawlor

    January 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

    • I suppose you could argue that he’s been misquoted, but I saw him talking talking about this in a couple of different newsarticles, so I’m afraid it happened. The strange thing is that I haven’t seen anyone else questioning it.


      January 11, 2012 at 10:26 am

  8. It does seem to be a fairly atrocious comment. I mean not only for the snub about women not being able to make “standard” action fare, but also for the implicit idea that men are “mainly interested in killing”.

    Lewis Maskell

    January 11, 2012 at 11:41 am

    • Yes, that’s the part of it that bugs me most. I really hate stereotyping, sorting women and men into boxes. Even if the intention is good sometimes, it just limits and preserves old clichés.


      January 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm

  9. Bit late catching up on your blog, but I wanted to give a thumbs up. It annoys me to no end when people who arguably try to support equality say stuff like this. Sadly, a lot of people I know think this type of attitude is completely acceptable because it helps to “counter-balance” the current reality. It exasperates me, too, because one form of inequality should be no more acceptable than the other.

    Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    January 14, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    • Hey there! Glad to see you still hanging around. And yes, for all the good intentions that kind of statements make more harm than good. Sadly enough it appears that the movie is really bad too, judging form the reviews. But that’s a different story.


      January 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

  10. I completely agree. The idea that somehow a woman is needed to capture something in an action movie beyond just violence is rather shallow.

    James Blake Ewing

    January 20, 2012 at 1:26 am

    • Indeed. I’ve written on several occasions complaining of the lack of female directors, but I think that kind of argumentation doesn’t help very much.


      January 20, 2012 at 9:59 am

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