The discussion regarding diversity and gender parity in filmmaking always seems to be met with the devil’s advocate argument that there just aren’t as many directors who aren’t white cis males. This argument falls apart quite easily, especially when confronted with cases such as that of Sam Taylor-Johnson, who, after helming the half-a-billion-dollar blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey, found herself no higher on studio’s must-call list.
In an interview with IndieWire, Taylor-Johnson talked about how little changed after her box office success. “You would be surprised at how …No, you wouldn’t be surprised, sadly. Nothing," she said. “I literally was scrambling still, in exactly the same position I was prior to that. I’d say to my agent, ‘I love this book [A Million Little Pieces, her latest directorial effort which just premiered at TIFF and stars her husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson]. I really love it. What’s the deal with it?’ ‘They’re going to Steven, Steven, David, David, and John.’ But I know I’m fully capable.”
After obtaining the rights to the book from author James Frey, Taylor-Johnson co-wrote the script and made the film in less than three weeks for under $50 million.
Perpetually, women are made to prove themselves time and time again while men are considered for major projects despite experience or any kind of proven track record. With only a few films on their resumes, directors like Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming and the upcoming Spider-Man: Far from Home) are given major franchises while critically acclaimed and award-winning filmmakers like Taylor-Johnson are met with crickets. The fact is studios are more likely to take a chance on a male auteur than a female one, even with wholly uneven credentials, let alone ones of equal weight.
Among the most famous examples is Debra Granik, who earned four Academy Award nominations for her 2010 film Winter’s Bone which single-handedly kickstarted Jennifer Lawrence’s career as we know it today, and only this year released her follow-up feature Leave No Trace, which maintains a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and was only released in a handful of markets.
Another issue faced by many female filmmakers is that of parenthood and a question of ability or focus in the wake of having children—a conversation that simply does not take place with male filmmakers. In the case of Taylor-Johnson, her youngest child was 2 years old when she made Fifty Shades of Grey, and she admitted that having young children made her afraid to “reduce her stock. “I had this innate panic that I had to finish nursing and get back out there and do meetings, and show that I was still present because if I left it too long, I was the mom at home with four kids. …It was that thing that I don’t want to become irrelevant to the filmmaking world just because I have kids. I want to show that I can still do it.”
And as Taylor-Johnson showed, if you want to show you can do it, sometimes, you have to just do it yourself.