This week, it was reported that Millennium Films have shelved their upcoming adaptation of Red Sonja following a recent article published in The Atlantic that detailed over two decades of sexual assault allegations from underage boys against director Bryan Singer.
It was already a controversial choice for Singer, whose bad workplace behavior and frequent disappearances from sets have been extensively documented, to be given the job of directing the story of one of the great women of comic books. Why was this man accused of such horrified crimes worth paying an alleged $10 million to make this movie over literally anyone else?
Now, it seems that Millennium are walking back their defenses of Singer a little, although he is notably still attached to the project. It’s a missed opportunity on their part because Red Sonja would be the perfect story for so many amazing women directors to tackle. For the sake of brevity, we narrowed down our list of potential choices to nine incredible film-making talents. We promise that all of these would be a better choice than Bryan Singer (but then again, most living beings working in Hollywood would be better).
For far too long, the wonderful Karyn Kusama has been overlooked by the industry for her stylish genre pieces that reject Hollywood notions of "strong female characters" and easy to categorize tropes. Her debut film Girlfight established her as a formidable talent, but it took five years for her to direct another film. The follow-up, Æon Flux, is a clear victim of studio meddling but still has a grindhouse charm amid the slick high-concept thrills. The true gem in her arsenal is Jennifer's Body, an icon of horror-comedy with us at FANGRRLS and a sinfully underrated subversion of the B-movie schlock it proudly embraces. Last year saw her helm Destroyer, a grungy LA noir that gave Nicole Kidman one of her most complex and abrasive roles and pushed Kusama back into the spotlight. She’s got the action chops for Red Sonja and there are few directors working today who are so adept at dealing with prickly female characters that are too easily dismissed as “difficult” with little else to offer.
Pariah, the heart-wrenching and fearless feature debut of director Dee Rees, was a festival darling upon release in 2011 and signalled the must-watch arrival of a major talent. Rees followed that up with Bessie, the Emmy winning HBO movie, then Mudbound, a historical drama that Netflix paid a then record-breaking $12.5 million for exclusive distribution rights. Rees helped to break ground by becoming the first black woman to be nominated for any Academy Award in a writing category, and the first black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her next film, an adaptation of Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted, will premiere on Netflix later this year. Rees told Variety that she would love to direct a Bond movie, so we know she's up for a big action-driven blockbuster.
When Advantageous premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, it seemed like the perfect announcement of a bold new talent in indie cinema. Jennifer Phang's sci-fi drama about a woman's sacrifice for the sake of her daughter won a plethora of awards thanks to its piercing insight into how even the most astounding technological and social advances of humanity still oppress women. Since then, Phang has worked mostly on TV, directing episodes of The Expanse, Riverdale, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but is well overdue for another film. Superhero movies have functioned recently as great platforms for up-and-coming directors to show the world their skills within the constraints of a franchise. Think of people like Taika Waititi, Ryan Coogler, and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, none of whom had massive amounts of blockbuster expertise before joining the MCU. Red Sonja probably won’t be as expansive in terms of scale as, say, Captain Marvel, but it’s still a rare opportunity for someone like Phang to show what she’s made of. Anyone who’s seen Advantageous will know how much she can do with seemingly so little.
Shockingly, one of the great directors of modern prestige television has never made a feature film. Canadian director Michelle MacLaren, who has worked on series like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Westworld, was briefly attached to Wonder Woman but dropped out due to creative differences. She's attached to the adaptation of A.J. Lieberman and Riley Rossmo's comic book, Cowboy Ninja Viking, but it's still pretty shocking that this multiple award-winning icon of modern TV has never made the transition to the big screen like so many of her industry counterparts. MacLaren won two back-to-back Emmy awards for producing Breaking Bad (she's been nominated six times) and is a frequent collaborative partner of that show's creator, Vince Gilligan. She's as much responsible for that series' lean, noir-esque approach as he is, and her muscular directorial style has established her as one of the go-to names for prestige drama. In her hands, a Red Sonja adaptation could carry some of that no-holds-barred grit she brought to shows like The Deuce and Game of Thrones (she was behind the camera for the episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”, which is practically a Red Sonja adventure unto itself).
The Babadook sent shivers down countless spines and instantly became a modern horror classic. Even hardened genre fans were left terrified by this tale of mental illness, motherly resentment, and the world's creepiest picture book. Its director and writer, Jennifer Kent, became a must-watch talent and won an array of awards for her work, including the Best Director title at the AACTA Awards (the Australian version of the Oscars). Last year, her follow-up film, The Nightingale, made a huge impression at the Venice Film Festival, where it was the only film directed by a woman playing in competition. Both titles showed Kent's fearlessness with tough material and no-holds-barred approach to the darkest recesses of humanity. Red Sonja is a pulp story but one with an intensely bleak backstory, and Kent would be the ideal film-maker to juggle both elements with ease.
It’s taken too long for Catherine Hardwicke to get her long-earned dues for what she did with the first Twilight movie. Even today, over a decade following its release, the first film in what would become the wildly successful franchise the supernatural romance is slammed as The Worst Film Ever. As we’ve said before, that’s far from the case, and Twilight, like much of Hardwicke’s work, is a charming indie with its own style and distinctly feminine tone. Hardwicke was, for a time, the highest grossing female director at the box office, but she’s never strayed far from her independent routes, even as she explores a variety of genres and refuses to be boxed into a type. She’s done action, romance, weepie drama, and even a Bible story. She recently helmed the remake of Miss Bala, starring Gina Rodriguez, once again proving herself more than capable of taking on the mantle of Red Sonja.
A legitimate legend of Canadian film-making icons, Mary Harron is responsible for taking one of the most infamous novels of the late 20th century and turning it into a scathing black comedy for the ages. The American Psycho film should not work as well as it does, but Harron's deft touch and clinical approach to this blood-drenched yuppie frenzy does the material justice and then some. Who else could have taken a book so loathed for its apparent misogyny and violence against women and turn it into something so controlled by the female gaze? Harron's done her fair share of great work elsewhere too, often focusing on complex women whose real-life stories were reduced to male talking points, from the Valerie Solanas biopic I Shot Andy Warhol to The Notorious Bettie Page.
Ana Lily Amirpour
American-Iranian writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour made one hell of an impression with her feature debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The self-described "Iranian vampire spaghetti Western" was a breath of fresh air in the oft-maligned vampire genre, combining a dream-like atmosphere with sharp feminist themes. While her follow-up The Bad Bunch, pitched as a post-apocalyptic cannibal romance (think The Road Warrior meets Pretty in Pink), didn’t set the world alight, it did strengthen Amirpour’s status as a director unafraid to tackle supremely high concept stories. Her mix of genre-bending coolness and indie grit would make a Red Sonja film especially striking.
In 2016, when it was announced that Sony Pictures had hired Gina Prince-Bythewood to direct Silver & Black, a movie based on the Marvel Comics characters Silver Sable and Black Cat, there was much to celebrate. What a great mix of talent and material, with the promise of something truly unique in a genre that's still far too short on leading heroines. Alas, that project fell apart, and Prince-Bythewood has mostly stuck to screenwriting and TV work since then, which is a shame because this is a director with so much to offer. With two of the great romantic dramas of the past twenty years under her belt – Love and Basketball and Beyond the Lights – Prince-Bythewood would be a great fit for Red Sonja. It wouldn’t even be her first dive into the superhero world, as she directed the pilot for Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger. Sony saw something in her enough to give her what would have been a 9-figure blockbuster, and it would be foolish of other studios not to take advantage of that.