Debra Granik is this year's recipient of American Airlines' Bonnie Award, a $50,000 grant for visionary women filmmakers.
"What would Mr. Rogers say if we abandoned our kids for this work?" Marielle Heller, director of the upcoming A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as the iconic children's TV host, explained of her decision to implement a film production schedule that allows her to spend time with her son.
"That is great. That's gotta be a quote in your piece," Debra Granik, director of the 2011 Oscar-winning Winter's Bone and, most recently, Leave No Trace, told us. "Yes," Nia DaCosta, director of the upcoming Candyman remake from Jordan Peele, nodded in agreement.
Heller, Granik and DaCosta met just a few hours ago, but the three filmmakers bonded instantly.
What brings these women together? The Bonnie Award
Granik is this year's recipient of American Airlines Bonnie Award, a $50,000 grant for visionary women filmmakers. Funded by American Airlines in partnership with Film Independent, the award, now in its second year, was inspired by Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo, who became the first female pilot to fly for a major U.S. airline when she joined American. Granik's Leave No Trace will be honored at Film Independent's 2019 Spirit Awards on Feb. 23.
In celebration, American Airlines partnered with The Wing, a work and community space for women, to have Caputo moderate a discussion between Granik and two other women filmmakers — Heller and DaCosta — on their experience as women in an industry still largely composed of men. The seats were packed with aspiring women filmmakers and other members of The Wing who presumably sought inspiration from these four incredible women.
"Getting the [Bonnie] award allowed me to deploy filming immediately here in New York," Granik told Caputo about an upcoming project. "I liken it to a fuel injection. It was just very, very empowering."
"You have no idea how happy it makes me feel to hear that," Caputo said with her hand over her heart.
"I love meeting women filmmakers at events like this"
It's clear these women want to see each other thrive, a sentiment that was a major theme of the discussion. "I know I'm standing on the shoulders of women filmmakers who've been pushing this door open slowly, slowly, slowly," Heller said at one point. "I love meeting women filmmakers at events like this; it's such a good feeling to support each other. I don't feel like there's any sense of competition among us. More than anything I've had women whom I admire coming up to me saying, 'I'm so glad you're doing what you're doing.'"
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Granik, Heller and DaCosta to continue the conversation around how women are reshaping the film industry. Granik may have summed it up best: "There's a shared desire among women entering the field to disrupt business-as-usual, because some of the business-as-usual is not healthy, fun nor interesting to work under."
Heller's decision to implement unconventional on-set hours for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood wasn't just for her, she says — it was for all the parents who work in the industry.
"I recognize I'm in a position of power, so I am going to show everybody, 'You guys can all go home and see your kids.'"
"Every signal you get is like, 'Motherhood is the barrier to women's success,'" DaCosta added. "I feel like our generation of filmmaking is very much like, 'Actually, you don't have to do it the way it's always been done.'"
"I would argue that respect can actually help actors do more difficult work"
In an industry that historically pushes the idea that you need to suffer to be successful, pushing for work-life balance is a radical act — but all three women believe healthier workspaces make for better art. "I would argue that respect can actually help actors do more difficult work," Heller said. "I just don't believe in that romanticized version of torture [in Hollywood]."
"I reject it strongly," DaCosta added.
"It's amazing how far a little bit of respect can go in this industry," Granik said.
Everything these women are doing to help the film industry become a healthier field to work in stems from a traditionally feminine trait: empathy.
"What I've had to do because I'm a woman, to protect myself — which tends to be engaging with cues like, 'What's this person thinking?' and how to present myself — I think does influence and help me in certain ways," DaCosta said.
For DaCosta — a young black woman trailblazing in a traditionally white male industry — it's important to represent marginalized people in ways that help them achieve equality, not just titillate the audience. "Any time we depict race riots that show black people getting beat up, you wonder, 'Is there a way to do this without adding more images that desensitize us more to that?'"
"I have nothing but camaraderie and love for my male counterparts"
All that being said, Granik, Heller and DaCosta all agree that perpetuating gender binaries misses the real problem. "I think the issue is the industry, not the artists," Heller said. "I have nothing but camaraderie and love for my male counterparts. … My criticism is 100 percent the industrial complex of Hollywood."
The industry still has a long way to go to achieve total equality, but leaders like Granik, Heller and DaCosta can help progress happen exponentially faster than it has historically — and opportunities like the Bonnie Award, that empower women filmmakers to implement change, are crucial to the movement.