Top Female Filmmakers on the "Political Weight" of Studio, Genre Filmmaking

At Comic-Con, Jennifer Yuh Nelson ('The Darkest Minds'), Susanna  Fogel ('The Spy Who Dumped Me') and Christina Hodson ('Bumblebee') share their experiences.
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images; Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic; Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
Jennifer Yuh Nelson

At the "Future of Film Is Female" panel at Comic-Con, moderator Alicia Malone pointed out that of the theatrical releases this summer, only two features are directed by women: Susanna Fogel's The Spy Who Dumped Me and Jennifer Yuh Nelson's The Darkest Minds.

Those small numbers put successes and possible failures at the box office and with the critics under greater scrutiny.

"There is so much political weight on everything you do because you are in the spotlight," said Fogel, who was joined by Nelson and Bumblebee screenwriter Christina Hodson on the panel.

As the Time's Up movement has gained prominence, pushing for gender parity and greater representation for women in behind-the-camera roles, increased scrutiny has been placed on the industry to champion projects from female filmmakers. But, according to the second annual Inclusion in the Director's Chair study from USC, only eight women directed the top 100 domestically grossing movies of 2017.

"Just because we are talking about it now and just because [Wonder Woman director] Patty Jenkins kicked ass, it doesn't mean everything is fixed," said Hodson, who is writing Warner Bros./DC projects Batgirl (taking scripting duties from Joss Whedon) and the Cathy Yan-directed Harley Quinn movie, starring Margot Robbie.

"One or two big movies out there, front and center, don't change the fact that the numbers are really, really bad," said Hodson.

The filmmakers, each working in the heavily male-dominated genres of comedy, superheroes and sci-fi, spoke candidly of the unique and extreme pressures attached to being some of the few women given the rare opportunity to make movies in the studio system.

"I know we don't show up on set every day going, 'Hey, I am a woman.' But the fact that people look at you and go, 'Huh, you are a woman' makes you look around and go, 'Oh my god, I am,'" said Nelson, who is making her live-action debut with Fox's Darkest Minds after directing Kung Fu Panda 2, becoming the first woman to direct a studio animated feature solo.

"It's a self-awareness that you don't want to have to think about when you are trying to think about the other 50,000 things that you have to figure out that day," she said.

Added Fogel: "I'm happy to pave the way, but to be in such a small group is pretty depressing."