Film & Television

Women in Hollywood: Will 2020 Be Different?

At Sunday night’s Golden Globes, the Best Director of a Motion Picture award was given to a man, not a woman. The Best Screenplay for a Motion Picture was given to a man, not a woman. No matter who won (in these cases, Sam Mendes and Quentin Tarantino, respectively), this was inevitable. There were no women nominated in either category.

The Foreign Press Association insists that they nominate based on merit, not gender. Yet there were multiple worthy female contenders in both categories. Like directors Mati Diop, Greta Gerwig, Melina Matsoukas, Lorene Scafaria, Lulu Wang, Olivia Wilde, and Ama Har’el. Or screenwriters Greta Gerwig and Ama Har’el (again), as well as Stephanie Folsum, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and Chinonye Chukwu.

The truth is, except for rare sleeper exceptions, awards tend to go to the biggest, loudest, most expensive, and — more importantly — most-promoted titles. And these, even today, are rarely helmed by women.

But it’s a new year in Hollywood, as well as everywhere else. A time for resolutions and change. So this raises the question, will 2020 be any different? 

The cautiously optimistic answer is . . . possibly.

A recent Fandango survey of more than 2,000 millennial film fans identified the 10 most anticipated films of 2020: Wonder Woman 1984, Black Widow, Eternals, Mulan, No Time to Die, A Quiet Place 2, Birds of Prey, In the Heights, Soul, and Fast & Furious 9. An astounding 50 percent of these are directed by women. Given the already tremendous buzz about these films and the — not unrelated — budgets assigned to them, this represents unprecedented parity.

Let’s take a look . . . 


Wonder Woman 1984

Director and co-screenwriter Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot return for the sequel to 2017’s phenomenal success, Wonder Woman. As the title implies, the story takes place some 70 years after the first film. (Apparently, in addition to being unsurpassed warriors and totally gorgeous, Amazons don’t age.) The film reunites original cast members Robin Wright and Chris Pine, and adds Kristen Wiig as feline villainess Cheetah. It’s estimated to bring in between $850 million and $1 billion at the box office.

Collider recently asked Jenkins, “How do you think this sequel will move the needle even further when it comes to representation on screen and inclusivity from this female point of view?” The director responded, “I think that the real power is when you’re not even talking about it and so many of the characters are women. When Gal and Kristen are major characters and it’s not a phenomenon . . . it’s super important to me that everybody is accessible to this movie. And then when that becomes an easy thing to do and you’re watching people of all genders and races up on the screen doing this and you’re not thinking about it.”

Watch the trailer here


Black Widow

Another film projected to be a mega moneymaker, Black Widow, is directed by Australian Cate Shortland (Lore and Berlin Syndrome) and stars Marvel Universe regular Scarlett Johansson, along with Little Women‘s Florence Pugh and The Favourite‘s Rachel Weisz. Although the trailer has a lot of action, including an exhilarating fight scene between Johansson and “sister” Pugh, Marvel Studios and Disney are keeping the plot fairly close to the vest. Suffice it to say that Natasha (Johansson) must return to Budapest to confront her past. Mayhem ensues.

It took more than half a year to find Shortland, and the studio met with more than 70 candidates. Johansson, a fan of the director’s Nazi drama Lore and, especially, how its female protagonist was treated, pushed for Shortland. She was by no means a Hollywood insider and didn’t even have an agent at the time.

Watch the trailer here.



Chloé Zhao (The Rider) directs another Marvel installment, which is estimated to pull in about $750 million. Eternals is the first in a new franchise that will introduce a team of alien humanoids sent to Earth to protect mankind from evil immortals called Deviants. The star-studded cast includes Angelina Jolie as Thena, who has superhuman speed, stamina, and strength; she can also shoot cosmic energy from her eyes. Salma Hayek is Ajak, a previously male character from the comic series who can teleport and fly. And Gemma Chan (in her second Marvel Universe role) is Sersi, who can manipulate matter when she isn’t falling in love with mortal archaeologist Dane Whitman (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington).

Interestingly, Zhao was one of the directors in the running for Black Widow, a sign perhaps that major studios are making a concerted effort to hire women.

See a press preview here.



The live action adaptation of Disney’s beloved 1998 animated musical is directed by New Zealander Niki Caro. Caro made a name for herself with 2002’s coming of age story Whale Rider and more recently directed the Holocaust drama The Zookeeper’s Wife. If Mulan, another assumed blockbuster, achieves the success of other recent Disney adaptations, it could earn more than $1 billion worldwide.

When asked by The Hollywood Reporter about directing a film with a $200 million budget, Caro replied, “The process of directing is the same — it’s about telling a good story — but it’s also filmmaking on steroids.” She quickly added, “I absolutely loved it.”

Watch the trailer here.


Birds of Prey. . . 

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is directed by Cathy Yan and stars Oscar-nominee Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as the Joker’s ex-girlfriend, a rather psychotic mess in her own right. Along with a posse of female vigilantes: Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), the colorful Harley sets out to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. Although not at the top of the list, Birds of Prey is expected to earn between $500 and $600 million in receipts.

Yan won the 2018 Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for her debut, Dead Pigs. In a recent interview with IndieWire, she describes Birds of Prey as “Pulp Fiction meets Rashomon,” then adds, “We also visually, I think, very much [were] influenced by A Clockwork Orange.”

Watch the trailer here.

If you’re noticing a pattern here (big-budget, action-packed films with superheroes and supervillains), it’s one that women in Hollywood should welcome. Most female directors have found themselves trapped under a celluloid ceiling, typically directing — when given the chance at all — “women’s films”: independent features, documentaries, low-key biopics, and domestic dramas: movies with small budgets that go to market without the full advantage of the studios’ promotion machines. These features most certainly don’t fall into that category.

Combined, the 2020 directorial efforts of Jenkins, Shortland, Zhao, Caro, and Yan may reach $3 to $4 billion or more. And that will be a very happy new year for Hollywood (and its current and future female directors) indeed. 


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