Making a Feminist Film: My Five Step Recipe
Updated: Feb 12
1) REWRITE THE RECIPE
When I make vegan cookies, I substitute applesauce for eggs.
But making a feminist film within the existing recipe is not so easy.
I can’t simply swap out Super Man for Wonder Woman. I must also tell a story that isn’t about some form of conquest. The film canon is overflowing with movies that celebrate a singular character on a mission to win, climb to the top, dominate, own, or conquer. I want to tell a different story. My script GONE TO THE MISCHIEF centers around three tricky women who discover a surprising loop-hole that allows them to express their voice in a system that demands their silence.
2) SHAKE BEAUTY, REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT
Beauty is a pervasive villain who is trained in mind control and can infiltrate even the wisest woman. When left unchecked, Beauty spreads like a cancer that leaves us at war with ourselves. Below are the questions I ask myself at each step of the process.
Writing: Will my characters submit, fortify, or reject Beauty?
Casting: Will this particular actor playing this particular role perpetuate a racist, ageist, classist, able-bodied beauty paradigm?
Filming: Does the character wear make-up? If yes, will we see her put it on?
Editing: Should I crop out the fat or let it jiggle?
Women have been taught to pose for the camera. We carefully frame our bodies for presentation. I intend to show the whole picture.
I loved the scene in Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN where Jo negotiates the ending of her book with the publisher. “The people want romance,” the publisher insists, urging Jo to end her story with marriage. More than a hundred years of “romance” later, I’m sick of it. I want the truth. The real story is that Louisa May Alcott never married. Marriage 1870s style meant that a woman was her husband’s property. Although it might be a loving partnership, it could also be a death sentence. Women’s struggle to control our own bodies is ongoing. It’s time to make LITTLE WOMEN UNCENSORED.
3) MIX, DON’T BEAT
As women, we have all experienced different degrees of oppression based on our level of privilege (influenced by ethnicity, class, age, appearance, mental/physical health, life circumstances, and more). Although this is obvious it is not always acknowledged. In the fight for equality, some of us have leveraged our privileges at the expense of others, fracturing our enormous sisterhood. For this reason my artistic practice must include communing, collaborating, and supporting other marginalized filmmakers.
4) MAKE YOUR OWN MOLD
Directors are told to “command a set.” However, my authentic leadership style is going to be very different from one that comes from a militaristic tradition. My work as a director is informed by my life in the trenches as a teacher, a mother, a performer, a theater artist, and a community organizer. It’s not my job to worry about whether my voice is too high or if my outfit screams “authoritative.” My job is to arrive on set with a deep understanding of the story and a courageous vision for how to tell it.
5) BAKE ACCORDING TO PERSONAL TASTE
The oven is necessarily hot and not everyone is going to like what I’ve made, particularly taste-makers who may have grown up on a different palate. All I can do is make something I want to eat and invite over friends to share it with.
On the set of MANIC with Sandra Valde-Hansen and Amanda Treyz. Photo Credit: Jamie Milner