There’s an expectation by some that as a woman I should only make films that are woman-centric and “feminist.” I am a feminist, but I don’t consider myself a “feminist filmmaker.” I reserve the right to make films about whatever is an interesting story or subject, even if that film is not necessarily about women.
During the height of the publicity around The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar nomination for Best Director last year (and her subsequent historic win), there were comments made that Bigelow was a frontrunner to win because her film was about war and only featured male characters; that previous women nominees were handicapped by their female gaze. Writer Martha P. Nochimson summed up this sentiment in a 2010 Salon.com article: “…The Hollywood machine doggedly preserves the hierarchy of men above women, and the military landscape above the domestic landscape, even when it’s a woman who directs a war picture.” Mary Harron received similar criticism of “male-centricity” upon release of her 2000 film American Psycho, about a well-dressed male serial killer who worked on Wall Street.
To that I say: get over it! An artist has the right to create work in whatever manifestation they choose. It is a double standard to expect women to only direct films about women or that have a feminist slant. No one batted an eyelash when Martin Scorcese directed the romantic Victorian-era drama The Age of Innocence, not to mention the plethora of male directors who helm romantic comedies geared at female audiences.
The films I have made so far (three shorts, one feature-length) have women in the spotlight, and I am proud of them all. However, if I want to make an action film and blow shit up a la Michael Bay (and tell a better story to boot!), or direct a film about white characters, or produce a film on male rape victims (one of my next documentary projects), then that is my prerogative as an artist, even a Black female one.
Artists should make art about subjects that inspire them; many times that comes from an artist’s personal experience and the communities in which a person lives. However, venturing outside a person’s “comfort zone” should be celebrated, not derided, like it was by some in the cases of Bigelow and Harron (a person has a right to not like a film on its merits, but NOT based on its political appropriateness).
I don’t exclusively tell “women’s stories.” Part of my enjoyment in filmmaking comes from fulfilling my own curiosity about the world and engaging people from different backgrounds than my own. In our work, female filmmakers should and do share the experiences of our lives honestly and fearlessly. But women’s stories aren’t our only stories.
Faith Pennick is a filmmaker and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her latest film is the documentary Weightless, about a scuba diving camp for plus-size women, which will screen at the WAM! Film Festival in Cambridge, MA on March 26 at 3 PM. You can get more information about her work at www.orgchaos.com. Pennick is also on Twitter @orgchaosmedia.