I cannot begin to say how fucking excited I am about the rumours that Marvel may have managed to sign Ava DuVernay to direct its Black Panther film. This is huge news because it brings a little diversity into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, if the rumours are true, DuVernay – who co-wrote and directed Selma – would be “the first non-white, non-male director to see a Marvel film to its completion.”
Representation matters, bitches. Both in front of the camera and behind it. Female representation behind the camera is particularly abysmal. Back in January, Variety reported that “Over the past 17 years, the number of women directing the top 250 grossing films declined by 2%, according to a new study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.” (The Bloomberg Business documentary Celluloid Ceilings states that, of the 600 top grossing films between 2007 and 2013, only 1.9% percent were directed by women.)
The Variety article goes on to point out that, of the top grossing films, only 7% had a female director. Rates of representation aren’t that great for other key behind the scenes roles. Women made up only:
- 23% of producers,
- 19% of executive producers,
- 18% of editors,
- 11% of writers, and
- 5% of cinematographers.
According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report (authored by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA), while there were some small to modest gains, non-whites remain underrepresented on every front in Hollywood. Another study found that, when examining 100 of the top grossing films of 2013, “only 6.5% of the films were helmed by a black director. That’s seven films and of those seven, two shared the same director.” Out of this sample, there were no black female directors represented. The study goes on to state that “Across the six year sample, there are only 2 Black females represented across 23 unique Black directors in all six years and 600 films.”
Along with Chadwick Boseman, who will be playing the eponymous character of T’Challa/Black Panther, the film will also star Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, who will play a representative of the American government and a white industrialist, respectively. From the sounds of things, it’s likely that most of the plot’s main action will occur in the fictional African nation of Wakanda and will focus on the ownership and control of Vibranium, the rare and valuable (not to mention fictional) metal that Captain America’s shield is made out of.
I am a little nervous about this because Marvel has been known for not being the most creatively free place for directors, especially those with strong voices and visions for their films – Edgar Wright left Ant-Man over it, after eight years of development, and Joss Whedon has recently spoken out about the “really, really unpleasant” storytelling battles that he lost making Avengers: Age of Ultron. What’s going to happen to DuVernay , who’s an incredibly strong and talented storyteller with her own distinctive voice in that environment?
I think it speaks directly into how, in order to keep control of its franchises, Marvel has become too safe in terms of their film’s premises. By exercising such extreme control over the universe and its stories, they’re stifling the creativity of their creative teams on the film. They’ve gone from taking chances to putting directors behind the camera on these films who don’t have a unique voice because those directors are easier to control. They won’t fuck with the product and will deliver a film that is, above everything else, a safe bet.
And that’s incredibly disappointing. Because why bother hiring outstanding directors who have their own strong and distinctive voices if you’re just going to make them film a cookie cutter blockbuster?
I mean, that’s their prerogative. Odds are, by playing it safe and by not taking chances, they’ll continue to gross obscene amounts of money. We’ll still get the generically shot, big budget blockbuster popcorn movies but the overall quality of the final product will diminish because they’re not hiring people who can deliver a strong film in its own right. (On the flip side, who really cares if your superhero movie is critically acclaimed if it loses money at the box office?)
I’ve been disappointed in the last couple of offerings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – specifically Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World. Thor: The Dark World, especially had so much going for it – amazingly strong cast, outstanding director – but it seemed almost stifled. As if it gave us a glimpse at how awesome it could have been had Marvel just unclenched.
It’s just really sad because the Marvel Cinematic Universe can have both.
ETA: Since publishing the following, Marvel’s Kevin Feige has confirmed that he has met with DuVernay but also stated that
We need to find the best director for any given movie, and that’s really where we always start. If diversity is part of that, it’s great. It’s important. You will start to see things across the industry as a whole change as more filmmakers come up through the ranks and become part of making movies like this.
(ETA via The Mary Sue)