While receiving a lifetime achievement award in the Czech Republic on Friday night, Dame Helen Mirren used the opportunity to address a feminist issue dear to her heart: the barren landscape of female directors.
Noting the death this week of writer and director Nora Ephron, Mirren told the crowd at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival that Hollywood's directorial scene is still far too male-dominated. “When I was making (early) films, they were very, very few female directors, and there were certainly no women on set, which made taking one’s clothes off all the more difficult,” she told the crowd, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "Things have moved on, but as far as I’m concerned, they haven’t moved on enough.”
Boldly, Mirren even criticized the film festival that was honoring her for their gender disparity. "I don't know how many female directors are presenting their films in this festival," she admonished. "I doubt that it's 50 percent. Not too many, I'm sure." The actress added that she hoped to return to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in five years and see something approximating parity.
The uncomfortable reality is that this exact disparity has been addressed for years, yet has still not improved to our satisfaction. Women only comprised five percent of all directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2011, according to the non-profit Women Make Movies. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for Best Director but it was not until 2010 until one won (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker). Clearly the progress — if you can even call it that — is sloooow.
Alas, directing isn't the only creative profession where there's a "woman problem." Interestingly, Helen Mirren's comments came on the exact same day as those made by a fellow Brit, Janet Suzman of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who bemoaned the lack of good theater roles for women in the pages of the London Guardian. At age 73, Suzman explained there are still many roles for men her age to play, but that roles for older (let alone septugenarian) women do not exist. Another British actress Jean Rogers, of the actors' union Equity, also spoke out this week about there being fewer opportunities for actresses, going so far as to suggest that women should be cast in men's roles.
Perhaps someone should suggest to Helen Mirren that this might apply to directors as well: the role of Oliver Stone will now be played by ... Nancy Meyers!