My Take: As A Female Director, My Voice Changes Society
By: Charlotte Manning
A rainbow of shotgun homes whipped past the window of our rental car. Maria Marrone, my production designer and honorary DJ, turned up the Beatles as we sped through the battered New Orleans streets and onto the highway. My director of photography, Joshua Herzog, nodded off in the passenger seat. An array of lighting gels and gaff tape jutted out from the backseat and lightly licked his arm.
The pre-production process, filled with hiccups and sleepless nights, had worn us down before we even began. After locations falling through, our lead actor dropping only a week before production, and watching the money we raised quickly draining from our account; it was a miracle we were there. I sent up a prayer, thanking whatever spiritual unknown that may have helped us along the way.
After many setbacks and hurdles, we finally made it. We pulled up to the equipment rental house as my producer pulled up simultaneously in the box truck. Hopping out, we were greeted by two men who were eager to help a younger generation of students. They generously gifted us far more equipment then our budget could have afforded, much to our appreciation. When it came time to pay the highly-discounted price, the men asked for the director. They raised their eyebrows in amusement as my petite build stepped forward —a reaction that is not uncommon, nor an insult, but simply because as a woman, I was not their usual client.
Let’s play a game. List five male directors. I’ll do the same… Spielberg, Woody Allen, Scorsese, Tarantino, Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Linklater… Have I overshot? Math was never my strong suit. Now, name five famous female directors. I’ll wait. Don’t pull up Google to make sure you’re thinking of the right person… How many did you get? Sofia Coppola? Possibly Kathryn Bigelow? Doesn’t that tell you something?
Gender binary roles are deeply engrained in our society, altering the way we see others and ourselves. From our political leaders to the roles that women portray in films, our society subconsciously feeds us information that men are more suited for the workplace because it’s written in our history. To revoke these conventions, we need courageous leaders who will actively challenge people to stand with women, not against them.
This includes political leaders, like our president, a president who has the support of an overwhelming number of Americans even though he feels entitled to violate another human’s body without their permission. Together, so many of us mourn how our country was—is—now in the hands of a man who has publicly objectified women countless times.
For example, in 1994, our current President blatantly exposed his belief that a wife has no place in the workplace: “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.” Or when, in August 2015, after a challenging interview with Megyn Kelly, Trump suggested that Kelly’s cutthroat questioning was a result of her menstruation.
Currently, we have the Leader of the Free World teaching our country that his chauvinistic behavior is acceptable. That a woman’s success is not based on her merits, but on her looks. That she is a trophy for men’s visual and physical pleasure, and, at twelve-years-old, is already being preyed upon by 50-year-old men. Our President and his comments prove that women role models are essential to young girls so they can understand that they are valuable in the workplace.
I was lucky enough to be nurtured by a mother who willed me to pursue a career I was passionate about with a fierce “reach for the stars” mentality. Moreover, she instilled in me a belief that my goals were achievable. At one point I was convinced that my figure skating abilities would lead me to be the next Michelle Kwan. Yet, not all young girls are so lucky to see that their options are just as endless as their brothers.
I am not a statistics major nor could I list the exact percentages of women directors to male directors without a quick search online. However, I am a 22-year-old woman speaking from my experiences.
By allowing women to tell our own stories. By seeing women in roles that aren’t rooted in a love story. I want to be clear: being a feminist is not about one sex overpowering the other. It is about equality. As a director, I do not see my work as simply a means of entertainment. I see film as a medium that can start a conversation.
My thesis film aims to tell a story from a woman’s perspective. It is based on a close friend’s experience. Wren had spontaneously called me up with news that she was in the city. So naturally, we decided to catch up over a ten-dollar bottle of wine. Two glasses deep, we ended the small talk and dug into the hurdles we each encountered over the years. Nearly two decades worth of friendship gave us this freedom of vulnerability.
During her sophomore year of college, Wren sought help for her depression at her university’s health center, and was sent to the nearest psychiatric facility, to a nearby public psychiatric hospital that was different from the private psychiatric rehabilitation center they had originally promised her. By the time she realized she was at the wrong facility, it was too late. She had already signed the forms.
There is often a stigma attached to mental illness that results in the topic being brushed under the rug and ignored. We want to help raise awareness to the under-funded wards and the fact that mental health is constantly being put on the back-burner. There are millions of Americans who cannot afford proper mental health treatment (such as a therapist or a private psychiatric hospital) and go to public psych wards to seek help, yet cannot get the adequate services their mental illness requires.
She is not a heroine, but a mixture of vulnerability, strength, and uncertainty. "I want [female chracters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad- human. Basically." Natalie Portman says in a 2013 interview with Elle UK. "The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you're making a 'Feminist' story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That's not feminist, that's macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can emphatize with."
Therefore, telling women’s stories is necessary to inspire the younger generation. That’s where we start to level the playing field. Empowering both sexes is about equality. That means, creating an environment where, no matter your gender, you have the same opportunities, where a person is able to choose their role rather than their anatomy choosing it for them.
Driving down the highway from New Orleans to Jackson, we had 114 long miles to go. Yet, the heat somehow cooled my veins, putting me at ease. Our box truck was several cars ahead of us, and I could feel all the pieces assembling as we moved toward set. Local New Orleans hires, an actor from Texas, a gaffer from Los Angeles, and the team we had brought with us from New York, were all uniting in a small Louisiana town of around 4,000 people. No one was getting paid, except in meals and crafty abound with Little Bites. It was my passion project that became theirs as well. In a country that currently feels so divided, it was beautiful to see a cast and crew working in such harmony. Through our collaboration, we had a voice. Our next step, is getting it heard.
I pressed my foot against the gas pedal. Although the highway stretched out in front of us another 100 miles, I felt my muscles relaxing as we headed in the right direction.
Charlotte Manning is a writer, director, and actor born and raised in Los Angeles, California. A recent grad from NYU, her latest work ``Hello, My Friend`` is the true story of her best friend's experiences with mental health and hospitalization. Through co-writing and directing this project she hopes to tell accurate, honest stories of women and continue to challenge herself creatively.