On the surface “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “The Darkest Minds” couldn’t be more different. One is an action-comedy about best friends (Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon) who become embroiled in international espionage. The other is a sci-fi drama that sees Amandla Stenberg leading a resistance against a dystopian regime that considers children and teens a threat due to their supernatural abilities.
But looks can be deceiving. “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “The Darkest Minds” actually do have something very important in common: they are both studio films directed by a woman. The former is from Susanna Fogel and Lionsgate, the latter from Jennifer Yuh Nelson and 20th Century Fox.
They’re the only studio films directed by women being released this summer — and they’re both opening tomorrow, August 3.
This is unfortunate, not least because so few women get the opportunity to helm studio films. According to research from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Warner Bros. released 12 movies from female filmmakers — more than any other studio — from 2007 to 2017. It released 190 films overall, meaning women directed just 6.3 percent of their overall slate. The studios with the lowest number of women-directed films during that time period were Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate, which each put out three women-helmed features, amounting to 2.6 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.
So, the chances of women taking the reins on a studio pic are slim, to say the least. As Annenberg research has shown, female filmmakers face a “fiscal cliff” in their careers. Women represented 27.5 percent of narrative independent film directors from 2007 to 2017, but just four percent of top-grossing feature directors. In other words, the bigger the directing job, the less likely it is a woman will be hired to do it.
As is usually the case, the problem is compounded for female filmmakers of color. Of the 1,100 top films from 2007 to 2017, there were 43 unique women directors. Four of them were black, two were Asian, and one was Latina.
So, yeah, women-made studio projects — WOC-directed fare in particular — are the exception, definitely not the rule.
Considering the dismal number of women directing studio films — or, hell, any films at all — it’s frustrating that “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “The Darkest Minds” are coming up against each other this weekend. The one perk of there being so few women-helmed studio movies is that there’s more than enough room on the schedule for each to get its own premiere date.
It’s a big deal that Fogel and Yuh Nelson made these movies. Fogel avoided the fiscal cliff, successfully shifting from indie filmmaking (“Life Partners”) and TV directing to a star-studded studio comedy. And “Darkest Minds” marks Yuh Nelson’s live-action debut. She previously directed box office smash “Kung Fu Panda 2” and co-directed “Kung Fu Panda 3.” She’s also one of the two Asian women who helmed a top-grossing film between 2007 and 2017. Plus, it bears repeating: They are the only women in this sausage fest of a studio movie season. It just seems wrong for them to be in direct competition.
Of course, the “Spy Who Dumped Me” v. “Darkest Minds” situation just underlines the severe behind-the-camera gender gap. More women directors need to be hired on studio films. More women directors need to be hired, period. Hollywood should put out enough female-helmed studio pics that it’s nothing special when two open on the same weekend. But, until we live in that world, it would be nice if we could avoid forcing the only women-made movies to go toe-to-toe.