The Stories behind the Women: A Screening with Director Amy Adrion

“The women behind the camera, the stories behind the women.” Half the Picture by Amy Adrion

Director Amy Adrion’s documentary Half the Picture was screened at John Cabot University on December 3, 2019. Organized by the JCU Department of Communications and the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs, the screening was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Communications Professor Erika Tasini. The documentary, which is Adrion’s debut feature, celebrates the work of female film directors and investigates the discrimination against women in Hollywood through a series of interviews.

Half the Picture by Amy Adrion

Half the Picture by Amy Adrion

According to the documentary, over the last 10 years, top grossing films had a total of 1114 directors. Of these, 1069 were male, while only 45 were female. In the United States, minority women make up 19.8% of the population, and only .006% of them are feature film directors.

Among the female directors that Adrion interviewed are Ava DuVernay, Penelope Spheeris, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Lena Dunham and Catherine Hardwicke. The interviewees discussed their careers and the challenges of being a woman in the film industry. “There’s so much in the culture that’s quietly telling women that their stories don’t matter” said Lena Dunham in her interview. In 2018, Ava DuVernay became the first African-American woman to direct a $100 million blockbuster with the science fantasy adventure film A Wrinkle in Time.

Other interviewees include gender inequality experts, such as Melissa Goodman, Director of Advocacy at the American Civil Liberties Union; Caroline Libresco, former senior programmer at the Sundance Film Festival; Rebecca Keegan, Hollywood correspondent for Vanity Fair; Dr. Stacy Smith from the University of Southern California and Dr. Martha Lauzen from San Diego State University.

The issues discussed in the documentary ranged from the difficulties that female directors face when they try to get hired, even after having directed a high-grossing movie, to how women in the industry can help and empower each other. One way for women to do that would be to give other women the opportunity to work and show their talent.

In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the discrimination against women in the film industry with a letter published by the New York Times. The letter argued that “qualified women directors face a systemic pattern and practice of discrimination and exclusion from directing film and television.” In the 90 year history of the Academy Awards there have been 442 nominees in the directing category. Only five have been women. Only one woman has won, Kathryn Bigelow. In February 2017, the entertainment industry publication Deadline reported that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued discrimination charges against all the major studios. Settlement negotiations are ongoing.

Half the Picture is dedicated to female directors from early cinema to today.

Director and writer Amy Adrion holds a Film Directing MFA from UCLA. Her work has been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals (SXSW), the Tribeca Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival, and it has also been broadcast on PBS and MTV. Adrion has won numerous awards, including an Impact Award at the Sarasota Film Festival and a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Student Film Award. Adrion’s future projects include a coming-of-age story about a high school’s girls basketball team, and a feminist Western about a crew of rebellious women in the Old West.