10 Films Directed By Female Filmmakers You Can’t Miss This Summer Season

From films that will make you pass out to documentaries that will make you want to stand up and cheer, this season offers a wide variety of female-directed features.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

This week, IndieWire will be rolling out our annual Summer Preview, including offerings that span genres, niche offerings for dedicated fans, a closer look at festival favorites finally headed to a theater near you, and plenty of special attention to all the new movies you need to get through a jam-packed summer movie-going season. Check back throughout the week for a new look at the best the season has to offer, and clear your schedule, because we’re going to fill it right up.

Today — a selection of features directed (or co-directed) by female filmmakers to get excited about seeing, including works from rising stars, indie favorites, and more.

Read More: Check out our entire Summer Preview right here

“RBG,” May 4


When she was growing up, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s beloved mother Celia gave her two lessons to guide her through life: “Be a lady” and “Be independent.” That two-pronged approach appears to have influenced every aspect of the Supreme Court justice’s life, both personal and political. In Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s wide-ranging “RBG,” Ginsburg’s life — and its many lessons, both learned and taught — come to entertaining and energetic life. It’s a fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing documentary that makes one heck of a play to remind people of Ginsburg’s vitality and importance, now more than ever. “RBG” serves as a compelling Ginsburg primer, and West and Cohen are understandably interested in driving home just how fully she fought back sexism at every stage of her professional life, from her experience at Harvard Law to her first steps into full-time work to her Supreme Court appointment. Yet it’s the insights into her personal life that feel the most vital, moving “RBG” beyond the kind of information you could read on a Wikipedia page (as ably and entertainingly rendered as they may be on the big screen). -KE

“Revenge,” May 11


Coralie Fargeat’s aptly-named feature film debut follows Matilda Lutz as Jen, initially drawn as a shy wallflower who is desperate to be loved (especially by her boyfriend, played by Kevin Jannsens), who is pushed to wild extremes when she’s violated by the man she loves and his loutish group of friends who unexpectedly descend upon what was meant to be a quiet weekend away. Jen’s rage is complete — and complex — and the heavily genre-influenced film finds both its fun and shock value in her sudden evolution into a badass final girl for the ages. How shocking is it? It made at least one TIFF attendee faintAt least one! -KE

“Set It Up,” June 15

Rom-coms might not be getting as much love as they used to in the theatrical space — and, really, who doesn’t like watching two people fall in love on the big screen, aided by misunderstandings and high jinks and mix-ups and a Top 40-friendly soundtrack? — but Netflix hasn’t shied away from the format in the slightest. Its latest funny, sexy outing sounds like a throwback to rom-coms from the early aughts, and we mean that entirely as a compliment. Directed by Claire Scanlon (“Hello Ladies!” and “The Office”) and written by Katie Silberman (who also penned Olivia Wilde’s upcoming feature directorial debut, “Booksmart”), the film reteams “Everybody Wants Some!” stars Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glenn Powell) as a pair of overworked personal assistants whose lives are ruled (and sometimes ruined) by their demanding bosses. They hit upon a banger of an idea — what if they set up their bosses, sending them off on a romance that will eat up tons of free time — but we’re guessing that they might just find some big love along the way. -KE

“Boundaries,” June 22

boundaries plummer


“Country Strong” director Shana Feste returns with a very funny, very personal slice of life that’s, well, sliced right from her own life. Vera Farmigia is on board as the Feste-surrogate, who is forced to embark on a wacky road trip with her drug dealer dad (Christopher Plummer) that offers up both big laughs and heartwarming emotional revelations. The film also features “A Monster Calls” breakout Lewis MacDougall as Farmigia’s son, assuring the film can at least boast one of the best on-screen families the summer has to offer. The film debuted at SXSW, where our Eric Kohn wrote that “it’s rewarding enough to hang with these characters and roll with their mudslinging…its message of learning to love your relatives in spite of their flaws registering on a far simpler scale than the undercurrent of multi-generational resentment percolating throughout the story.” -KE

“Woman Walks Ahead,” June 29

Woman Walks Ahead

“Woman Walks Ahead”

It’s no less than Jessica Chastain who serves as the eponymous woman at the heart of Susanna White’s latest TIFF premiere (which will next screen at this month’s Tribeca Film Festival), a historical drama that follows the fascinating true story of portrait painter Caroline (also known as Catherine) Weldon (Chastain). The activist and artist dedicated her life to helping Native Americans, and in the summer of 1889, she decamped for Dakota Territory to live among the people she was so passionate about helping. White’s film is mostly occupied with chronicling Weldon’s friendship with Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) and how it eventually led to her painting his portrait and her closer involvement with the native people during a time of tremendous pain and pressure. At TIFF, our David Ehrlich wrote of Chastain’s full-bodied performance that “no contemporary American screen actress has more consistently — or more forcefully — used her platform to champion feminist ideals, and Chastain’s performance is a worthy addition to the cause. As portrayed here, Catherine is headstrong and full of heart; she’s a smart woman who’s been liberated from her late husband and refuses to ‘know her place.'” -KE

“Leave No Trace,” June 29

“Leave No Trace”

A new film from director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone,” “Stray Dog”) means something unexpected and thoughtfully crafted that you don’t want to miss. Granik once again welcomes audiences into the world of characters we don’t see on the big screen in a story of a father (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who happily live off-the-grid on the edge of Portland, Oregon, until their cover is blown and they are forced to journey into the wilderness. The last time Granik found a teenage actress to anchor her film it was Jennifer Lawrence, and early reviews indicated she has found another potential breakout talent with the New Zealand-born McKenzie. The film debuted at Sundance in January, and is now poised for a Cannes premiere, where Granik will screen it as part of the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight section. –CO

“Generation Wealth,” July 20

Not content to make just one insightful, heartbreaking, amusing, and shocking documentary about the inner workings of American wealth, “The Queen of Versailles” director Lauren Greenfield returns to the big screen with yet another candy-colored look inside everyday greed. For “Generation Wealth,” Greenfield turns her attention to a wide swath of American dreamers, many of them reaching far beyond their means to live up to some expectation of “luxury” and all its trappings. Greenfield has been working on the project for decades, and the final result is a far-reaching doc that examines not just the root and effects of greed on her countrymen, but around the world. It’s precise, eye-opening, and absolutely chilling. -KE

“Madeline’s Madeline,” August 10

“Madeline’s Madeline”

One of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century, Josephine Decker’s “Madeline’s Madeline” is an ecstatically disorienting experience that defines its terms right from the start and then obliterates any trace of traditional film language, achieving a cinematic aphasia that allows Decker to redraw the boundaries between the stories we tell and the people we tell them about. The story of a single mother Regina (the multi-talented Miranda July), her irrepressible teenage daughter Madeline (major newcomer Helena Howard), and the unspecified mental illness that drives a wedge between them when the latter joins an experimental theater troupe, this mesmeric tour de force claws at its premise with incredible precision, using. The result is an experimental movie with the emotional tug of a mainstream hit, a fragmented coming-of-age drama that explores the vast space between Jacques Rivette and Greta Gerwig in order to find something truly new and ineffably of its time. —DE

“Skate Kitchen,” August 10


“Skate Kitchen”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Ryan Parilla

When “The Wolfpack” played Sundance in 2015, it was one of the buzziest hits of the festival. One of those rare documentaries that proves truth is always stranger than fiction, the film made first-time director Crystal Moselle an instant indie superstar. Three years later, Moselle is making her narrative debut with “Skate Kitchen,” which follows a vibrant crew of girl skateboarders. Moselle casts many first-time actors, maintaining her hallmark authenticity and knack for highlighting real life characters. Variety’s review compared “Skate Kitchen” to the 1986 skater film “Thrashin’,” praising its “millennial, vérité spin” on an “an irresistible hangout movie.” Jaden Smith plays a supporting role, which is certain to draw the hip young set when “Skate Kitchen” hits theaters this summer. -JD

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” August 10

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Appropriate Behavior” filmmaker Desiree Akhavan returned to this year’s Sundance with a dramatic and timely new feature that speaks to her burgeoning talents behind the camera (good enough to win the Grand Jury Prize, after all). The drama is based on the Emily M. Danforth novel of the same name and follows the eponymous Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz, in one of her best roles ever) after she is caught engaging in sexual activity with her best female friend on prom night. Sent off to a gay conversion therapy center, Cameron must contend with the camp’s two very different heads — the strict Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who himself as been through the program, meant to “cure same sex attraction” — while also growing closer to fellow campers Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck). Akhavan has already shown her deft hand at taking complicated, complex matters of sexuality and family and turning them into rich, wily final products, and “Miseducation” only continues that trend in satisfying ways. -KE

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‘Mean Girls’ on Broadway Genuinely Embraces Its Feminism in Ways the Movie Never Did

Tina Fey’s new musical doubles down on one of the best jokes of the classic teen film, emerging with a timely (and very funny) feminist lesson.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

[Some spoilers for the “Mean Girls” musical ahead.]

There’s a great joke about feminism in Mark Waters’ high-school comedy classic “Mean Girls,” smashed into a key dramatic exchange. Newbie Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), deep in her first invite-only lunch with the so-called Plastics, is pumped for information by the notoriously gossip-obsessed Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert). Breathlessly, Gretchen asks Cady if she’s seen any cute boys at North Shore High yet, and when Cady tells her she’s got her eye on Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett), Gretchen is overcome.

Turns out, Aaron is the ex-boyfriend of Regina George (Rachel McAdams), queen of the Plastics, and that’s just not okay. He’s off-limits, girls don’t date their friends’ ex-boyfriends. In Gretchen’s own words, that’s “just the rules of feminism.”

“Mean Girls” isn’t overtly about feminism (it’s mostly about just being a good person, a lesson for everyone), and Gretchen’s hilarious misunderstanding of its rules is one of the few loud-and-proud nods to the concept of equality between the sexes that pops up in the Tina Fey–penned comedy. That’s not to say that the film isn’t one rife with feminist ideals and concepts, including lessons about loving yourself (both your body and your brain), while also loving others (see: Fey in character as Ms. Norbury imploring her high-school students to “stop calling each other sluts and whores”). It’s essentially “The Golden Rule: The Movie,” told through the distinct lens of life in the American high school (and, yes, it holds up).

The film’s charms and lessons have now been translated into a slightly modernized Broadway musical — the influence of social media, not a big concern when the film was made in 2004, takes on a much more important role — which offers up the same story with an unexpectedly more heartwarming message, one that also includes a deeper and more genuine understanding of feminism. Whereas the film poked some amusing holes in misconceptions about feminism (no, Gretchen, those are not the rules of feminism, but good on you for trying) through its lunchtime joke, the musical (also written by Fey) doubles down on that kind of gag before delivering a timely and necessary lesson about what it actually means to believe in equality and self-determination.

Fey’s musical includes a number of jokes lifted from her screenplay (most of them favorites, from Damian-issued cracks about Danny DeVito and pink polos to a few choice Janis Ian chestnuts), including a Gretchen’s “rules of feminism” line, which is lifted verbatim and set inside a slightly different setting (Regina’s bedroom, not the lunchroom). It lands the exact same way as it does in the film — a clever nod to how poorly Gretchen understands what she’s talking about, using the character as a stand-in for scads of other people who also don’t know the real definition of the term but feel comfortable tossing it off in casual conversation.

The joke is told in a similar fashion later in the musical, during a banger of a song-and-dance number from Karen Smith called “Sexy” that visualizes Karen’s dream universe: one with world peace and in which Halloween is celebrated every day. Waters’ film has a lot of fun when it comes to upbraiding the trend of modern Halloween costumes to play into sexuality in deeply strange ways — “I’m a sexy mouse!” — but the musical spins it off into an entire sequence. Karen’s wish is to live in a world where she can “dress up and dream big, / Disguised as someone else who is not me, / But is still hot!”

She’s surrounded by other ladies who seem to harbor the same desire, including sexy corn, sexy Eleanor Roosevelt, sexy Rosa Parks, and a sexy doctor (hellbent on curing “sexy cancer”). Karen sings, “This is modern feminism talkin’: I expect to run the world / In shoes I can be / …And sex, sex, sexy!” As was the case in the film, Karen’s worldview is heavily informed by the expectations put on her by the world around her. She’s a sexy mouse because that’s what everyone else is doing, what everyone else expects.

Mean GirlsAugust Wilson Theater Cast Cady Heron Erika Henningsen Regina George Taylor Louderman Gretchen Wieners Ashley Park Karen Smith Kate Rockwell Janis Sarkisian Barrett Wilbert Weed Damian Hubbard Grey Henson Ms. Norbury Kerry Butler Aaron Samuels Kyle Selig Kevin Gnapoor Cheech Manohar Mr. Duvall Rick Younger Creative Music Jeff Richmond Lyrics Nell Benjamin Book Tina Fey Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw Set Designer Scott Pask Costume Designer Gregg Barnes Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner Sound Designer Brian Ronan Video Designers Finn Ross and Adam Young Orchestrations John Clancy Musical Director Mary Mitchell Campbell

“Mean Girls”

Joan Marcus

And yet the joke has a canny stinger: later in the musical, Karen reasserts that she’s wearing what she wants to wear (albeit, topped off with a vest that Regina used to hate). “I’ll wear what I want, which is what I have on / And a vest!,” she sings. Maybe Karen does want to wear what she’s already wearing and still be herself while doing it. That’s a feminist lesson that the movie never quite got up the nerve to teach. So much of the film and the musical is about how Cady changes her outward appearance to better fit in with her new friends, and how that’s the wrong move for her. Karen’s “Sexy” song-and-dance gives her the space to get honest about what she wants, how she wants to express herself, and why it’s the right choice for her. And a vest!

“Mean Girls” the musical eventually moves towards the kind of feel-good conclusion that Waters’ film mostly avoids. While the film ends with everyone in a state of hard-won peace and equanimity (they’re essentially enjoying a high school–set armistice), Fey’s musical opts for super-happy-fun close that hinges on Cady and Regina moving towards something like friendship, or at the least actual understanding. And they get there by exploring the necessity of feminism in modern society (no, really).

In the musical’s big final scene, Cady confronts Regina — sporting one hell of a halo brace, thanks to injuries sustained after she gets plowed into by a school bus — at North Shore’s swanky Spring Fling dance. Regina is a little loopy on pain meds, but she’s also had to come to terms with how she treats people, and how that pushed Cady, Janis, and Damian to shove her out of power. And yet she has a strong message for Cady, the final feminist lesson of both “Mean Girls” the film and the musical.

“I know I have to change. I know I was harsh. And people say I’m a bitch,” Regina says. “But you know what they would call me if I was a boy?” Cady cuts in: “Strong?” The moment is cut with another joke, as a drugged-up Regina cracks, “‘Reginald.’ That’s what my mom was gonna name me if I was a boy, so honestly I’d rather be ‘bitch.'”

But the scene doesn’t end with that (very good) joke, because Cady goes back for one more apology, which Regina answers in the best way possible, by imploring Cady to stand up for herself, be true to what she wants, and never be sorry for striving for anything. “Don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault,” Regina tells Cady. “And never apologize for being a boss.”

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‘Blockers’: How Kay Cannon Made a Raunchy, R-Rated Sex-Positive Comedy for Teenage Girls

The “Pitch Perfect” alum combined years of experience to make a very funny directorial debut. Here, she shares her tips of the trade.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

The elevator pitch for “Blockers” works pretty well: it’s “Porky’s” for the #MeToo era, “American Pie” with a feminine twist, “Superbad” for parents. But even those easy designations don’t quite capture the dizzy joy of Kay Cannon’s directorial debut. Initially called “The Pact,” the sex-positive sex comedy follows a trio of life-long best friends as they embark on the classic cinematic quest to lose their virginity on prom night. The time, however, the BFFs at the film’s center are all girls (this is a genre that mostly focuses on teen boys, after all), and their plan to take the next step is hampered by their overbearing parents.

The film may be Cannon’s directing credit, but it’s a natural fit for a comedian who first got her start in Chicago’s hopping improv scene, before heading to television with “30 Rock” under the wing of Tina Fey and breaking into film by turning a nonfiction novel about college a cappella groups into a three-film smash hit series (Cannon wrote all three “Pitch Perfect” films). Her comedy has always been smart and female-focused, and “Blockers” is a natural extension of her craft, and one that arrives at a canny time in the cultural conversation.

Above all else, “Blockers” has been welcomed since its raucous SXSW debut because the comedy hits its mark. Cannon maintains a tricky balance by focusing on teen girls, exploring modern questions of consent, while keeping the material raunchy enough to earn its R-rating. Here’s how she did it.

1. Writing Comedy is Great Training for Directing It

Cannon’s background in comedy writing might have served her well when it came time to make the jump to scripted television, but she was initially trepidatious about moving into directing. “I’m such a school person, and I didn’t go to to film school, so there was a part of me that was like, ‘I have an English degree, so writing doesn’t seem that far-fetched,’ but I was really like, ‘If I didn’t go to school for it, I couldn’t possibly do it!,'” she said. “And then you learn, of course you can! There’s not some hidden language. If there’s something you don’t understand, you just ask.”

Over the course of six seasons at “30 Rock,” Cannon moved up from story editor to writer and producer, picking up plenty of hardware along the way, including three WGA Awards, a Peabody, and an Emmy nod. She even appeared in a handful of episodes, most notably as “Human Table” in the 2007 “Ludachristmas” episode. Still, Cannon never directed an episode of the beloved comedy.

“At the end of my run at ’30 Rock,’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’d love to direct an episode,’ but at that time, I was too chicken to ever ask,” she said. “And then I had lunch with [co-founder] Nathan Kahane at Good Universe, and he was like, ‘Aren’t you tired of other people directing your material? Aren’t you ready to direct?’ and I was like, ‘Hey, yeah, I am ready to direct!'”

Cannon expected that her first foray into directing would be something on the small screen, a possibility that seemed much more feasible than jumping into a movie, let alone a studio project. She needed one more push to get to that point.

“I wanted to direct, but I thought the first thing I would direct would be a television show,” Cannon said. “I didn’t think my directorial debut would be a big studio movie. But, luckily, Good Universe and Point Grey felt like I was the right person to do it, so they offered it to me. I’d never been offered [something like this].”

The Pact


Quantrell D. Colbert

With “Blockers” under her belt, Cannon is still cautiously approaching the next step in her career, but she’s already realized that getting honest with herself about what she really wanted to do professionally was the first step into what became her journey to making her directorial debut. That’s not going to stop now.

“I think the next challenge for me would be to write something and then direct the thing that I write,” Cannon said, “which I obviously have’t done before. But I’m really big into collaborating, so I find it a little scary to me. I’ve got to embrace that fear.”

2. Every Attempt to Write a Joke is a Lesson

Although Cannon never directed an episode of “30 Rock,” she looks back on her time with the series as a huge turning point in her career. It served as her own mini film school. Many of the lessons she honed writing on the series helped her to make “Blockers,” even if the creative processes were very different.

“My joke-writing got much better,” Cannon said. “Like how to write really solid jokes, sharper jokes, different kind of of joke structures. I learned story, how to tell a story, from being in television. In ‘Blockers,’ I have eight storylines, that really helped me a lot in terms of story structure. Just how to orchestrate that, how to put that all together.”

The time crunch of writing a weekly television series also had an unexpected corollary in the movie-making world: even there, some changes had to come on a dime. “I also learned how to write fast, which really helped me with directing, because I was able to look at a scene and if a scene wasn’t working, I was able to go back and write it or figure out what it was I needed in that scene,” she said.

3. Work With What You Know

Cannon is not a credited screenwriter on the film, but she did a lot of work on the script written by brothers Brian and Jim Kehoe, who she credits for building out a clever twist on the genre. “The Kehoe brothers had such a great idea, this antiquated idea that I felt like I could put a modern spin on, and explore why does it still exist,” she said. “Why are we still being so prudish about young women and their sexuality?”

Moviegoers tend to be surprised that two dudes wrote the film — when the credits came up during my screening, an audience member behind me actually said, “two dudes wrote this?” — and that’s both a credit to them and Cannon’s own ability to inject her personal experience into it.

“Pitch Perfect 2”

“I’m the parent of a daughter, and I was teenage girl, and I was like, ‘I think I can do this,'” she said. “I felt like I had a take, and I could imagine how I want to do the story.”

Cannon made a number of tweaks to better suit her own point of view — for one thing, the original script chronicled three fathers attempting to stop their daughters from completing their sex pact, and Cannon had the idea to change one of them to be a mom (Leslie Mann, who joins John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as the other parents), just like her.

She also harkened back to her own experience growing up to round out the girls. “I did a lot of work on the script, along with a lot of other people who worked on it, but what I felt like I brought to the table that wasn’t in the script that I read was the heart and the emotion, the real specificity to the daughters,” she said.

4. Embrace the Present

Another big change that Cannon added: that one of the girls would be dealing with her sexuality in the middle of her friends’ giddy excitement over the pact. While Julie (Kathryn Newton) is excited to lose her virginity to a boyfriend she really likes (and who treats her well) and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) is pumped about taking the reins of a big-time life experience, Sam (Gideon Adlon) decides to use the pact as a way to finally test if she’s actually attracted to guys.

“I wanted to tell a story where it wasn’t about parents being disapproving of her sexuality, but that she was struggling with it herself,” Cannon said. “In trying to decide each issue the girls individually had, I was like, ‘What are young women in high school dealing with right now? And how are they dealing with it?’ So there’s a lot of thought put into making Sam kinda nerdy, a little bit maybe different than the other two.”

It’s a modern twist on the genre, but it’s also one that’s done with a sweet edge. Sam may be struggling, but it becomes evident early on that her father Hunter (Barinholtz) knows exactly going on, and just wants his daughter to be happy. While Sam’s storyline is about her coming out, Kayla’s centers on a desire to break out of her shell and embrace her own desires. For Cannon, that meant making it clear that Kayla was a consenting young adult fully in control of her choices.

The Pact


Quantrell D. Colbert

“Consent was really important for me,” Cannon said. “Before Kayla has a sip of alcohol, she is saying, ‘I want to have sex tonight.’ It was crucial. I think we have to address what’s happening now. I shot this before #MeToo and Time’s Up, but all these things that I’d be thinking about, that the other filmmakers had been thinking about, all were important and had been important forever.”

“Blockers” also never stops poking fun at its seemingly retrograde plot, one that sees a bunch of parents trying to control what their daughters are doing. Barinholtz’s character Hunter becomes the unexpected voice of reason when Lisa (Mann) and Mitchell (Cena) really get out of control. Later, Lisa faces off with Kayla’s mom Marcie (Sarayu Blue), who gives even stronger voice to the concept that the teens should be allowed to make their own choices.

“I’ve seen some criticisms that the movie is a little too preachy and never stops reminding us [about these issues], but at the same time, I feel like if it didn’t exist, people would be like, ‘Why are they doing this? This is nuts, it’s 2018,'” Cannon said. “I’ll take the criticism, because I think it’s important.”

5. When in Doubt, Look to the Movies

Cannon’s own cinematic influences are all over the film (consider Julie’s poster-plastered room, which also includes a “Pitch Perfect” poster there). Above all, “Blockers” includes some big nods to John Hughes (she even moved the film’s setting to Chicago). “I’m a huge John Hughes fan and I re-watched ‘Pretty in Pink’ before I shot,” she said. “I loved how the prom in ‘Pretty in Pink’ was shot, so I just got inspired by that.”

Another director helped guide one of the stickier scenes in the film, a gross-out sequence in which one of the teens gets violently ill while riding in a limo. “When I was in post-production, the puking sequence? That used to be like five times longer,” Cannon said. “It was a whole thing, and it wasn’t working. [Test] audiences were just like, ‘Oh, it’s gross.’ I kept cutting it down and cutting it down, and I was like, ‘How am I going to get this to work?’ And then I went and saw ‘Baby Driver.'”

She snapped her fingers, remembering the lightbulb moment. “I’m gonna put it to music! Thank you, Edgar Wright,” she said. “I wanted to try to do different things, like it just didn’t feel like people talking and telling jokes, even though it’s a very talky movie, I wanted to get jokes from different ways, like the ways that Edgar does.”

“Blockers” opens theatrically on Friday, April 6.

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As Cameron Diaz Announces Her Retirement, Her Contributions to Women in Comedy Can’t Be Overstated

What made Diaz exceptional as a comedic lead was her generosity as a performer, not just to the material but to her fellow actors, especially when those other performers were other women.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

Consider it official: Cameron Diaz is, in her own words, “actually retired.” The actress’ “Sweetest Thing” co-star Selma Blair made waves earlier this month when she tweeted that her pal had retired from the acting business, a note she later retracted, only for it to be confirmed by Diaz when the actresses (alongside fellow “Sweetest Thing” star Christina Applegate) reunited to chat about their raunchy 2002 feature. Diaz out.

Asked by Entertainment Weekly if the trio has reunited since filming the feature, the actresses were honest: No, but maybe they should. It also gave Diaz the chance to set the record straight on her retirement status, as she chimed in after Applegate joked that she was “semi-retired,” saying, “I’m totally down. I’m semi-retired, too, and I am actually retired, so I would love to see you ladies.” (And no, Diaz didn’t say she was “totally down” to film some kind of reunion with the ladies, perhaps even a “Sweetest Thing” sequel, though it doesn’t hurt to dream.)

Diaz had plenty of time to shine in two decades on the big screen, but it’s her comedic contributions that deserve the most attention. What made Diaz exceptional was her generosity as a performer — not just to the material, but to her fellow actors, especially when they were other women. Diaz’s two best-known roles, comedic or otherwise, will always be “The Mask” (her first movie, somehow) and “There’s Something About Mary,” but her resume is filled with other features that showed off her desire to not just be funny, but to be be funny alongside other funny women. (Although nothing will ever top her work in “Mary” — the pinnacle of on-screen giving, all for a great joke.)

Diaz was no stranger to big-budget, low-IQ studio comedies, including the double-barreled misfires of “Bad Teacher” and “Sex Tape.” She even did her time in one of those awful movies inspired by a self-help book (“What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” which arrived in theaters at the tail end of a terrible trend). Her resume is also peppered with massive blockbusters (the “Shrek” franchise alone has made over a billion dollars at the box office) and the odd drama (she’s the low-key MVP of Nick Cassavetes’ heartbreaker “My Sister’s Keeper”).

Moreover, Diaz always seemed interested in working with auteurs of all stripes (Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” Richard Kelly’s “The Box,” Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” — and the bizarre misfire of Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor”). No, her turn in “Gangs of New York” wasn’t good, but in a career marked by underappreciated versatility, it’s still a role that stands as the greatest signifier that Diaz really wanted to do different things, and not just say she did.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Glenn Watson/20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5883143q) Cameron Diaz There's Something About Mary - 1998 Director: Peter Farrelly / Bobby Farrelly 20th Century Fox USA Scene Still Comedy Mary à tout prix

“There’s Something About Mary”

Glenn Watson/20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

It’s both appropriate and heartbreaking that the attention now paid to Diaz’s career comes with the econsideration of her 2002 comedy “The Sweetest Thing,” which features not just one of Diaz’s best performances, but also displays her ability to bolster the comedic skills of the women around her, including Blair and Applegate (who are also career-best in the raunchy comedy). The dirty twist on the rom-com formula is an early-aughts predecessor to “Bridesmaids” and “Girls Trip” (and, when it opens next week, audiences will find plenty of the film’s DNA in Kay Cannon’s “Blockers”), a heartwarming film with a key subplot that hinges on a (very vivid) bathroom-stall glory hole.

“The Sweetest Thing” is about as out-there as a studio comedy can get. (The IMDb parents’ guide for the film is a real corker.) Its tagline — “A romantic comedy without the sugar” — is on point, but that’s not to say it’s a film without sweetness. Although its storyline concerns Diaz’s character, Christina, attempting to reunite with the guy of her dreams (Thomas Jane), the real heart is Christina’s relationship with best pals Courtney (Applegate) and Jane (Blair). Each of them endures different sorts of romantic indignities, but they rally around Christina in hopes of making her dreams come true. Like the film itself, the trio of talents is better than the sum of their parts.

Diaz also brought girl-powered comedic drive to the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise with Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu. The two action-comedy films were hits (and are soon to be rebooted), and made a contemporary case for the viability of female-led features that work because they have so many different women in them.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Darren Michaels/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885922an) Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore Charlie's Angels - Full Throttle - 2003 Director: McG Columbia USA Scene Still Action/Comedy Charlie's angels - les anges se déchaînent

“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”

Darren Michaels/Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

With the first “Charlie’s Angels” in 2000, Diaz was the first-billed star (then Barrymore, then Liu), and while she (much like in “The Sweetest Thing”) is the ostensible lead, there is always space for the other actresses to excel. The Angels are united in their love of crime-fighting, justice, and working for a weird guy they never meet, but their friendship is what helps them succeed in their ass-kicking endeavors. (Diaz and Barrymore are still best friends.)

Later in her career, Diaz turned her attentions to the rom-com requisite of a Nancy Meyers movie. While Meyers’ “The Holiday” was a two-hander that took place on two coasts, with Diaz and Kate Winslet playing strangers who house-swap in London and Los Angeles, the pair bonds over instant message and a very weird series of phone calls, creatinga unique kind of (literally telegraphed) physical comedy that in some ways echoes a good “I Love Lucy” bit.

The film, of course, has a happy ending, but what might be most moving isn’t that Diaz’s Amanda has snagged a great new dude (Jude Law, as Winslet’s brother) just in time to ring in the New Year alongside Winslet’s Iris and her new beau (Amanda’s own friend, played by Jack Black), but that they all do it together. “The Holiday” concludes with the four of them around a Christmas tree, with a new friendship blossoming between Amanda and Iris. It’s a friendship comedy crammed inside a rom-com, like the most festive of turduckens (where is that spinoff?).

Even outliers like 2014’s “The Other Woman” (essentially a reboot of “John Tucker Must Die,” moved from high school to Manhattan) gave Diaz the chance to yuk it up alongside other talented women, including Leslie Mann and Kate Upton. The trio star as very different women who discover they’re all in love with the same man, and set out to make his life a living hell. But despite that seemingly retrograde concept, the Cassavetes film comes with a twist: the best part of their revenge is bonding with each other. Wacky hijinks aside, the film finds its footing by focusing on their friendship and how it changes them in surprising ways.

It doesn’t hurt that Diaz and Mann display a canny comedic chemistry (that we never got to see them star in a real buddy comedy is a cruel side effect of Diaz’s retirement). Their best moments see the pair playing off each other, bolstered by unexpected physical humor.

Who could have seen that coming? Turns out, anyone who observed Diaz’s girl-powered career.

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‘Tomb Raider’ Shows That Hollywood Is Finally Figuring Out How to Dress Female Action Heroes

From Lara Croft to Wonder Woman, we finally have outfits that befit the demands of being an on-screen badass.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

When a first-look image of Karen Gillan in costume arrived online last September for her role in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” the adventure film was blasted for dressing her in tiny shorts and a bare midriff while her all-male co-stars sported more practical duds. At the time, Gillan tweeted, “Yes I’m wearing child-sized clothes and YES there is a reason! The pay off is worth it.”

When the film finally arrived last fall, Gillan’s promise proved out. As Martha, she plays an awkward teen who gets tossed into a video game with a pack of her high school brethren, and must fight her way out. The character of Martha is also played by Morgan Turner, said awkward teen who turns into the video game avatar Ruby Roundhouse when she enters the “Jumanji” game. That’s Gillan: an old-school video game character outfitted in a purposely ludicrous get-up. It’s the first thing her avatar comments on, and her unease with the outfit is apparent throughout the film.

As she told IndieWire, “My character is not happy about it, and she’s a really interesting, introverted girl, but in the body of a warrior woman. It’s about her learning how to inhabit that and dealing with this ridiculous costume. Everything that anyone’s been saying about the costume is exactly what the character is saying about the costume.”

"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle"

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

That meta costume choice represented the delightfully tongue-in-cheek nature of the film, but it also shone a light on one of the action genre’s most pervasive problems: outfitting leading ladies in stupid costumes, most of them meant to play up sex appeal over anything resembling functionality. However, Hollywood appears to finally realize that even costumes are primed for evolution.

This week’s video game adaptation is the “Tomb Raider” reboot, with Alicia Vikander is the revamped Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie’s Lara often sported very small, very tight shorts — hardly practical for a top-ranked jungle-hacking tomb raider, but it was the look favored by the character in the original video games.

However, the new “Tomb Raider” film is mostly based on the game’s 2013 reboot, and Vikander’s character’s costume reflects the new Lara. Her updated look now features a gray tank top with long cargo pants. Sensible pants! What an idea! The film features a series of outfits appropriate for Croft’s rough-and-tumble lifestyle, one that includes boxing for fun and bike messengering for money. She looks great, but she also looks like she’s not going to get road rash or die if she brushes against a poisonous plant.

No one goes to action movies for their veracity, but costumes that even look like they could survive the odd plane crash, shipwreck, and tomb-set battle sequence go a long way toward selling a story. Beyond that, moving away from costumes designed to accentuate the assets of those wearing them — yes, usually women — sends the message that these movies are being made with a much bigger audience than adolescent boys.

“Wonder Woman”

Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” was populated by warrior women who sported looks befitting their place in the DC ecosystem as hardened soldiers. Stomachs were covered and boots were often tall, creating a look in service to movement, safety, and a firm nod to the Greek god who created them.

In Sharon Gosling’s book “Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film,” she devotes a number of chapters to the warrior costumes of Wonder Woman and her Amazon sisters. She even speaks to some of the training outfits, which do feature bare midriffs and a decidedly more relaxed overall feel — more cotton, less metal — and compares it to sportswear, the Themysciran version of workout pants.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther” feature female characters who ride into battle, and who dress the part. As former solider Valkyrie, “Ragnarok” star Tessa Thompson’s first look in the film is one that reflects her training as a member of Asgard’s super-tough, female-only force: lots of hardened leather, full-length pants, and boots designed for ass-kicking.

Later, she wears her full Valkyrie kit, one that includes full coverage, a ton of armor, and even a kicky cape. She looks great, but she also looks like someone who can get the job done without hurting herself.

Marvel Studios' THOR: RAGNAROK..Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

“Thor: Ragnarok”


The Valkyrie aren’t the MCU’s only all-female fighting force. When we meet their Wakandan counterparts in “Black Panther,” the Dora Milaje also wear tough, armored outfits that instantly telegraph who they are and what they’re made to do. They also tell a story about the women who wear them, a delightful one that further speaks to their importance in the narrative. For “Black Panther” costume designer Ruth Carter, that was top of mind.

“All those layers of their relationships are represented in the costumes,” Carter recently told IndieWire. “Mother/Queen, General/Girlfriend, Spy/Ex-Girlfriend, Sister/Genius. I think, in general, there’s a sense of royalty and esteem with the female uniforms. They have no past and we made them with a specific story in mind. It loops you into Wakanda … We covered the layers of women with their toughness and softness at the same time.”

In some cases, it’s an approach that’s literally coming from the bottom up. “Jurassic World” audiences were flummoxed by the heels that star Bryce Dallas Howard always wore, even while running for her life from dinosaurs. It was a sartorial choice that launched a thousand think pieces, but Howard herself told Cosmopolitan that she saw all the hubbub as a positive thing. “I feel really relieved at the amount of sensitivity that people have to women and women’s roles in films, particularly large films,” she said. “I did appreciate the fact that people wanted to ensure that it’s important for there to be female characters and roles where they do go on a journey and they aren’t just a function of the plot.”

The film’s sequel, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” is bound for release later this summer, and it will include at least one big change: Howard’s character is wearing some very sturdy combat boots.

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14 Movies From Female Filmmakers to See At SXSW, From ‘Fast Color’ to ‘Sadie’

At this year’s festival, 33% of all feature films are directed by women. Here are the ones we’re most excited to see.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

While Hollywood continues to struggle towards parity in the director’s chair, the film festival world is playing major catch-up. At this year’s SXSW Film Festival, the push towards parity is becoming more of a reality than ever before, as 33% of all feature films at the fest are directed by women, while the shorts section boasts 59% female directorship across its slate. It’s a stark difference to the studio side of the industry.

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s latest study, “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair? Gender, Race & Age of Directors across 1,000 films from 2007-2017,” found that, of the 109 film directors associated with the 100 top movies of 2017, 92.7 percent were male; 7.3 percent were female. Days later, the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film followed with the “Celluloid Ceiling” study, finding that women comprised just 18 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. That number remains mostly unchanged over the last two decades.

At SXSW, the landscape is very different. Below, we’ve picked out 14 titles from female filmmakers to check out at this year’s SXSW, and though our focus is on new premieres, the fest will also play home to a number of films that have screened elsewhere, including “The Rider,” “Half the Picture,” “Outside In,” and many more.


Initially titled “The Pact,” “Pitch Perfect” and “30 Rock” writer Kay Cannon will make her directorial debut with a film that sounds destined to enter the sex comedy hall of fame. Centered on a trio of parents who discover — much to their absolute horror — that their teen daughters have made a pact to lose their virginities on prom night, the comedy follows the group as they try to stop the plan from panning out, any way they can. The film stars Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Graham Phillips, June Diane Raphael, Hannibal Buress, and Sarayu Blue. Its first red-band trailer sells the high jinx, but also leans heavily into the bond between long-time pals (aww) along with plenty of deeply misunderstood teenspeak and Cena again proving his salt as a comedy MVP.

“Fast Color”

“Fast Color”

Julia Hart knows talent when she sees it. Her previous SXSW effort, the alternately daring and darling “Miss Stevens,” featured breakout parts for both Lily Rabe and a pre-“Call Me by Your Name” Timothee Chalamet, and her newest film features similarly great — emerging and reliably good — talents in front of the camera. Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in the film as a woman with supernatural (superhero?) abilities who is forced on the run, which sounds precisely like the kind of female-focused action vehicle that audiences are hungry to see. She’s joined by David Strathairn, Lorraine Toussaint, and Christopher Denham in a feature that just might pack some of the festival’s biggest surprises.


Another SXSW offering that packs one hell of a cast: Megan Griffiths’ very intriguing “Sadie,” which stars indie stalwarts like Melanie Lynskey and John Gallagher Jr. alongside “Lane 1974” breakout Sophia Mitri Schloss as the eponymous Sadie. The drama entangles the trio as Sadie struggles with her mother’s (Lynskey) relationship with a new man (Gallagher), as her beloved father is deployed in a war zone. Sadie’s tactics for ending the bond aren’t funny or silly — Sadie is no regular teen — and the film should speak to Griffiths’ ability to mine odd scenarios for maximum drama (think: “The Off Hours” or “Eden”) without hanging on tired tropes. 


“Country Strong” director Shana Feste returns to the big screen for her first film since her 2014 “Endless Love” remake with a story that puts family matters front and center over her usual romantic fare. The cast alone make it notable: Vera Farmigia and Christopher Plummer playing an estranged father and daughter, with “A Monster Calls” standout Lewis MacDougall on board as Farmigia’s cute kid. The film follows Farmigia and MacDougall when they’re drafted into uncomfortable service to Plummer’s character, tasked into driving him cross-country when he’s kicked out his nursing home. We’re guessing plenty of boundaries are going to be crossed along the way.

“First Match”

“First Match”

Eight years after making her award-winning short of the same name, filmmaker Olivia Newman has finally been able to turn her tale of a female high school wrestler into a full-length feature. The story follows young Monique (Elvire Emanuelle) as she prepares for her very first match, and is the first feature film to spotlight the little known community of urban, coed high school wrestling.

“The New Romantic”

Carly Stone makes her feature directing debut in what could be one of the buzziest films of the festival, if only because of its seemingly daring subject matter: it’s about sugar babies. Starring “The End of the F***ing World” breakout Jessica Barden, the film follows college student Blake who, understandably enough, is stymied by her future. Eager to get back into the good graces of her school newspaper and hoping to win a journalism prize, she plunges into the world of sex work. But what will Blake find as she goes deeper into her new endeavor? And, at some point, will this all stop being a “story” and become her actual life? And how will newbie Stone navigate that herself?


The appeal of “Paradox” is contained in the barest of facts: it’s a film written and directed by Daryl Hannah, starring Neil Young and Willie Nelson. What else do you need to know? (Maybe this: the SXSW website doesn’t even give a synopsis, just a note that it’s “a loud Poem. A whimsical western tale of music and love.”) It was recently picked up by Netflix.

“You Can Choose Your Family”

“Swiss Army Man” producer Miranda Bailey makes the jump to narrative directing with her feature-length debut, which sounds like the kind of black comedy that SXSW audiences are going to go positively nuts for (a guess we’re basing entirely on its unique plotline and a first look photo that amusingly hints at some major complications). Centered on shiftless 17-year-old Phillip, whose big dreams are hampered by his tough-talking dad (Jim Gaffigan). But this isn’t some run-of-the-mill coming-of-age angstfest, because while Phillip is struggling with his daddy issues, he discovers something entirely unexpected: his dad’s second family. Oopsie! Now who’s in charge?



Filmmaker Suzi Yoonessi’s darling feature debut, “Dear Lemon Lima,” hit the festival circuit back in 2007 without much notice — a damn shame, considering how sweet her slice of Wes Anderson-ian coming-of-age comedy was. Still, she’s kept reasonably busy, including a long stint directing the TV series “Relationship Status,” but she’s back in the feature fold — aided by indie poster boy Mark Duplass — with a compelling new film set to bow at the fest. Scripted by Duplass, Sarah Adina Smith, and Charlene deGuzman (who also stars in the film), “Unlovable” will likely benefit from Yooneesi’s ability to take tough, female-centric stories and render them with honesty and grace. DeGuzman stars in the film as Joy, a young woman grappling with her sex and love addiction, who finds unlikely friendship with both Melissa Leo and John Hawkes via a 12-step program. 

“Take Your Pills”

The latest from “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” director Alison Klayman, “Take Your Pills” offers the first feature-length analysis into the $13 billion industry of prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. Tracing the history of such drugs from their inception in the early 20th century to their current use by millions upon millions of kids and adults across the country (including kindergartners, Olympians, and presumably a good percentage of IndieWire readers), “Take Your Pills” promises to assess both the micro and macro effects of medicinal amphetamines. What do they do to our bodies when we use them, and what does it say about our culture so that so many people feel the need to abuse them? These are questions that we’re going to be grappling with for a long time, and questions that several generations of Americans have never been able to ask out loud. The film drops on Netflix just a week after its SXSW premiere. —David Ehrlich


Not much is known about Melanie Laurent’s latest directorial effort, but 2014’s “Breathe” proved the talented actress and singer to be just as brilliant behind the camera, and her involvement in another fraught thriller is more than enough to make it stand out from the rest of the SXSW lineup. Written by “True Detective” mastermind and Nic Pizzolatto (and based on his novel of the same name), “Galveston” stars Ben Foster as a hitman who’s on the run from his homicidal boss, and Elle Fanning as the young prostitute he takes with him to Texas. If nothing else, it sounds like a great double-bill with Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” (or Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” if you want to keep things in the spirit of this festival). But considering Laurent’s well-established talent for tension, and her eye for expressing character through landscape, we’re hoping that this story of two lost souls on the lam will be strong enough to stand on its own. —DE

“Wild Nights With Emily”

“Wild Nights With Emily”

The reclusive poet Emily Dickinson is an unconventional choice for a comedy subject, but not a surprising one coming from wildly inventive director Madeleine Olnek. For her third feature, Olnek cast Molly Shannon as the eccentric poet, relegated by history to the status of reclusive wallflower and troubled spinster. “Wild Nights With Emily” uncovers Dickinson’s more vivacious side, including her lifelong romantic relationship with a woman (Susan Ziegler). The film also stars Amy Seimetz and Brett Gelman as rival publishers in Dickinson’s legacy. Olnek’s last film, “The Foxy Merkins,” was an outrageously zany buddy comedy about two lesbian hookers in an homage to hustler films. “Wild Nights With Emily” promises a lighthearted alternative to Terence Davies’ “A Quiet Passion,” complete with period visuals and an uninhibited Shannon in all of her oddball glory. —Jude Dry


While Netflix subscribers await this summer’s sixth season of “Orange Is The New Black,” Taylor Schilling next leads the directorial debut from former “Red Oaks” staff writer Laura Steinel. In the comedy, Schilling plays a corporate-minded, binge-eating 30-something whose innate self-centeredness is challenged with the arrival of a ward. But her pubescent, tomboy niece (Bryn Vale) has no interest in a babysitter — she’d rather escape suburbia than commit her life to juggalette revelry (also known as Insane Clown Posse superfandom). The narrative feature competition entry co-stars Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”), Bryan Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”), and Matt Walsh (“Veep”), and comes courtesy “30 Minutes or Less” and “The Break-Up” producers. —Jenna Marotta   

“Weed the People”

A decade after collaborating on “The Business of Being Born,” documentarian Abby Epstein reteams with talk show host-turned-producer Ricki Lake. Their new effort – partly funded in with $114,000 in IndieGogo campaign donations — tells the stories of child patients whose symptoms have improved through herbal medicine that their parents illegally obtained. One of the film’s protagonists is Sophie Ryan, a now-four-year-old who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor when she was seven months old. Sophie’s parents paired her chemotherapy treatments with doses of cannabis oil, and their daughter’s tumor dramatically shrank. “Weed the People” shares its title with a two-day festival that took place in Oregon when the state legalized recreational marijuana use in 2015. Epstein’s first documentary, 2003’s “Until the Violence Stops,” was a 2004 Primetime Emmy-winner that chronicled V-Day, the grassroots movements inspired by the literary legacy of her former boss, “The Vagina Monologues” scribe Eve Ensler. —JM  

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Amma Asante Has Been Quietly Mentoring Fellow Female Filmmakers in Hopes of Changing Hollywood’s Equality Problem

On the “Belle” filmmaker’s latest set, she mentored four emerging filmmakers, and finds the “two-way” experience to be an essential part of her craft.

Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.

Amma Asante has an easy idea to help emerging female filmmakers: bring them to set. More specifically, to her sets, where the “Belle” and “A United Kingdom” filmmaker can assist burgeoning creative minds as they learn the ropes of production. Asante has been quietly mentoring fellow filmmakers this way for years, as part of a grassroots commitment to help raise up the next generation of women in the industry, an initiative she’s happy to carry out without much in the way of publicity or fanfare.

“I’ve made a commitment to ensuring that whenever I’m on set and whenever I’m filming that I always have an emerging female filmmaker there to shadow me,” Asante told IndieWire. “Not to work on the set, because I want them to be able to focus on learning whatever they can, picking up whatever they can, comparing whatever they need to.”

Her hands-on contributions have not been overlooked, however, and Asante is being honored at this week’s female-focused Athena Film Festival alongside other talents like Bridget Everett, Barbara Kopple, and J.J. Abrams. Previous honorees include Ava DuVernay, Eve Ensler, Greta Gerwig, Diablo Cody, Kasi Lemmons, Karyn Kusama, Debra Martin Chase, Dee Rees, Nekisa Cooper, Patricia Riggen, Callie Khouri, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Julie Taymor. (The fest has also announced a slew of other winners, which you can check out here.)

“I still feel like I’m carving my way,” Asante said when asked about being honored for her leadership and her amplification of women’s voices in film. With just three films under her belt — her fourth, “Where Hands Touch,” is targeted for release later this year — the Brit has already made her mark in the industry. She’s served on both the BAFTA Council and the BAFTA Film committee and was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire just last year.

For Asante, her activism and her dedication to equality in the industry isn’t something she’s consciously made a part of her work; it’s something that just comes naturally to her. “They’re not things that I actively go out of my way to think about,” she said. “The amplification of women’s voices is something that’s so normal and natural to me and I couldn’t imagine a world without it.”

As the industry continues to react to both the #MeToo moment and the Time’s Up movement, Asante is cautiously optimistic that more members of the entertainment industry are cluing in to her way of thinking.

“I hope it’s starting to become natural for all elements in this equation, not just for women but for men as well, to realize that voices of women are important and we have something to say and we have a contribution to make whether it comes to the telling of stories in front of the screen or behind the camera,” she said.

Asante’s bent towards equality translates directly to the environment she hopes to foster on her sets, one that values equality, parity, and respect. It doesn’t hurt that she has always loved working with women.

“Where Hands Touch”

Tantrum Films/Pinewood Pictures

“It’s a very comfortable feeling for me to have other women around me,” Asante said. “I’ve been very lucky with my crews and I’ve always had a majority of crew – I will say a majority, at least 95%– who have always been extremely respectful of women and who have always really seen women as equals. I’ve always found when you have had that odd one out who has had an issue or a problem, they’ve really stood out because they just haven’t fit in with the rest of the team.”

Even from her vantage point, Asante is loath to cast herself as someone who has it all figured out. For her, the mentoring process is part of the creative process. It’s an exchange.

“I’ve always kept my mentoring relatively informal in the sense that I have maybe five or six women at the moment who know that they can always come to me if they’ve got questions,” Asante said, “I’ve found it a really kind of two-way rewarding experience.”

When it came time to pick mentees for her latest feature, the World War II drama “Where Hands Touch,” Asante asked for applications on Twitter, and received over 200 from female filmmakers around the world. “My last film, I knew that I was going to select two women, and they were all so brilliant, they were all so exceptional, there wasn’t one weak application in there,” Asante said. “I ended up picking four!”

The four she selected hailed from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Uganda, and all of them – including Taren Maroun, Nasuna Zimbe, Marica Petrey, and Gloria Tafa – joined her on the set of the historical romance in Belgium.

“I often think shadowing isn’t really about specifically learning from somebody else but looking at what they do and then looking at what you do and working out whether they have formulas and whether they have specific patterns or ways of working that perhaps you haven’t thought of before and may be useful,” she said.

Asante particularly likes tailoring the experience for each mentee. “You can work out what each one wants to build on and then create a system whereby if one wants to spend more time in the technical aspects, you can send them off with a camera team or send them off with a lighting crew,” she said. “If one wants to spend more time with costume or makeup [they can do that]. Sometimes they just want to sit with me in the morning and look at my shot list, look at my mood board, that kind of thing.”

Asante’s mentorship doesn’t end when shooting wraps, and she happily recounted a recent chat with a former mentee who is embarking on a new project. Asante was, of course, primed to help, but it’s all still a two-way street for her.

“It was wonderful that she was able to come spend some time with me, pick up whatever she wanted to pick up on during that process of shooting my last film, and hopefully now I’m going to be able to do the same with her,” Asante said. “We can label it whatever we want, I can call her an emerging filmmaker, but in many ways she has just as much to offer me as hopefully I have to offer her.”

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