When I found out that the director of “The Hurt Locker”—a testosterone-rific movie about a team of soldiers disarming roadside bombs in Iraq—was directed by a woman, I wanted to kick myself. Not out of surprise, but because I was surprised. Why did I automatically think that only a man could direct an intense war movie filled with explosions? Nope, the film is being called an “adrenaline-soaked tour de force of suspense” and it’s all thanks to the directing genius of Kathryn Bigelow. It’s not that I think women can’t make amazing war films. Quite the contrary—I think women have a knack for tapping into raw emotions, and Bigelow creatively mixed high-octane action with emotion and personal relationships. My surprise was simply an innocent, unconscious, yet totally sexist brain fart. And I don’t think I’m the only one. The argument is pretty simple. Most people would assume that action flicks highly advertised to men were made by a male director, and that a female director would create a cheesy romantic comedies. So when someone mentions the director of a “Transformers”-esque action film or a male-driven comedy, people’s first guesses are Michael Bay and Judd Apatow. But why should they think of men first? Women are more then capable of creating entertaining action films and laugh-so-hard-you’re-crying comedies about guys. And vice-versa with male directors. Millions of women filled theaters to watch Carrie Bradshaw tie the knot in the “Sex and The City Movie,” directed by…Michael Patrick King. And the recently released comedy “Humpday” has already won popular acclaim. It’s the story of two straight guy friends making a porno together, and it’s being called “more truthful and funny than any rude boy comedy.” It was directed by Lynn Shelton.
While I do think there are some aspects of male/female films best realized by the same sex, the basic nature and topics of movies are universally relatable. Sex, action, romance, fashion, stress, explosions, fun, comedy, ridicule, satire—all are unisex topics and any great director can piece them together into an entertaining or moving film. It’s an obvious fact that men and women find different things funny and exciting. But that doesn’t mean either gender does not and cannot understand the emotions and comedy of the other and express them in film. Come on, figuring out what men want isn’t exactly rocket science.
Men have been directing films they think women want to see for decades—some are great and spot-on with the female psyche, but others (and there are many) are annoyingly stereotypical. This can be said for women directors as well. Did you know Penelope Spheeris directed “Wayne’s World” back in 1992? Yes, Penelope so perfectly tapped into the male grunge subculture of the ’90s that “Wayne’s World” was an instant dude classic.
In the end, it’s not a question of gender, but of skill. Be it a man or a woman, a great director can make a great movie—about men, about women, or both. But with movies like “The Hurt Locker” and “Humpday” out, I’m gonna stop assuming I know the gender of the person behind the camera.