In a world where white male directors are assumed to be “the best for the job” it’s always cause for celebration when a major franchise gets their act together and realizes that’s not true.
And yesterday we got two such announcements.
Early on in the day it was announced that Cathy Yan, a 2018 Sundance Winner for her film “Dead Pigs”, will be directing the Harley Quinn movie (which is looking more and more like it’s actually a Birds of Prey vs. Gotham City Sirens movie). With Margot Robbie producing and Christina Hodson writing this film is shaping up to be the girl gang powerhouse blockbuster we deserve.
Yan make’s DC’s third female director, second woman of colour and first Asian woman (to direct any superhero film!) and Hobson is the first Asian woman attached to write a superhero film. These are perspectives that are sorely needed in the world of blockbuster movies and they won’t get there without people in positions of power fighting for it like producer-star Margot Robbie did.
And then while we were still riding the high of knowing that one studio at least was moving in the right direction, Ava Duvernay casually spilled the news that another was too.
Lucas Film has been under fire for their stable of white male creatives, 96% of writers and directors, and while people attached to the studio have insisted that they’ve been talking with plenty of non-white males for projects, the lack of talk turned to action has been disheartening to say the least. While Kathleen Kennedy leading Lucas Film is great, as we’ve seen with Natalie Portman and her production company, a white woman in charge doesn’t necessarily lead to diverse creatives.
Which is why news that Vic Mahoney coming on to Episode IX as second unit director is so heartening. Mahoney is not only the first black woman to hold that role on a Star Wars film but the first woman period. While people have been trying to diminish this news by saying she’s “just” the second unit director, as we see in this interview with John Mahaffie, second unit director on several blockbuster films including “Fellowship of the Ring”, that’s hardly a bit job.
We’ve been screaming that what blockbusters need are brown and black voices in positions to make real creative decisions and now we are getting them. JJ Abrams has credited Ava DuVernay with helping shape the lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo in “The Force Awakens”, suggesting a small but powerful character moment for Rey, and boy did that moment land. Ever since the deleted scenes from “The Last Jedi” were released people have been wondering how having a non-white man with creative decision making power would have changed the film because it’s clear that several key character moments were left on the cutting room floor for the sake of action, character moments that primarily featured characters of colour.
But for Episode IX we won’t have to wonder because there next to JJ Abrams will be Vic Mahoney. “Cat’s outta the bag. Thank you Ava for putting my name in the Star Wars Lucas Film hat. Thank you JJ Abrams for inviting me on your ferocious ride. *This one’s for the outliers, dreaming big in small corners of the Earth.” Mahoney tweeted after the news was announced and then again later,
When Cathy Yan was directing Dead Pigs she had to deal with people not believing she was in charge. Vic Mahoney is out here calling herself an outlier, because currently she is. Currently all non-white male creatives are. But tides are changing and their value is being seen and hopefully someday instead of two women of colour being announced taking major roles on blockbuster films won’t be something to bat an eye at. And until that day we keep celebrating achievements and fighting for more.