Why can’t Star Wars Get Women to Write and Direct?

Prior to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was announced that writer-director Rian Johnson would be getting the keys to a trilogy that would explore other areas within the Star Wars universe.  However, the news dropped on Tuesday afternoon that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were going to be handled the reign to their own trilogy of films.

One of the biggest criticisms of Game of Thrones has been the handling of their female characters, especially with the way that sexual violence depicted on the HBO series.  If this isn’t problematic for Lucasfilm, perhaps nothing will ever be.

This begs the question: are women not worthy of writing and directing within the Star Wars universe?  All one has to do is look at the statistics in the industry over the years when it comes to women behind the camera–all one has to do, really, is look at the history of the Academy Awards itself.  It took 90 years for a woman to be nominated for cinematography at the Oscars.  It came in the form of Mudbound‘s Rachel Morrison.  Hell, Greta Gerwig became the fifth woman to be nominated for directing, joining a list that includes only Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker).  This list should also include Mudbound‘s Dee Rees but we can’t win every battle.

There are a number of qualified female filmmakers in addition to the aforementioned Gerwig.  The list includes Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, Michelle MacLaren, Mimi Leder, Rachel Talalay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Shonda Rhimes.  Perhaps End of the Line‘s Jessica Sanders could be on this list in the near future?  She’s a definite star on the rise.

Of every Star Wars film released so far, only one of them, The Empire Strikes Back, managed to have a female credited as a screenwriter.  That woman was Leigh Brackett but before she died of cancer in March 1978, she had only turned in a completed first draft.  George Lucas would take care of the next two drafts before Lawrence Kasdan would take over screenwriting duties.  The differences between Brackett’s script and the final film can be found here.  While Kasdan and Brackett shared screenwriting credit for the final screenplay, io9’s Charlie Jane Anders notes “the basic story beats are the same.”

Unlike the cinema, there are women out there who have been hired to write Star Wars comics and novels.  A select few of those women include Jody Houser, who adapted Rogue One film and Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn novel in comic book form.  Marjorie Liu got to tackle a Han Solo series.  Kelly Thompson wrote wrote a four-issue series on Captain Phasma in addition to the Annual #2 issue for the Star Wars series that started running in January 2015.

There are more of us out there that would love to do nothing more than to bring our vision to the franchise.  Hell, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to appear in a Star Wars film.  I’ve given up hope of that happening and G-d only knows if any transgender people even exist in the Star Wars universe.  A girl can dream, right?

It’s not only women who aren’t being handed over the opportunity to craft a Star Wars film.  People of color aren’t being afforded the same opportunities as the white males who historically are the only people allowed to write and direct a Star Wars film, save for Leigh Brackett’s sole credit on The Empire Strikes Back.

Don’t just take my word for it.  Listen to Maureen Ryan, who cites this Variety interview with Carey Mulligan:

“If Dee Rees was a white man she’d be directing the next ‘Star Wars,’ she’d be nominated for an Oscar without question.”

It’s true as can be.  If Mudbound had been from a distributor that wasn’t Netflix, Rees would have surely been in the Oscar conversation.  Because it’s Netflix, she’s not in the conversation nor can she use whatever critical acclaim the film received to take direction of a blockbuster franchise in the same way in which others got the opportunity.

It seemed to be a no-brainer that J.J. Abrams would be allowed to finish what he started after Kathleen Kennedy decided to replace then-Episode 9 director Colin Trevorrow over creative differences.  After Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the helm of Solo: A Star Wars Story, it was Ron Howard to the rescue.  Were no people of color worthy to take over?  What about Asians or other minorities that just don’t get the chances that these white men are afforded?

But for every Leia Organa, Jyn Erso, and Rey, it appears are no women to be found that can write or direct a Star Wars film.  This is a shame when the woman-directed Wonder Woman was one of the biggest box office smashes of 2017.  Patty Jenkins may not have gone on to get any Oscar or DGA nominations but what she was successful in doing was empowering women across the globe with her direction of Gal Gadot’s Amazonian hero.   As much as women love to see the likes of Leia, Jyn, and Rey kicking ass on screen, there’s nothing more we’d like to see than one of our own being given the same chance as a white male to write and direct a Star Wars film.

To see Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy maintain the status quo is just infuriating to say the least.  Something has got to give on Disney’s end.  These films will make money, no doubt about it, but women and people of color have got to be given a chance.  All one has to do is take a look at what happened with Wonder Woman last summer and what’s going to happen with Black Panther next month.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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