Kathleen Kennedy Says Female Directors Don’t Have Enough Experience for ‘Star Wars’

With the upcoming release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we’re now two films into Disney’s reinvigoration of the popular space-faring franchise, and let’s be honest, so far it’s been a rousing success that has made  lifelong fans and cynical critics alike very, very happy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens wasn’t just an entertaining blockbuster, it was a bold step in a new and inclusive direction for the series, introducing a heroic female protagonist and the most prominent character of color in Star Wars movie history. Now Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is continuing that trend by focusing on a multicultural ensemble cast of characters, led by Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.

Yes, it’s an exciting new world of opportunities, one in which it seems anyone could conceivably do anything. Unless you’re a woman of course, and you want to direct a Star Wars film, because according to LucasFilm chief Kathleen Kennedy, in a recent interview with Variety, they’re having a hard time finding women with enough filmmaking “experience” to tackle a film on the epic Star Wars scale.

“We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do Star Wars,” they’re set up for success, Kathleen Kennedy told the publication. “They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience.”

Yeah, because there’s no way that someone could make a great Star Wars movie unless they’ve had some experience directing gigantic movies, right?

Walt Disney / LucasFilm

Walt Disney / LucasFilm

Also: Interview | Mads Mikkelsen on ‘Doctor Strange’ and Stealing the Millennium Falcon

Unless of course you’re George Lucas, Irvin Kirshner and Richard Marquand, the filmmakers who gave us the original, iconic Star Wars trilogy. None of them had directed a large-budget blockbuster before they directed a Star Wars movie, and their episodes turned out pretty good, according to everyone who loves Star Wars. Come to think of it, the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII director Rian Johnson has some suspicious credentials too, by Kathleen Kennedy’s standards. His biggest feature before the 2018 sequel was the $30 million sci-fi thriller Looper. That movie was pretty cool, but it’s hardly “gigantic” on the scale of Star Wars.

Women and Hollywood has already commented on this surprising and disappointing double standard from Kathleen Kennedy, who goes on in that interview to clarify that they’re keeping their eye on younger female filmmakers. “We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right, she says, which implies that none of the female directors they would even like LIKE to work with are ready for Star Wars yet.

Which further implies that Kathleen Kennedy hasn’t looked at some obviously talented female filmmakers. That, or she is currently holding those filmmakers to – again – a disturbing double standard. Women and Hollywood rightly points out a large number of recent, male feature filmmakers who were put in charge of a major visual effects blockbuster despite little or no experience on large-scale productions. For some examples, they singled out Colin Trevorrow, who went from the indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed to the enormously successful Jurassic World, and Gareth Edwards, who graduated from the low-budget horror drama Monsters to the giant Godzilla reboot.

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

That list goes on, of course, and gets very long, very quickly. Before he directed the $170 million Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn’s biggest budget was $15 million for the horror comedy Slither (which, it’s worth pointing out, didn’t even make its money back in theaters). Or take a look at the Harry Potter franchise, which gave Peter Yates huge budgets to direct multiple films, even though his filmmaking experience was mostly relegated to realistic dramas for British television. Batman Begins was the first big budget action thriller from Christopher Nolan, after he directed a handful of lower budgeted crime dramas. The Russo Brothers were best known for the bromantic comedy You, Me and Dupree and episodes of the sitcom Community before they directed the last two Captain America movies. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl came from Gore Verbinski, a director whose previous credits included a crime comedy, a modestly budgeted horror movie and a comedy about catching mice.

So if Kathleen Kennedy means to say that she’s looked at female filmmakers like Ava DuVernay (Selma), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Lexi Alexander (Punisher War Zone), Rachel Talalay (Doctor Who), Ana Lily Amirpour (The Bad Batch), Mira Nair (Queen of Katwe), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) and Julie Taymor (Titus), to name just a few, and decided that they somehow have less experience than most of the male filmmakers who have had the chance to direct a Star Wars movie, or many of the other major blockbusters in Hollywood… well, I would strongly disagree. Wouldn’t you?

Yes, it’s a problem that women aren’t given more opportunities behind the camera in Hollywood, and yes, producers have some right to be concerned about putting a massive financial investment into the hands of any filmmaker who doesn’t have a lot of experience dealing with huge budgets. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping these relatively “inexperienced” men from getting those opportunities anyway, so what the hell gives?

Perhaps, looking at that short list of impressive filmmakers above, the issue has less to do with experience than in directorial vision. LucasFilm no doubt wants to find filmmakers to work within the confines of the Star Wars universe, injecting some new personality into these stories but not taking total creative control and veering off into wholly new directions. It’s hard to imagine fiercely individual filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow or Ava DuVernay sublimating their artistic vision for the sake of a corporate product. Then again, a lot male directors switch between both independent and studio systems on a regular basis, so why insult these female filmmakers by saying they’re not “qualified?” If the issue is merely one of creative compatibility, why not simply say so?

Something is wrong here, either in the thinking or in the way this thinking is being expressed. Regardless, telling a whole world of female filmmakers that they’re not ready for “the big leagues” is a significant mistake, and one that doesn’t seem to fit the world of possibilities that LucasFilm currently seems to committed to opening up within the Star Wars universe. Apparently a woman can become a powerful Jedi based purely on talent, but she can’t become a blockbuster filmmaker for LucasFilm unless some other studio takes a chance on her first.

Top Photo: LucasFilm

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most CravedRapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.