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Women’s Day: Reclaiming the Gaze

Nov 12, 2022

A DGA Women's Steering Committee Event

On November 12, DGA members gathered in the Los Angeles Theater for a celebration of talented women members of the Guild during the second-ever Women’s Day at the DGA. Hosted by the Women’s Steering Committee (WSC), Women’s Day: Reclaiming the Gaze, featured a peer-to-peer round table panel discussion with Directors Nisha Ganatra (The High Note, Late Night), Siân Heder (CODA, Little America), Karyn Kusama (Yellowjackets, Destroyer) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King, The Old Guard). The conversation was moderated by Director and WSC Alternate Co-Chair Shaz Bennett (Queen Sugar, Alaska Is a Drag).

The afternoon began with a welcome from DGA Associate Board Member and WSC Co-Chair Shawn Pipkin-West, who spoke about the 40+-year history of the WSC and the Guild’s commitment to the Committee’s work on the important issues of diversity, inclusion, education and inspiration.

“Our Guild believes storytelling should be as diverse as the world around us, and that a critical mass of different perspectives on screen is vital for the wellbeing and development of society,” said Pipkin-West. “This event is a celebration of the variation of perspectives, as well as the many talented women members of the Directors Guild and their evident contributions to our industry.”

Stepping to the podium, WSC Co-Chair Tara Miele spoke on behalf of Co-Chairs Pipkin-West and Liz Ryan when she said, “On this Saturday, we celebrate the individual and collective accomplishments of the Guild’s women members and the groundwork for a brighter future ahead. Our intention with this event is to start a dialogue on how we reimagine and create a film language from a non-gendered perspective.”

After thanking WSC Activities & Events Subcommittee Coordinators Marie Jamora, Dana Nachman and Mo Perkins and reminding Guild members that all are invited to attend WSC meetings, Miele turned things over to the panel.

During the discussion, the panelists shared their own suggestions of how to go about creating a film language from a non-gendered perspective and also highlighted the contributions of Women Directors in the film and television industry.

Moderator Bennett kicked things off by framing the conversation around the craft and what the process of developing a new, non-gendered film language looks like for women Directors.

During the ensuing conversation, Ganatra spoke about how her experience with the male gaze starts at the literal gate of a studio lot and recalled how she is often perceived as a background actress versus the Director of the project. She also shared a story of how on a project, she stopped to rethink a scene to make it feel less objectifying. She decided to root the perspective in the character looking at herself, rather than the audience looking at her, which immediately flipped the gaze and she took the time to collaborate with her actress to figure out a different way to tell the story that empowers the female character.

Kusama said she is happy that her horror-comedy feature, Jennifer’s Body, is finding a new audience today, but recalled how the male gaze was put onto the film when it came out in 2009 by people outside of the project itself based on how they thought the world would interpret it, rather than actually watching it. She said the gaze that matters most is the gaze you turn on yourself, and that we must give ourselves permission to imagine in the wildest ways, in new ways.

Prince-Bythewood revealed how she is intentional about reframing what it means to be female — that women can be strong and fierce too. She said in her 2022 historical epic feature, The Woman King, to some, these were masculine women, but at the end of the day they are still women and that doesn’t change who they are. She reminded the audience to remember that they are hired for a reason and have the talent to belong where they are.

Heder spoke about how one’s gaze has the ability to change. She admitted she initially wrote her 2016 comedy-drama feature, Tallulah, from a judgmental place about parenting and that it wasn’t until she became a mother herself during the process of filming, that she decided to change the story and how she told it. Through the shifting of her own gaze, the mother’s character evolved to no longer be the villain. She added growing as an artist is your curiosity in yourself.

Following the panel discussion, the day ended with a reception in the DGA’s Los Angeles headquarters atrium.

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