Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Mirren takes a shot at Mendes and sexism in Hollywood

Helen Mirren expreses disappointment that Sam Mendes failed to include any women in his list of influences.

Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 00:53


If ever a spat were manufactured — or, at the very least, inflated — it is the current dispute that isn’t really going on between Dame Helen Mirren and Sam Mendes. Here’s what happened. On Sunday night at the Empire Movie Awards, Mr Mendes received the best directors gong (really? I mean, really?) for his perfectly adept work on the endurable Skyfall. He got up and mentioned a bunch of directors that had inspired him:  Paul Thomas Anderson, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese and other Johnnies of that stripe. Ms Mirren, awarded some kind of sucky-up achievement award, then approached the stage and let rip.

“It was great to hear Sam’s list of moments that inspired him. I did however note there was not one woman’s name there, behind the camera,” she said. “Nothing against Sam. I hope, I pray, I know in five or 10 years, when the next Sam gets up and make his or hopefully her speech, there will be two or three or four women’s names there. Go girls!”

Three years after Kathryn Bigelow won that Oscar for best director, the debate about the under-representation of women behind the megaphone continues in hearty, blood-flecked fashion. In 2011, Cannes managed to present a line-up of competition films that did not contain a single work from a female director. You can make up any kind of excuse. But there is no denying that a stripe of misogyny still colours the film industry. Last week, when Lynne Ramsay exited the set of Jane Got a Gun in still mysterious circumstances, the social media buzzed with barely concealed suggestions that she was (code alert) “difficult to work with”. Would this make it still harder for women directors to prevail in Hollywood? Well, it’s possible. After all, there are enough neanderthals about to forward that kind of nonsensical logic. Ramsay didn’t seem at all difficult or irrational when I met her. Even if she were, so what? Directors such as John Huston, Sam Peckinpah and Werner Herzog are all known for their eccentricities. Nobody suggests that their behaviour makes it more difficult for other male directors to get work. Indeed, being odd is, for those guys, regarded as a sign of their unstoppable genius.

Anyway, the point is that Mirren was right to raise the issue. One has some sympathy for Sam too. The lack of women in his list reflects, I am sure, flaws in the industry rather than any sexism on his part. He’s a decent sort. Indeed, they are both good sports and I am sure they’ll share a glass afterwards.

Still, it makes you think. Celebrate recent achievements at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. And (with apologies to Van Morrison) rave on, sisters. Rave on, Ida Lupino. Rave on, Agnes Varda. Rave on, Andrea Arnold. Rave on, Chantel Ackerman. Rave on, Lone Scherfig, Rave on, Samira Makhmalbaf. Rave on, Sofia Coppola. Rave on, Maya Deren. Rave on, Kristina Buozyte. Rave on, Maya Deren. Rave on, rave on.

Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest.