Sunday, December 29, 2019

Among the greatest movie directors, will you find more women or gay men?

Why have almost all of the greatest movie directors been men?  Don't women like movies just as much as men?

Feminists, of course, would blame the patriarchy: Men have mysteriously gotten control of the world and will not let the helpless women do fun things like make movies.

But if discrimination has been so pervasive in the film industry, why in the world have we seen so many top homosexual directors?  I'm not convinced that men before the 1970s were that dead set against women occupying important positions. Just the other night, I watched an old film titled, "Kansas City Confidential" (1952), and the lead female was studying to take the bar, and none of the male characters cared in the least.

Now, imagine the same story, but the romantic interest is a gay man preparing for the bar.  Do we see movies like that for most of the 20th century?  Hell no. Off the top of my head, I know that Clark Gable did not want George Cukor--known to be a homosexual--to direct "Gone With the Wind" and was influential in having him replaced by Victor Fleming. While there were plenty of homosexuals in Hollywood, people loathed it.  No matter--gay men thrived in Hollywood and Europe as well. Perhaps you doubt this.

I went to the website "They Shoot Movies, Don't They? and looked at their list of the top 250 directors of all time. The ranking is based on such factors as voting by directors and critics. I categorized a director as gay or bisexual if Wikipedia indicated they were. I put together the following list:

Gay Directors (from top 250)

Pedro Almodóvar
Lindsay Anderson
Kenneth Anger
Marcel Carné
Jean Cocteau
George Cukor
Terence Davies
Jacques Demy
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (bisexual)
Robert Hamer
Todd Haynes
Vincente Minnelli (bisexual)
F. W. Murnau
Pier Paolo Pasolini
John Schlesinger
Gus Van Sant
Luchino Visconti
Lana Wachowski (male-to-female transgender)
Lilly Wachowski (male-to-female transgender)
James Whale

I included the transgender Wachowski brothers since transgenders should face discrimination, if it is indeed such a profound problem.

That's 20 gay, bisexual, or transgender directors or 8% of the total. Keep in mind that sexual minorities are less than 8% of men, so they are over-represented among the greatest directors.

How about women?

Female Directors (from top 250)

Kathryn Bigelow
Jane Campion
Claire Denis
Danièle Huillet (co-director with her husband Jean-Marie Straub)
Leni Riefenstahl
Agnes Varda

That's 6 or 2.4% of the total, and let's not forget that if women we're punching at their weight, they would be half of the best directors. Their numbers are abysmal.

You might counter that discrimination was intense through 1970, but things have changed and that is why we see that all top women are from the past few decades. Again, I would argue that if bias was intense prior to 1970 for women, it should be even more so for gay men--a hated minority if I've ever seen one--yet easily half of them worked prior to 1970.

The facts suggest that men are simply better at making movies. If a studio exec wanted to make the best "Little Women" possible in 1933, he needed to hire George Cukor and not give a damn about his "quirks." If a woman would have done it better, I submit that the studio execs would have swallowed hard and given her the job, even in 1933. A lot of money was on the line.

What qualities do men possess that give them such an advantage? Well, I'm no expert on directing, but I know that these are incredibly talented people at the highest percentiles of all relevant traits. These would include: intelligence, leadership, charisma, confidence, decisiveness, technical mastery, visual skills, writing skills (plot, character, dialogue, mood, humor), effective criticism, and ability to deal calmly through all the drama that comes with managing creative types. There is evidence that at the highest levels, men surpass women on these traits. And, by the way, the traits are all rooted in biology.


  1. The movie business got more biased against women directors, producers, and writers from the D.W. Griffith Era (e.g., Mary Pickford was a mogul) to the Golden Age (e.g. when Gloria Swanson, backed by Joe Kennedy's money, tried to take control of her own career, she got run out of Hollywood after one flop).

    Billy Wilder's 1950 "Sunset Boulevard" has the theme -- Can you believe we used to let these ditzy broads have a say in how to make movies?

  2. You write that Jewish producers were more old-fashioned than the earlier Gentiles. I suppose some of the increasing bias could be due to learning through experience that women were not that skilled at running this new industry.

  3. Compared to now, in the early days of movies there were more husband-wife screenwriting teams and fewer brother-brother screenwriting teams (and almost no brother-brother directing teams).

    I've never heard of a brother-sister writing or directing team, although Woody Allen has employed his younger sister as his producer since she finished raising her kids.

    I'm not sure why there are these patterns. The Directors Guild didn't use to allow two people to share a director's credit, so one Coen brother would take a director's credit and the other a producer's credit.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the rise of the Coen Brothers from 1984 simply made brother filmmakers into a Thing

  4. The Epstein Twins did the final draft of Casablanca. They claimed they came up with the climactic "Round up the usual suspects" line simultaneously. I suspect the Coens try to give the impression they are identical twins to discourage the world from trying to rile up their sibling rivalry.

    The Mankiewicz brothers (Herman shared a screenwriting Oscar with Orson Welles and Joseph wrote and directed All About Eve) were 12 years apart in age. I don't believe they worked together much.

  5. Anonymous2:04 AM

    So funny that, of all films, the author chose Little Women as an example of female directorial inability - and in Dec 2019, too! Surely this was no coincidence, as there is a new version of Little Women onscreen, directed by female Greta Gerwig, which came out on Christmas day. I just saw the film, and I thought it was directorially excellent (and I thought that not in response to this post, but even as I was watching it {I tend to view films somewhat critically by nature}).

    There is no reason why women cannot make good movies, but that few have might not be totally due to genetic discrepancies with male directors. Becoming a major director, as with a CEO of a large company, is demanding; most women don't WANT to live in that way, even when they have the talent to do so (of course, that lesser degree of competitiveness and ambition is itself almost certainly a product, in part, of genetic influences).

    I am a hardcore anti-egalitarian, and always appreciate HBD insights. But we must be careful about overcompensating for all the egalitarian PC we routinely encounter. Some group differences may indeed be more due to social than biological causes, and sometimes a different biological cause than initially suspected might be the true one.


Is skin tone correlated with job prestige?

The General Social Survey rated the skin darkness of a sample of black Americans, ranging from "very dark brown" to "very lig...