Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, Beyond the Lights) describes the day she got rejected from film school as the worst of her life. Instead of moving on to something else, she wrote the school an impassioned letter, and two days later, she got in. Would a man have done the same? Possibly, but he would've also had more choices. Prince-Bythewood says there was nothing else that she wanted to do.
Dozens of other women explain how they got into the field in Amy Adrion's timely documentary, Half the Picture. If the statistics—women directed only 4.2 percent of the 100 top-grossing films—are dispiriting, the stories are all over the map. Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) started out as an actress, Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) started out as a writer for Punk magazine, and Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle in Time) started out as a publicist.
Just as there was a time when studios believed that black movies couldn't "travel" overseas, there was a time when they believed that women-directed movies couldn't make money. Since then, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther has become the ninth biggest box office hit of all time, and women have directed blockbusters like Twilight and Wonder Woman. But they still get fewer chances to oversee major projects, let alone to follow-up their successes, which are often seen as flukes. And if they make one flop, they're out.
In addition to directors, including Seattle's Lynn Shelton, first-time feature filmmaker Adrion interviews journalists, programmers, and professors. Aside from their personal experiences, they talk about unconscious bias, sexual harassment, the scarcity of female film critics, and other obstacles and opportunities. So, it's a lot of talk, but as on-screen conversations go, it's an essential one. As DuVernay, who has hired women to direct every episode of her TV series Queen Sugar concludes, "We are a mighty tribe, women filmmakers."