WEEK IN WOMEN news roundup: Directors Guild study confirms that women helmers remain rare, Ry Russo-Young’s ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ begins production, Baltimore filmmaker’s project taps into #MeToo zeitgeist

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Director Patty Jenkins, left, and star Gal Gadot appear on the set of "Wonder Woman." Warner Bros. photo

Director Patty Jenkins, left, and star Gal Gadot appear on the set of “Wonder Woman.” Warner Bros. photo

In you needed another story to confirm in rather depressing statistical fashion that women and people of color still rarely get to sit in the director’s chair on mainstream movies, a new study from the Directors Guild of America confirms this well-established fact yet again.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the study, which was released Thursday, found that of the 651 feature films released in 2017 with a box office take of at least $250,000, only 12 percent of the directors were women. From 2013 to 2017, the percentage of female movie directors has basically been stuck in the range of 8 percent to 16 percent, according to the study findings.

“Change is long overdue,” Thomas Schlamme, president of the DGA, said in a statement, per the LA Times. “Inclusion is a fight we’ve been fighting with the industry for four decades now, and it’s been an uphill battle to get them to change their hiring practices.”

He said the DGA has pressed for the adoption of a cinematic version of the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions. But he said the industry has been stubborn to change, which isn’t exactly a news flash.

Although Hollywood recently has seen high-profile women directors helm big-budget movies like Patty Jenkins with “Wonder Woman” and Ava DuVernay with “A Wrinkle in Time,” they still are relatively rare.

According to the DGA study, of the movies released in 2017 that grossed more than $10 million, 14 percent were directed by women.

People of color directed about 8 percent of those high-grossing feature releases. According to the LA Times, the guild’s study found that percentage of minority movie directors has actually declined slightly in the past four years. Minority directors accounted for only 10 percent of the movies in 2017 that grossed more than $250,000 and were covered under DGA’s contract.

That’s represented a decline since 2013, when minority directors accounted for 17 percent of those movies.

“We are committed to keeping at this for as long as it takes,” Schlamme said in his statement. From what we’ve seen so far, it may take quite a while for anything to change, and even then, only time will tell if the change is lasting.

Charles Melton and Yara Shahidi pose for a photo on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures’ “The Sun Is Also a Star,” a 2019 Warner Bros. pictures release. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima

Charles Melton and Yara Shahidi pose for a photo on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures’ “The Sun Is Also a Star,” a 2019 Warner Bros. pictures release. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima

Ry Russo-Young’s ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ begins production

Production began last week on the topical romantic drama “The Sun Is Also a Star,” starring Yara Shahidi (“Black-ish”) and Charles Melton (“Riverdale) and directed by Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”).

A modern-day story about finding love against all odds, “The Sun Is Also a Star” explores whether our lives are determined by fate or the random events of the universe, according to a news release. The drama focuses on a budding romance that is complicated by a family’s pending deportation.

The film is based on the acclaimed bestseller by “Everything, Everything,” author Nicola Yoon. “The Sun Is Also a Star” has been on the New York Times bestseller list since its release and has received multiple accolades: It was a 2016 National Book Award Finalist; Amazon’s Best Book of 2016 in Young Adults; Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2016 in YA; the New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2016; and Entertainment Weekly’s 10 Best Books of 2016.

“I’m beyond thrilled this movie is being made! This book is deeply personal to me and Yara and Charles are the perfect choice to bring Natasha and Daniel’s story to life on the big screen,” Yoon said in a statement.

Russo-Young directs from a screenplay by Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”).

“I’m delighted to be working with Yara and Charles on this heartfelt love story, which is both timeless and timely. Nicola Yoon has given us a beautiful story to tell and we all couldn’t be more excited to make the streets of New York City, where I grew up not that long ago, our stage for the next few weeks. I fell in love with these characters and I know Yara and Charles will bring them alive and make this movie their own. I can’t wait to see what they do,” Russo-Young said in a statement.

Here is the synopsis:

College-bound romantic Daniel Bae (Melton) and Jamaica-born pragmatist Natasha Kingsley (Shahidi) meet—and fall for each other—over one magical day amidst the fervor and flurry of New York City. Sparks immediately fly between these two strangers, who might never have met had fate not given them a little push. But will fate be enough to take these teens from star-crossed to lucky in love? With just hours left on the clock in what looks to be her last day in the U.S., Natasha is fighting against her family’s deportation as fiercely as she’s fighting her budding feelings for Daniel, who is working just as hard to convince her they are destined to be together.

The film’s producers are Elysa Koplovitz Dutton and Leslie Morgenstein, who served as producers on “Everything, Everything.” Tracy Oliver and Pam Hirsch serve as executive producers.

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Autumn Durald (“Teen Spirit”), production designer Wynn Thomas (“Hidden Figures”), editor Joe Landauer (“Before I Fall”), and costume designer Deirdra Govan (“Sorry to Bother You”).

An Alloy Entertainment production, Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures’ “The Sun Is Also a Star” is due in theaters May 17, 2019.

 Krenee Tolson. Courtesy photo

Krenee Tolson. Courtesy photo

Baltimore filmmaker’s project taps into #MeToo zeitgeist

Baltimore-based filmmaker Krenée Tolson is nearing completion on her short “Finding Phoebe,” a film that was made possible by the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins University.

The Baltimore-based initiative connects filmmaking creatives with industry experts, according to a news release. Tolson was selected as one of the fund’s Development and Production Fund winners in December 2017.

According to the Baltimore Sun, nine Baltimore-based filmmakers, who coincidentally turned out to all be women, shared in $400,000 in grant money from the fledgling fund.

Written, produced and starring Tolson, “Finding Phoebe” tells the story of 17-year-old Phoebe Jackson, who is forced to face her history of sexual abuse while trying to maintain an unstable relationship with her mother and best friend.

“The film has strong parallels to what is going on today,” Tolson said in a statement. “It’s a story that a lot of women have dealt with, whether it is sexual misconduct in the workplace, or within their own lives. There is a part of Phoebe that represents all women.”

According to Tolson, “Finding Phoebe” is a complex story that touches on issues of race, class, sexuality and gender, all topics that are sure to strike a chord in the #MeToo era. Though Tolson said “Finding Phoebe” is not autobiographical, much of the content from the film was inspired by people’s true stories.

“More than the sexual abuse, I think a lot of women are just looking for someone to speak up for them on their behalf, when they do not have the strength to do it on their own,” Tolson said. “My hope is that ‘Finding Phoebe’ inspires women to speak up for themselves and for others.”

Tolson also is dedicated to flipping the script behind the camera, particularly when it comes to the film’s crew. According to the news release, the “Finding Phoebe” filmmaking team is comprised mostly of Baltimore-area women and people of color, a conscious effort on Tolson’s behalf to be inclusive.

“I never just wanted to be a filmmaker, I wanted to be a filmmaker with a purpose,” Tolson said. “I didn’t just want to create a story, and get patted on the back for creating it. I wanted to give back to my community and empower people to dream big and activate the artist within themselves. I wanted to give women the opportunity to lead, and not shrink into the background.

“From the very beginning, it was less about being a filmmaker, and more about activism and making a change,” she added. “Even if nobody ever watches the film, I can still say they have helped me make a change in someone’s life.”

For Annette Porter, director of The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins University, Tolson and her film represents everything the fund is trying to accomplish.

“Krenée is one of the most articulate, inspired young filmmakers I’ve met,” Porter said in a statement. “She is a prime example of what can happen when new voices and stories are given the opportunity to reach the mainstream. The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund could not be more honored to support Krenée, who is at the front line of puncturing the glass ceiling for the next wave of filmmakers. Beyond that, her story is a wonderful illustration that highlights moving great Baltimore talent into the limelight. I have every confidence that this will not be the last we see of her, and her extraordinary talent.”

Once filming and editing is complete in August, “Finding Phoebe” will be submitted to major film festivals around the world, including the Sundance Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Pan African Film Festival.

For more information about the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media, go to zaentzfund.com.


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