As if female directors, both aspiring and established, needed another reason to get pissed off, Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, gave them a huge one last week. In an interview with Forbes, Pascal candidly discussed the barriers women face in Hollywood. "For a woman to direct a movie in Hollywood, she has to go through so many layers of rejection by the powers that be—I suppose including myself—that it is harder to get to that point," said Pascal. "So you can't just create something. And I think there is a whole unconscious mountain… I think that the whole system is geared for them to fail."
It's no surprise that women have a much harder time behind the camera than men do—that's been the case for decades. But in January, preceding Pascal's alarming quotes, a study was released in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival that posted some disheartening numbers. One, women only made up 4.4% of directors found within the top 100 box office movies each year from 2002 through 2012, and, two, only 29.8% of the films screened at Sundance during those 10 years were made by women (including directors, writers, editors, producers, and cinematographers). Nearly 40% of the women polled cited "male-dominated networking" as their biggest challenge, while 43.1% blamed the dilemma on "gendered financial barriers," meaning they aren't getting paid nearly as much as the guys.
Oddly enough, one would think that the horror genre could be the exception here. After all, most scary flicks center around female characters. And similar studies have shown that more than half of the audiences paying to see Hollywood-made horror are women. Yet the views of figures like Pascal apply to the fright genre as well. Visit any horror-centric film festival or convention and the truth is unavoidable: For every one women director or producer, there are dozens of male ones. It's a harsh reality that's inspired such pro-female initiatives like Hollywood's Viscera Film Festival, Australia's Stranger With My Face festival, and Women in Horror Month, held every February and aimed at motivating women horror filmmakers to unite and stage local screenings, readings, and networking events.
Jen and Sylvia Soska know all about the disparity. For the past year, the twin directors been working the worldwide film festival circuit promoting their sophomore effort, the one-of-a-kind, female-powered body horror film American Mary. "We've traveled more over the last year than we have all of our lives," says Sylvia. "It's weird, we were just in Chicago, and I woke up and didn't know where I was. Jen had to tell me, 'Relax, we're in Chicago.'" Having no sense of place isn't the only aftereffect of their endless hand-shaking, autograph signings, and posing for pictures with rabid horror fanatics. "I have the 'nerd flu,'" says Sylvia. "There are tens of thousands of nerds, and we all get together and talk about inconsistencies in writing and all sorts of nerd rage, and there's all kinds of hugging and photos taken. By the time you're done, you've swapped nerd breath with everybody, and then you get on the plane. You come back with something like nerd ebola."
Adds Jen, "It's like being trapped on a plane times 100, because there are thousands and thousands of people crammed into a little convention center. Somebody once told me to bring Purell whenever I go to those things, and it's true. I get sick every time I go." Not that they're complaining, though. "It's a beautiful problem to have, but you get used to eating when you can, no sleep, charging phone batteries wherever you can, and going to the bathroom in different places every time," says Sylvia. "But it's such a privilege to get to travel with our film and meet the people who support it. I don't have to do it alone, either. I always have Jen with me."
Which is nice, since, without her sister's attendance, Sylvia would be one of the few women fighting for attention and respect in a sea of dudes. With the critically hailed American Mary, however, the Soska sisters—also known as the Twisted Twins—are in an enviable position: They've earned the artistic adoration of the genre's top—yes, male—producers, programmers, critics, and journalists, but, more importantly, even louder praise and appreciation from their female peers, as well as the young girls who aspire to direct their own horror movies but can't find any accessible role models. "The twins are pretty damn unique, in that they're outspoken about showing other women that's not just OK, but really cool to love blood and guts," says American Mary producer John Curtis. "It's ingrained in them as part of their personalities. They look at it as not male and female, but as, 'Here's a cool genre that we love." They're filmmakers first, I think, and females second. And they want other women to feel the same way about themselves."
Through the Twisted Twins' steadily gaining emergence, can this issue, at least in the horror genre, begin a change toward the positive? In a series of loose, unfiltered conversations, Complex looks at the issue from a variety of angles, via the insight of the following industry players:
Jen and Sylvia Soska - writers/directors, American Mary
Jennifer Lynch - writer/director, Chained, Hisss, Surveillance, Boxing Helena
Danielle Harris - scream queen/actress, and director of Among Friends
Jennifer Blanc-Biehn- actress/producer/director
Shannon Lark and Heidi Honeycutt- founder and head programmer, respectively, of the Viscera Film Festival
Hannah "Neurotica" Forman- founder and head of operations, Women in Horror Month
Chris Alexander - editor-in-chief, Fangoria
Interviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
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