I recently saw Elle and The Eyes of My Mother. Both are beautiful films. Both are uncomfortable films. Both are stories made by male writers and directors exploring themes of violence, trauma, rape, emotional connection and psychosis through female characters.
It’s complicated to write stories without appropriating voices. Seeing both of these films within a short time period got me thinking about how to be an ally as an artist. Of course filmmakers need to reach beyond their own experiences to make great work, especially work that pushes boundaries. At their best, films can be used to ask questions and examine our culture. And I do think both of these films ask important questions. But I have a problem with who is answering those questions.
There are many ways to use your creative voice to produce a story that is hard to make and hard to watch. But these films lack collaboration. I found myself scouring the credits, looking for a female name regarding the writing or directing. But I found none. And that made me more uncomfortable than the brutal rape scenes in Elle or the smooth cinematic torture and dismemberment of The Eyes of My Mother.
I don’t understand this choice. Women are writing and directing amazing things in the genre. Think of Jennifer Kent of The Babadook or Ana Lily Amirpour of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Bad Batch. There are many more. A male filmmaker interested in telling a story about a woman dealing with rape, violence, patriarchy, and psychosis who invites a woman to help tell that story will accomplish three wonderful things. First, they will lend the story an authentic voice, a perspective that needs to be heard. Second, they will offer creative work to people who might have fewer opportunities to do such work. And third, they will make a different, and I think probably a better, movie.
A good example of this is Marvel's Luke Cage. Marvel could have created this show with the same, predominantly white, team with whom they made their other shows. Instead, they specifically hired black show runners and producers and directors. Mahershala Ali spoke in an interview about working with a team made entirely of people of color. They made stylistic choices at every level that wouldn't have happened otherwise, from casting to story to soundtrack.
Not every kind of art needs to be comfortable. Genre films in particular are wonderful at teasing out the fears and the problems of the society that produces them. But without inviting a female voice into these particularly female stories, these films just become a part of the disturbing patriarchal systems that they are meant to examine.