Jill Soloway on gender, women directors and day drinking at SXSW

Jill Soloway at the 2017 Writers Guild Awards L.A. Ceremony at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 19, 2017. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Jill Soloway, the creator and showrunner of the award-winning Amazon TV series “Transparent, ” has some bad news for all you South by Southwest attendees: Networking is a fake tool. “I know at South by that’s not a very political thing to say,” Soloway said in her keynote Saturday. “I’ve seen a lot of networking going on; in fact I recognize that networking is really just day drinking.”

Most of Soloway’s speech focused on gender issues in filmmaking and in society in general. She conducted what she called a “feeling, body experiment” to explain what it means to grow up female. The men of the audience stood up, and photos of boys were projected on the screens of the Convention Center hall; Soloway described a childhood where you’re always complimented for your looks, how cute you are in certain clothes, how it feels to be adored. But it’s a world where the leaders of the world are all female, and God is female; you, as a man, don’t look like them. You can dream of being anything, you’re told, but they never tell the girls that — maybe because they are already everything, Soloway said. “Doesn’t it feel good, guys, to just be admired all day long?” Soloway said. “But it’s also your job, besides being beautiful, to make sure women don’t have sex with you. It’s your job to say no.”

Later, Soloway did a similar exercise for the women, to describe what it’s like growing up being praised for what you can do and accomplish, living in a world where leaders all look like you and male bodies are available for you to worship.

So, why aren’t their more women directors? “Patriarchy, studios, men, white men… Bell Hooks calls it ‘dominator culture,” Soloway said. “I heard this thing on a podcast …a woman named Eula Biss talked about opportunity hoarding. That white men are hoarding opportunities for people like them. I wouldn’t blame them. Directing’s really fun; why wouldn’t you hoard it?”

“One of the biggest things I learned when I became a director was that directing is about desire,” Soloway said. “There is nothing you do, no two words you say more as a director, than ‘I want.'”

“So, if there’s nothing more connected to directing than desire, what happens when we live in a culture that for women, desire is shamed?”

Soloway goes for a fluid feel to shooting scenes. “We imbue the actors with a feeling of ‘this is real,'” she said. The scenes are set up, and Soloway tries to direct without taking away from the moment. “There is nothing worse for taking people out of their bodies than yelling ‘action!'” she said.

Soloway also talked about the need to take up space — to claim your space, your right to be there.

“For women, for people of color, for queer people, for gender nonconforming people, for anybody who feels that they have been ‘other,’ we’re taking a step to claim our subjectivity when we grab that camera. And sometimes just that movement from object to subject can be so impossible. And we don’t even realize that. That’s the psychological, that’s the spiritual that’s underneath this political question of why aren’t there more female directors.

“Saying ‘I want’ when you’re raised to the be object of somebody else’s ‘I want’ upends their subjectivity, and what we’ll get is a negative response.”

Soloway said she’d love to make a “post-matriarchal-revolution virtual reality” movie so that people could experience what it would be like to have reversed gender roles. But ultimately, as we see a broader spectrum of possibilities, and not just male versus female, perhaps the idea of gender isn’t so clear cut.

“You can talk about gender regarding the present and the past, but when I look at what’s going on in the White House right now, and what’s happened to this thing called masculinity, I know there are a lot of men who say, ‘That is not me.’ That masculinity is not me. And that there are beautiful ways to be masculine, and there are powerful ways to be a man, and there are beautiful ways to see and be seen that belong to both genders”

 

 

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