Bullies at the Gate

By Maria Giese

When I was prepping my feature film, “When Saturday Comes” in Sheffield, England, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the project.  Since it was a soccer film and would be shot on location, there were going to be large-scale auditions for hundreds of extras and we looked forward to a lot of media attention.

“When Saturday Comes” was to be the first feature film ever to have been shot in Sheffield (“The Full Monty” came the following year), and I had great stars: Academy Award nominee, Pete Postlethwaite, the beloved Sean Bean, and Emily Lloyd.

I already had my MFA from UCLA film school and I had directed 2 award-winning shorts, but this was my first feature and I was very excited.  When the local newspaper, “The Sheffield Star” called to interview me, I was very enthusiastic.

The next day, a 35-year-old reporter named John met me at my hotel.  We sat down to lunch and spoke for at least two hours.  We talked about women directors, about the history of cinema, about the tradition of British kitchen sink films, about the relationship between sports and war, about my favorite book at the time, Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (Man Playing), and about my love of British football.

At the end of our conversation,  John took some photographs of me to accompany the article.  He shook my hand and told me it was great that an American woman was directing this male-oriented British football film, and he wished me the best of luck.  I was grateful and told him that I looked forward to having him on set when we started shooting.

Several days later, the article appeared on the front page of the newspaper.  The headline read: “Maria Struggles as She Focuses on Film.”  The editor had chosen one of John’s many photographs of me to accompany the article.  It was a close-up of my face: my head slung back, my mouth agape, and my eyes ablaze in terror.

The first sentence of the article stated that in a conversation with this American woman film director, the word “struggle” came up over and over again.  Indeed, the word “struggle” appeared around 15 times in John’s short article about me.

I was stunned by the perspective the newspaper had decided to take, but I immediately understood it as an attack, not just on me personally, but on women directors in general.  And I saw it as a striking confirmation of the fact that we are seen as a threat.

I had to laugh, imagining the cruel laughter that must have abounded in the newsroom offices as they calculated every angle to make me look fearful, incompetent and weak.  I realized that this attack just reflected the beginning of the many blows we women must take as we are bullied at the gates of the Boys’ Club that is home to nearly all film directors (the ratio of feature film directors is 95% male to 5% female).

The next day, I called John on the phone and took him to lunch at a nearby pub.  I asked him why he had done it.  I told him how damaging it was to other young women who dream of directing films.  I told him a lot more, too, but he just shrugged his shoulders…

He really didn’t have anything to say.