One of the most exciting action sequences to hit television in 2022 is the sixth episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, on Prime Video. Considering that this is the most expensive series in history, it is not surprising that this upcoming confrontation offered a spectacle of this magnitude and an intense and bloody battle to the death. Director Charlotte Brändström was responsible for “Udûn” (as well as the following episode, “The Eye”), and it has been announced that she will return for four episodes of the upcoming season. Sanaa Hamri and Louise Hooper complete the list with two episodes each, so the management team is made up exclusively of women.
Mentioning gender in reaction to this news is a cheating situation, as it shouldn’t be news that women direct all eight episodes. Given the attempts at so-called “review bombing” that have already been poured into the series, there is no doubt that it will receive criticism for this lineup of directors (a quick glance at Twitter reveals that this is the case). However, taking into account each director’s previous experience (not to mention how good Brändström’s episodes are) and the visible groundwork other female directors of genre series have done, this should not be seen as a diversity coup or something unexpected.
Brändström’s exhilarating episode “Udûn” was a much-needed jolt after a slower first half of the fantastical epic, which at times struggled to balance the many different corners of JRR Tolkien’s world. Not that you’d expect a battle right away, but the sixth episode cemented the scope of this adaptation. His previous credits take aim at television with big ideas, including a desert island shipwreck in Outlander, Prime Video’s alternate history The Man in the High Castle, two episodes from the first season of The Witcher, and the upcoming adaptation of Shōgun.
The double episode of The Witcher une a Brändström con Hooper, who has to his credit a mix of streaming hits like The Sandman and the critically acclaimed black comedy Inside No. 9. Hooper has also directed the spy thriller Betrayal, starring Charlie Cox and set for release on December 26. on Netflix. Hamri, for his part, began directing television series in 2007 with Desperate Housewives and has worked on highly popular series (such as Elementary and Empire) and critically acclaimed series such as Rectify. Most recently, he has directed episodes of American Horror Stories and Prime Video’s Wheel of Time.
Brändström, Hooper and Hamri are by no means the first women to occupy this big-budget fantasy space, and the foundations have been laid by figures such as Michelle MacLaren and Mimi Leder. MacLaren directed episodes of Game of Thrones (the only woman to do so), The Leftovers, The Walking Dead, and Westworld. In 2022, Susanna White directed three episodes of the great Star Wars: Andor, Deborah Chow took the reins of the entire Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ miniseries, Meera Menon was behind two installments of Ms. Marvel, and The House of the Dragon is already doubled the account of directors of Game of Thrones with Clare Kilner and Geeta Vasant Patel.
Another significant proportion that has not hit the headlines is The cast of directors of the fifth season of The Handmaid’s Tale. Of the ten episodes, only one has been directed by a man (Bradley Whitford, also the lead). June Osborne herself, Elisabeth Moss, went behind the camera for the first time last year in the series she leads: she also directed episodes of The Shining. Yes, the show’s stars have more access and opportunities, but progress has been made since Gillian Anderson became the first woman to direct an episode of The X-Files (then in its seventh season).
Research conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film indicates that while the number of women directors on streaming platforms has nearly tripled, going from 10 percent in the 2017-18 season to 29 percent for 2021-22there is still significant room for improvement and opportunities beyond these steps.
In the case of free-to-air television, it has gone in the opposite direction, going from 30% (2018-2019) to only 18% (2021-22). The increase in broadcasting is aligned with the increasing number of series that are made year after year; after all, more series means more jobs. However, across all series considered in 2021-22 in this research, women accounted for 23 percent, a one percent decline from the previous year.
Earlier this year, it was released a fragment from a 2016 Hollywood Reporter Dramatic Actresses Roundtable discussing how much has changed in the past six years. Sarah Paulson mentions that a woman has never directed an episode of American Horror Story, that she was entering her sixth year. It went viral on Twitter because Kirsten Dunst lists the many female directors she has worked with in film. Of course, there are differences between the film and television landscapes, but there is value in Dunst’s suggestion that “giving first-time directors opportunities is key” to leveling the playing field.
Brändström, Hooper and Hamri are by no means the first women to occupy this big-budget fantasy space, and the foundations have been laid by the likes of Michelle MacLaren and Mimi Leder.
In fact, action was taken after this roundtable conversation when American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy stepped up and admitted his hiring bias. He told E! News in 2016: “The system for 25 years, since I started, it’s always been a lot of people who have had a lot of experience and those people are usually middle-aged white men. It’s the honest truth. And what I realized It’s that I had an obligation to step up and mentor people who deserve a chance.” Since then, there has been no male director on American Horror Story.
We’ve already established that The Rings of Power trio is far from first-timers. Still, we need to talk about this innovative lineup of female directors to make sure it’s the norm one day and these headlines are no longer necessary.