Game Changers: Tracing Julia Hart's journey from schoolteacher to in-demand 'Stargirl' director: 'We as women don't give ourselves permission because society doesn't often give us permission'

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Game Changers is a Yahoo Entertainment video interview series highlighting the diverse creators disrupting Hollywood — and the pioneers who paved the way.

Julia Hart was a high school English teacher in Los Angeles for eight years, and she loved her work. At the same time, there was a voice in her head that told her to pursue storytelling. So after teaching all day and grading papers at night, she stayed up late and immersed herself in screenwriting.

She wrote The Keeping Game, a period piece about women defending themselves from rogue soldiers during the Civil War. It was helmed by Daniel Barber and premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

"I watched the first screenplay I wrote get directed by a man. And I was like, 'I should be doing this,'" Hart told Yahoo Entertainment in our latest episode of Game Changers (watch above).

Hart then co-wrote her next script with her husband, Jordan Horowitz, and the couple decided she should direct it. Miss Stevens, a charming drama that follows a high school English teacher (natch) chaperoning three students (including a then-unknown Timothée Chalamet) to a drama competition. It made peanuts at the box office, but between the critical reaction to Miss Stevens and Hart's follow-up, the entrancing and stylish, yet criminally under-seen arthouse superhero story Fast Color, industry shot-callers took notice.

That included the new streaming giant Disney+, which not only offered Hart Stargirl, the new adaptation of Jerry Spinelli's young adult novel, the studio delayed production on the project until after the filmmaker gave birth to her second son. In turn, Hart delivered a tender and winning take on the coming-of-age tale about an eccentric teen (Grace VanderWaal) who arrives in a sleepy Arizona town and stirs things up.

Grace VanderWaal in 'Stargirl' (Disney+)
Grace VanderWaal in 'Stargirl' (Disney+)

"I waited a little too long to give myself permission," Hart says about her transition from teaching to filmmaking. "I think we as women don't give ourselves permission because society doesn't often give us permission to take on leadership roles. And it wasn't until I was watching someone else tell my story that I felt empowered to do it myself."

One advantage Hart did have was her partner. Horowitz is an accomplished producer with credits like The Kids Are All Right and La La Land — though is probably most recognizable for taking charge during the Oscars' infamous Envelopegate fiasco. He also produced and cowrote Stargirl, as well as Hart’s other 2020 release, the upcoming Amazon original drama I’m Your Woman starring Rachel Brosnahan. "He was very supportive and very encouraging and gave me the time and space, and really good notes on my script," she laughs. "It really is about putting in the time and investing in yourself and taking that leap. But it also definitely helped that I had a really supportive partner who knew the industry and was able to help guide me and advise me as I made the transition."

(Image: Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo Entertainment)
(Image: Quinn Lemmers/Yahoo Entertainment)

Hart is also deeply invested in the plight of women behind the camera.

"I am proud to be a female filmmaker. And I think right now in particular the term is so important because there are so few of us," she says. "When I was younger and just starting out, not everybody loves the idea of a young woman being in charge. But you just have to keep showing up every day and being your best self. … It's important to me that crews walk away from a movie having had a good experience with a female director because that only helps our cause in the long run."

And while she's no longer teaching, Hart does have some guidance for young females who want to follow in her path.

"I think young girls just need to pick up cameras and not wait for permission, and just do it themselves," she says. "Make a music video with your friends, make a short film, whatever it takes to get your foot in the door."

Stargirl is now streaming on Disney+.

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