Game Changers: Kitty Green on her experiences in the film industry: 'I still think people don't expect film directors to look like me'

Game Changers is a Yahoo Entertainment video interview series highlighting women behind the camera who are disrupting Hollywood. Throughout 2020, we're talking to the female filmmakers directing some of the year's biggest hits and buzziest indies, as well as the pioneers who paved the way for them.

Hollywood is decades removed from an era when Steven Spielberg was the literal poster child for what a successful film director looks like. (Remember Dawson’s Creek?) But even as the ranks of behind-the-camera talent continues to diversify, people’s perceptions of who gets to make movies often remains frozen in time. Kitty Green has firsthand experience with the industry’s antiquated image of a filmmaker. “I still think people don't expect film directors to look like me,” the Australian director of acclaimed American independent films like The Assistant and Casting JonBenet tells Yahoo Entertainment. (Watch our interview above.)

One incident in particular sticks in her memory: While taking meetings for a documentary she hoped to make, everyone who entered the room assumed that her 6-foot male assistant was the creative force behind the movie. “They would give me their coats and turn to him whenever they walked in,” she says. “This would happen again and again. He would take the coats from me and say, ‘OK, Kit — what are we doing.’ And that person would then feel very awkward!” While Green is able to laugh at those memories now, in the moment it was a striking example of industry sexism in action. “It really does mess with your self-confidence,” she admits. “Because you think, ‘Am I not supposed to be here? Am I not supposed to be in charge?’”

Green recalls another time when her authority was even questioned on set. While making the 2017 documentary Casting JonBenet in Colorado, some members of the mostly male crew regarded her with thinly-veiled skepticism. “One of the sound team was giving me directing notes in my ear,” she says now. “I was like ‘Oh my god, this is so inappropriate.’” Fortunately, that crew member eventually changed his tune — “[He] watched me work, and by the end of the day, he was very deferential,” Green remembers — but the larger point remains that his “help” wasn’t needed.

Green drew on those experiences when she set out to make The Assistant, the fictionalized account of an aspiring female producer who works as a personal assistant to a Harvey Weinstein-like mogul at a Miramax-like company. Over the course of one day, we watch Jane (played by Julia Garner) navigate a toxic workplace where she’s routinely made to feel less-than by her boss and male co-workers. “There’s not enough women in the film industry, so often the division of labor is very gendered,” she explains. “Women are made to get the coffee whereas the boys are allowed to sit in on the meetings. I wanted to make something that explored concrete examples of these micro-aggressions that can strip a young woman of her self-confidence.”

The Assistant ends on a deliberately ambiguous note, with Jane having to choose between walking away from that confidence-crushing environment or returning the next morning. While the movie doesn’t offer any easy solutions to the very real problems facing the film industry’s female filmmakers, Green says that one way to start is to simply hire more women in general. “We need to get more women in at the bottom of the ladder and let them climb up,” she says, adding that she has seen definite change since the days when she was handed coats or lectured-via-earpiece on how to direct. “I think I’m getting more opportunities, and I see my friends get more opportunities to direct things. It is shifting, it just takes time.” Sadly, it’s going to take more time for some. “I was at an awards ceremony, and someone assumed I was the coffee girl,” Green says good-humoredly. “It happens all the time!”

The Assistant is playing in theaters now; visit Fandango for ticket and showtime information. Casting JonBenet is streaming on Netflix.

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