IndieWire reports that Andrea Arnold, who directed all seven episodes of Season 2, wasn't given the complete creative control over Big Little Lies that HBO originally promised. According to several sources, HBO and BLL showrunner David E. Kelley took post-production duties from Arnold and gave them to executive producer and Season 1 director Jean-Marc Vallée. Per IndieWire, Vallée was given the task of "[taking] Arnold’s work and make it look and feel like the familiar style Vallée brought to the hit first season."
To make matters worse, if that's possible, IndieWire also reports this was HBO and Kelley's plan from the start—something they failed to relay to Arnold. After principal photography wrapped, Arnold returned to London with her team and started putting together a rough cut of Season 2. But once Vallée finished working on last summer's Sharp Objects, HBO moved BLL production to Vallée's Montreal base. Then HBO ordered re-shoots, where Vallée had complete control.
Arnold's credentials speak for themselves. The British director won the Best Short Film Oscar in 2005, and has directed episodes of Amazon shows I Love Dick and Transparent. Her most recent movie, American Honey, starred Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf and took viewers on an intoxicating road trip across the United States. When Season 2 of BLL was announced in December 2017, producer and star Reese Witherspoon said in a press release, "I’m beyond excited to be working with talented and acclaimed director Andrea Arnold, who will be at the helm. Andrea’s unique storytelling style will be a welcome addition to the filmmaking team."
At the time, HBO's decision to hand a powerful, female-led story like Big Little Lies to one of the most innovative women in the film industry felt like a promising sign of progress in an industry plagued by gender imbalance behind the camera. Now, Arnold's hiring seems like little more than a token gesture, presumably designed to appease the growing disquiet and distrust of the industry generated by the Time's Up and #MeToo era.
If anyone can tackle a woman's story, it's Arnold. Fish Tank, from 2009, follows 15-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis), whose dream of becoming a professional dancer is both helped and hindered by her mom's new boyfriend, played by an early-career Michael Fassbender. The dreamy yet jagged direction translates the protagonist's emotions without eliciting pity. The delicate way the movie explores poverty is a perfect example of how Arnold's astute eye could've honed in on the financial inequality between the characters of Big Little Lies, which is all but glossed over in Season 2.
Fans of Arnold's ethereal directorial style have likely felt lost during the heavily-edited, tepid episodes Season 2 has aired so far. Rather than letting Arnold's trademark handheld camera linger on its female protagonists, BLL has opted for a reliance on flashbacks, scenes interspersed with clumsy cuts, and far too many lines of dialogue in the mouths of men.
Arnold has yet to speak on the experience, but IndieWire cited a source close to the director who said, "to have been allowed to shoot and start to edit her version of the show and then have it taken from her, without explanation or warning, was devastating."
Prior to IndieWire's report, star Zoë Kravitz was seemingly the only person to express any discontent with Season 2 of Big Little Lies. She told the Los Angeles Times how she wanted to explore the topic of race in Monterey in the new season, but didn't get the chance:
"The one thing that didn’t make it into Season 2 of the show, which I wanted to talk about more, was being a woman of color living in a white community. The fact that no one mentions she’s black or gossips about a white guy being married to someone black—I wanted to explore that a little bit more, but no one listened to me. The powers that be didn’t understand why it was so important. I think some people can’t relate to why those details matter, and so they just don’t get it."
HBO issued a statement to IndieWire regarding Arnold's role on the show, saying, "There wouldn’t be a Season 2 of Big Little Lies without Andrea Arnold. We at HBO and the producers are extremely proud of her work. As with any television project, the executive producers work collaboratively on the series and we think the final product speaks for itself."
But for fans of Arnold, author Liane Moriarty's books, and all of the actresses involved in the show, this explanation isn't enough. It would appear that, while Big Little Lies focuses on female characters onscreen, its women are voiceless behind the scenes.
BAZAAR.com has reached out to HBO for comment.
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