Elizabeth Banks calls out Steven Spielberg

While accepting an award at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards on Wednesday night, actress and director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) put director Steven Spielberg on blast in a big way for the lack of female lead characters that have appeared in his films over the years. Read Banks’ comments below.

According to The Wrap, here’s what Banks said during her speech:

“I went to Indiana Jones and Jaws and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead. Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out but it’s true.”

When someone in the crowd pointed out that Spielberg directed the 1985 movie The Color Purple, which revolves around a black female lead, Banks reportedly “moved on” with her speech. This caused a bit of a backlash against Banks from the black community on Twitter, which prompted Banks to apologize:

In fact, Spielberg has directed two other movies with women characters prominently at the forefront: The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn, and last year’s The BFG with young Ruby Barnhill.

Banks may not have been completely accurate with her statement, but her larger point still stands: it’s a little disheartening that Spielberg – unquestionably the world’s most popular director – has largely stuck to telling stories about male characters in his nearly fifty year career. It also took some serious courage to call out one of the most powerful people in Hollywood like that, so props to Banks for actually standing up and saying something to get a conversation started. (Note: Banks has actually worked with Spielberg once before, playing a small part in Catch Me If You Can.)

I want to make it crystal clear that I agree with Banks that female representation in Hollywood is still a major issue that needs to be taken seriously. So I feel slightly guilty even bringing this up, but…there are a couple of points in Spielberg’s defense here. First, he’s not normally the one writing the screenplays for the movies he makes (A.I. and Close Encounters are rare exceptions). That’s not a strong excuse, because he clearly has the power to choose what films he directs, but maybe if the industry as a whole was more geared toward telling stories about women, Spielberg would find more that he’d like to tell himself.

Secondly, maybe Spielberg simply doesn’t feel comfortable telling female-centric stories as a white male. I don’t necessarily think that’s something we should hold against him, especially when he’s produced (or executive produced) movies like Deep Impact, Memoirs of a Geisha, True Grit, and The United States of Tara, all of which prominently feature female leads.

Again, please don’t take this as me defending Spielberg specifically against Banks’ particular criticism, because I don’t deify the man and think he’s above reproach like some movie fans do. But it’s not like he should be tarred and feathered in the town square here. He’s clearly using his influence to get female-led stories into the world…he just doesn’t happen to be the one behind the camera for many of them.

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