Undoubtedly, one of the most successful women in contemporary Hollywood is Angelina Jolie. She has had an enormous impact in her career not only as an actor, but also as a social advocate and director. Jolie’s recent production, Unbroken, opened in December of 2014 and has grossed over $115 million. The action/drama film was quite popular upon release (not to mention my dad loved it), and I think this interview with Jolie on the Today Show shortly before the film’s opening provides an avenue for us to explore why the film was such a well funded blockbuster ($65 million), given that it was directed by a female.
Jolie really focused on the emotional importance of directing Unbroken, and while I do not in any way want to demean this emotion that made the movie so powerful (and popular), it think it is important to acknowledge that this is what Jolie focuses on when talking about the motivation behind the film. Despite her being a woman and representing a severely underrepresented gender in the film industry, Jolie does not report feeling added pressure to succeed with the project because of her gender. Instead, the pressure that Jolie feels in making this film stems from not wanting to fail Louie, whose story is being told through the film.
Although it is glaringly obvious that Jolie is one of very few female directors working on large blockbuster films, she fails to acknowledge the pressure that comes with this. Does her silence about the gender inequality in Hollywood stem from the fact that she does not want to spark controversy by speaking about bias in the industry? Or, does her silence stem from the fact that she was a very accomplished artist and businesswoman even before making the film, and so she did not perceive there to be any bias in her selection as director of Unbroken because she is so well know (and thus profitable) to begin with? Does her success blind her from the trials and tribulations of being a female movie director? Indeed, she essentially blows off Al’s question about a rise in female directors, saying that clearly the tides are turning and implying that there is no real cause for concern about sexism in Hollywood. Many female directors would disagree with her.
I do not think that Jolie is completely oblivious to the struggles of female directorship, despite what she conveys in this interview. I think her apparent apathy towards the topic partially comes from remaining un-contridictory so as to not disrupt the status quo–after all, money is the bottom line and Jolie could face a lot of grief if she bad-mouthed the film industry on the Today Show. Furthermore, emotional reactions and motivations are expected of women–especially women artists. To a certain extent, Jolie’s focus on the personal aspect of working with Louie Zamperini was a way to appeal to viewers’ expectations of female directorship and get them to see the movie (because the film industry makes profits off of portraying stereotypes, as Dargis explains). A very important contradiction that is embodied in Jolie’s interview, however, is her ignoring the injustices of the film industry in order to make her art and have it communicate something important to viewers. She is very intentional about the emotional and personal underpinnings of the creation of the movie. The very real emotion that she expressed in the interview would be detracted if in the same sentence she denounced Hollywood as a sexist industry. To keep the emotion of her art alive–at least in this case–she had to sacrifice her politics.