“I get questions about what it's like to be a woman filmmaker,” says Ramsay in an interview for The Guardian, “and you don't get that question a lot if you're a man. I don't really go there because I can't really define what I bring to films as a woman.”
Women throughout the entertainment industry are getting asked this same question — what is it like to be a female musician, producer, etc.? However, being a woman is not the only thing that makes Ramsay unique. She wants to be known for her artistic talent and her work, not just her gender. Unfortunately, the disparity of respect between men and women filmmakers makes creating their work an uphill battle. It is not necessarily about what Ramsay brings to her films “as a woman” bur instead focused on her inevitable hardships in the industry and how her gender has affected her reputation.
You probably have never really heard of Lynne Ramsay. She hails from Glasgow, but is not even listed under “Famous Glaswegians” on the Glasgow City Council website (blasphemy)! Since her debut in 1999 (Ratcatcher), Ramsay has scratched and clawed her way into directing three masterful features and two short films, including We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here. This output may seem scarce in comparison to directors like Takashi Miike pumping out six movies within a year, but Ramsay’s unique position in the industry makes the mere existence of her filmography impressive. Ramsay describes her work as capturing an intimate mood, exploring the hardships and complex emotions of her characters. Ramsay focuses on every detail of her films, from script-writing to costume design. However, when it comes to articulating her creative vision, Ramsay is not worried about pleasing the crowd. Her filmography is better described as “the in-between spaces, the voids and vacuums where marginalized or inarticulate people try to understand the codes of a baffling world.”
Over nearly two decades Ramsay’s tenacious protection of her artistic vision has earned her a fair share of enemies — mostly producers who wanted to tweak her work to be more audience friendly. Her biggest clash came when she failed to show up to the first day shooting Jane Got a Gun. Prior to that first day of production, Ramsay had butted heads with producers of the film who expressed interest in changing the film in the edit, overriding Ramsay’s final cut. Ramsay exercised her right to leave the project and gave notice before production began, yet came out of the whole situation with a reputation of being “difficult to work with.”
Nearly eighty years ago, a director by the name of George Cukor (My Fair Lady and A Star is Born) also left a project early into its production; a little movie called Gone with the Wind. In a similar fashion, Cukor clashed with mega producer David O. Selznick who sought to control the production and undercut Cukor’s vision. Cukor ended up leaving unceremoniously just two weeks into the production. However, without missing a beat, Cukor landed right into another production that ended up being his classic The Philadelphia Story, which was released just a year after Gone with the Wind. Where Lynne Ramsay was labeled “difficult to work with” and had four more years before her next release, Cukor came out of a nearly identical situation as being respected for protecting his creative vision and shortly after a new film release. The difference in time is staggering. The two situations speak to a larger issue regarding gender in the film industry. Outspoken women are still too often labeled as emotional or problematic. “I heard that some people said, ‘Was she on her period?’” Ramsay explains in an interview with The Guardian. While men in the exact same positions are labeled strong-willed and confident, Ramsay is “difficult” and “disruptive.”
Though the film industry has been rampant with sexism for most of its existence, great strides have been made recently towards fair gender representation; emerging popular filmmakers like Greta Gerwig, Dee Rees, and Issa Rae probably would not have had such recognition twenty years ago. This makes Lynne Ramsay’s existence as a bold female auteur prior to this more inclusive era even more impressive, and marks yet another reason why this Glaswegian artist is incredibly under-appreciated. It will be exciting to see if Ramsay can maintain a more prolific career with her rock-solid filmography and less barriers of entry. Cinema certainly needs her voice.
Alex Sennett is a second year film student at NYU. Hannah Calistri is a second-year anthropology student at NYU and a Copy Editor for The Rational Creature.