The Importance of Elizabeth Banks Directing the Charlie’s Angels Reboot

By  · Published on September 16th, 2015

Roadside Attractions

If a woman had signed on to direct the first Charlie’s Angels movie in 2000, the industry would have paid some attention but the mainstream moviegoer probably wouldn’t have thought twice. Two years earlier, we weren’t concerned about the gender of the person who made Deep Impact or Half Baked or Dr. Dolittle. But we also weren’t noticing that those were among only a handful of major releases directed by women or that in 1999 there were barely any major Hollywood titles from female filmmakers (at least the New York Times reported on it). And we certainly weren’t paying enough attention to the fact that a monumental summit was organized in 2000 to address the problem of inequality for women in Hollywood (though Los Angeles Magazine had a great piece on it many months after the fact).

Ironically, the percentage of working women film directors that year hit an all-time peak and has been down ever since (then it was still only 11% and in 2014 it was just 7%). And neither success at the Oscars (Kathryn Bigelow became the first women to win the Best Director Oscar in 2009 with The Hurt Locker) nor the box office (top grossers of their year include women-helmed pics What Women Want, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mama Mia!, Twilight and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel plus more co-directed by women) have made much of a difference.

This year we’ve got two more big moneymakers from women: Fifty Shades of Grey and Pitch Perfect 2. The latter was made by Elizabeth Banks, who is now in negotiations to follow it with a reboot of Charlie’s Angels that she will also produce. And 15 years later it’s hard not to think about the significance of her being a woman handling an action franchise focused on women, how great and potentially influential that could be. The difference these days is that, mostly thanks to the internet and social media and more thinkpiece outlets and other means of being louder to the masses than we were in 2000, the issue seems to get more notice than ever before.

One director’s comment on Twitter about women not even wanting to direct blockbusters can trigger everything from public outcry to a specifically sought statement (albeit not directly linked to Colin Trevorrow’s tweet) from one of 2000’s top-grossing directors, Nancy Meyers. In the 1999 Times article linked to above, Steven Spielberg is quoted as suggesting the exact same thing his Jurassic World protege did. “You don’t need touch, or feel or taste. It’s very mathematical,” Spielberg reportedly said of action blockbusters’ lack of appeal to women. Interestingly, he’d also then just recently employed Mimi Leder as the director of The Peacemaker and Deep Impact.

Nowadays, not even Spielberg would get away with such a comment. And at a time when Hollywood couldn’t get away with hiring a man to direct Wonder Woman or, still presumably at this stage, Captain Marvel, the pressure to link women with women properties may soon expand beyond the superhero circuit. After Banks directs Charlie’s Angels (which can almost be called a superhero property, thanks to an old Time magazine cover), can we tolerate a male director being employed for the eventual Tomb Raider reboot or the inevitable Resident Evil remake or the next female-led YA series adaptation a la The Hunger Games (which Banks co-stars in) and Divergent?

Isn’t it about time the Alien franchise, as much as it’s been fodder for feminist film study and been a series notable for its varied approaches from directors with distinct perspectives, put a woman at the helm of one of its sequels? Yes, definitely, but with that one it’s worth noting that some franchises and some male directors might be exceptions. Aliens helmer James Cameron and Spy’s Paul Feig, who is currently turning Ghostbusters into a women-centric property, have done plenty of good for the opposite sex on screen.

This shouldn’t be a matter of men for men and women for women anyway. The reason it’s important now for women to direct movies led by women is primarily because it’s important for women to direct big budget movies in general, and this is an area and a gateway that will work to that result. Banks could later direct a Spider-Man movie (which would be neat since she used to be a part of the property on screen) and maybe the right man could later do a Charlie’s Angels movie. But for now, while Charlie’s Angels isn’t as big a deal as Jurassic World or, in theory, Fantastic Four, it’s a positive step that a woman, also, is moving up from her directorial debut to what may easily be a summer action movie tentpole.

That strategic angle aside, though, we mustn’t dismiss the importance of a woman directing a property based on a 1970s TV series that tried to capitalize on the rise of Women’s Liberation while, according to feminist critics at the time, doing little to progress the idea of strong women beyond them being hot chicks using sex to get what they want. “The pimp and his girls,” Judith Coburn famously commented about the show. “Charlie dispatches his streetwise girls to use their sexual wiles on the world while he reaps the profits.”

Many women today have a different view of the show as having actually been empowering and otherwise influential in their own feminist leanings, even taking ownership of the sex-positivity and objectification that Coburn condemned. Still, such representations of women are better served by women, and in two TV shows and in 110 episodes of the original show, eight episodes of the shortly lived rebooted series and two movies, only 43 minutes were directed by a woman (Herbie Fully Loaded’s Angela Robinson). With Banks at the helm of a new feature, we can more safely presume that any close-ups on an Angel’s butt as she dances around in her underwear are not exploitative.

Part of me wants this new Charlie’s Angels to be really awesome as proof that Banks is the perfect choice, but part of me also wants it to fail just so we can push for Banks to still have a great career and choice of great movies afterward, just as any male filmmaker who’d previously had a huge hit would. Either way, this could be a very big weight on her shoulders. Given how much she’s achieved recently in front of and behind the camera (see our list of the winners of the summer), she seems like she’s got the strength to bear it.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.