Local director speaks out against sexism in film — Berkeley High Jacket
Of the top 250 films released in 2021, only 17% were directed by women, according to the Celluloid Ceiling Report. The film industry is extremely male-dominated, with the profession of director being one of the most exclusive. Marielle Heller, a director from the Bay Area, doesn’t let that deter her from working to increase female representation in the industry.
Heller was born in Marin County, California and raised in Alameda. She attended Saint Joseph’s Notre Dame High School and began exploring acting at the Alameda Children’s Musical Theater. She then studied acting at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England. Heller also performed early at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Recently, she starred as Alma Wheatley in the highly acclaimed Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.
Heller’s writing and directing debut, Diary of a Teenage Girl, was released in 2015. The film is based on a graphic novel about a teenage girl growing up in the Bay Area, a story that was relatable for Heller. . After Diary of a Teenage Girl, Heller directed A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and other shorter projects.
When Heller first proposed a film adaptation of Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner, the book’s author, opposed the idea. However, the story meant a lot to Heller, as she felt represented in a way she had never been before. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s how the boys must have felt when they read The Catcher in the Rye,'” she said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “It really blew up my world.” Heller continued to present his idea; eventually, Gloeckner was convinced.
Heller is a trailblazer in the film industry, creating transparency about what it’s like to be a working mom. In and of itself, being a working mother to young children is certainly not easy.
At the time of filming A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Heller had a four-year-old son she wanted to be able to see at night. The team worked from seven or eight in the morning until five or six in the evening, with no break for lunch, so that Heller and other workers could be home with their children in the evening.
Heller believes that film productions need to adhere to more sustainable working hours to allow people with families to continue their work. “Why are so many women leaving the workforce at this age, in their late 30s, early 40s?” Heller asked in an interview with Variety. “Well, it’s often because we’re raising kids, so let’s be honest about that.”
Although the film industry is rooted in sexism, people like Heller are changing that by demanding respect for basic needs — like coming home to see your kids — from working parents.