No longer content just to be making movies, a new generation of critically heralded female directors is rivaling the male establishment at the box office — and redefining what it means to be a woman in Hollywood.
Dominance. Discipline. A riding crop. When it was announced that E. L. James’s sadomasochistic literary sensation, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” would be adapted into a film, men like Joe Wright, Gus Van Sant and Bennett Miller were considered the front-runners to direct it. Instead, the project went to Sam Taylor-Johnson, a Turner Prize-nominated artist and mother of four with just one feature film — “Nowhere Boy,” a meditative biopic about a young John Lennon — to her name. “I tend to jump into big challenges as fearlessly as I possibly can, and this is definitely a big challenge,” admits the 47-year-old. “But I didn’t feel like I was stepping into something outside my realm of thought or creativity. A lot of my work has dealt with sexuality and power shifts and identity.” Despite the potentially crippling pressure of directing a story that’s been eagerly devoured by millions of women — and just as eagerly derided by critics who have called it “bad for you,” “S&M for Dummies” and “pornography, plain and simple” — the London native ran the set of “Fifty Shades,” out early next year, like an indie film, “so that it didn’t feel like we were doing something as massive as it potentially will be,” she says. “I wanted to keep it quite close-knit so that everyone felt supported, especially because a lot of the material is sensitive.” When it came to that sensitive material and how to tackle it, Taylor-Johnson was reminded of one of the few quiet moments from Kathryn Bigelow’s sexy thriller “Blue Steel,” in which Jamie Lee Curtis, as a rookie cop, slowly pulls on a black leather boot. “It was just one shot,” she says, “but I remember thinking, God, that is so powerful. And then I read the credits and was really surprised that — wow — a woman made this film.”