Thanks to the bed-hopping likes of James Bond, the spy movie is traditionally seen as a male-dominated genre. The Spy Who Dumped Me, an irreverent espionage comedy, made a clear dent in that perception this year.
For director Susanna Fogel, the film points the way for women to reinvigorate established genres.
In The Spy Who Dumped Me, available on digital download and DVD and Blu-ray now, Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon are two best friends thrust into the high-stakes world of international espionage and violent action. Fogel, who co-wrote the film with writing partner David Iserson, is keen to build on her experience of making an action movie.
"I would love to work in that world of epic superhero/super-villain stuff," she says when we chat on the phone. "I'm not a huge comic book person, but I do feel like there's an iconic, unabashedly epic quality to those movies. I just don't generally see female characters in those movies that behave like anything I would recognize."
Fogel is concerned depictions of women are still limited.
"The strong woman of 2018 isn't allowed to be flawed, isn't allowed to be silly," she says. It's sort of considered anti-feminist to show them as anything but bionic super-heroines. So a lot of these spy movies, or action movies or superhero movies — they're very self-serious in a way I don't totally connect with."
While Marvel's Black Widow or the women of Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow rarely crack a smile, Fogel points out we've had various versions of male heroes like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man coming of age, exploring their powers and having emotional character arcs spanning drama, action and comedy.
"I feel like on the women's side of things you have Wonder Woman, but that's kind of it," she says, "and Wonder Woman is not a comedian. So it would be interesting to introduce a female Deadpool, a female Iron Man, with some wit infused into the female heroines, and not needing them to be so perfect all the time — letting them be a little bit more human just like the male icons."
She isn't advocating swapping Ryan Reynolds or Robert Downey Jr. for female versions of their iconic characters. But Fogel would happily generate her own superhero or fantasy project. At the same time, she doesn't want women directors to be pigeonholed as only taking on women heroes.
"I feel for female directors, of whom there are not many. There haven't been many who are able to be genre chameleons in the way that on the male side you have Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott," she says. Women directors can end up known for one thing or get the reins only of movies perceived as women's stories, even though a recent study found movies headlined by women lead to big box office returns.
Ultimately, Fogel wants to tackle characters on the level of Bourne and Bond, regardless of whether they're male or female. She's currently directing an episode of a male-led TV show that has superhero-type elements and was excited she wasn't hired for the "girl episode."
Before gender becomes irrelevant in the director's chair, Fogel thinks there's a "middle step" in which women will make bigger and bigger movies.
"It's hard for Hollywood to think of women for movies that are not necessarily needing a female director," she says, "and the way to walk that road is to keep expanding the scale and then actually put the evidence in front of their face. Say, OK, you cannot tell me I can't do another version of this thing I've already done."
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