Rebecca Miller: Sundance Fights Hollywood’s Fear of the Female Protagonist

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Miller with Gerwig at the festival. Photo: Araya Diaz/2016 Araya Diaz

You can count on Sundance to be a place where movies that happen to be directed by women and also happen to star actors who happen to be female are celebrated. It's a phenomenon not lost on director Rebecca Miller, whose film Maggie’s Plan — about a woman (Greta Gerwig) entangled in a love triangle with a professor (Ethan Hawke) and his wife (Julianne Moore) — screened Friday in Park City.

Despite another year of female-centric films bowing at the fest —  including entries from directors Clea Duvall, Sian Heder, Meera Menon, and others —  festival vet Miller (her debut film Personal Velocity took home the grand jury prize in 2002) told Vulture in advance of her premiere that Hollywood is “Absolutely still in an era where these types of movies aren’t seen as commercially viable. There is a fear of the woman protagonist.”

Miller, who is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and whose spouse is actor Daniel Day-Lewis, pointed to 2016 best picture nominee The Big Short as a glaring example of “a big Hollywood movie where women are almost entirely absent from the narrative.”

She said there is the familiar trope of “the understanding wife," played by Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo’s banker character, “who’s pretty much filmed through three sets of windows. You see enough movies like that you start to think, 'Well, I guess I’m not really part of this world.' There is a parallel world that’s actually not my world. It’s very alienating. And we are so used to this kind of alienation, we don’t even think about it.”

Miller said she feels lucky to have had total creative control over the course of her film career — a bonus she says made better by not living in Hollywood — "But it’s just true that it’s easier to get a movie made with a male protagonist. It's a sad, frustrating fact. It’s a struggle."