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The Jewish writer behind the viral feminist movement

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Sarah Waisvisz in her one-woman show Monstrous CHRISTOPHER SNOW PHOTO
CHRISTOPHER SNOW PHOTO

Who do you picture when you think of the word “director?” Steven Spielberg, maybe, with his constant cap and sprawling beard? Or Alfred Hitchcock, with a dapper suit and concerned expression? Maybe Clint Eastwood in a simple tee, or Christopher Nolan in a blazer sans tie, or Quentin Tarantino in gen-X grunge style. Indeed, search Google images for “director” and you’ll find a testosterone-packed collage, mostly white, all fitting the stereotype of the adamant, assertive leader.

For Aline Brosh McKenna, the Jewish co-creator of the hilarious TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that publicly ingrained stereotype is a problem.

“People carry an image around in their head of what a director looks like,” she told IndieWire in early February. “We just need different images. Images are very valuable, so seeing images of women direct while they’re pregnant, and petite women, and tall women, and just all different types of women, I think is important.”

Unlike her Crazy Ex co-creator Rachel Bloom, who rocketed from YouTube star to Golden Globe winner in just a few years, Brosh McKenna has been earning a name in Hollywood since the 1990s. She wrote the screenplays for The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses and the unfortunate Annie remake – add the female-empowering Crazy Ex into the mix, and you’ll find a body of work that firmly passes the Bechdel test, which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

So this January, Brosh McKenna sent emails out to an army of female directors she knew, asking them to post pictures of female directors they admire on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #FemaleFilmmakerFriday. The modest request was picked up swiftly, and the hashtag was trending within its first few hours, with proponents in Selma director Ava DuVernay, Transparent creator Jill Soloway, Gal Gadot (a.k.a. our Israeli Wonder Woman), Gina Rodriguez, Queen Latifah, Anthony Bourdain and Paul Feig all tweeting images of female directors. Companies such as Netflix, the Criterion Collection, YouTube and TIFF hopped aboard, too, giving the whole thing a premeditated feel.

READ: ORTHODOX FEMINISM

The following Friday proved just as popular, indicating the hashtag may live on beyond this month, joining the ranks of #MotivationMonday, and #ThrowbackThursday in the calendar of “Things People Tweet About For Some Reason.”

Not that I mean to distract from the hashtag’s power at all – if we’re going to stick to a calendar of alliterative trending hashtags, they may as well be socially constructive ones.
And I hope it does stick around. As the masses of #MeToo gave way to Hollywood’s #TimesUp campaign, and the subsequent domino effect sees powerful men tumbling down, some activists fear the moment will pass soon, like so many Occupy movements before it, without profoundly affecting the status quo. This #FemaleFilmmakerFriday trend is light, for sure – non-controversial, apolitical, positive and encouraging. It’s an opportunity for celebrities to use their influence in such a way that might avoid the bizarrely reflexive backlash that somehow warps women’s health into a contestable political issue.

The Jewish community, too, should feel proud that the movement’s creator is a member of the tribe, known for one of TV’s most under-appreciated comedies. I’ve praised Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in these pages before: it’s deeply Jewish, beautifully unique and musically ingenious. As it wraps up its third season this month on the CW, I suggest you tune in, or catch up on the first two seasons on Netflix.

More than its beyond-neurotic lead Jewish lawyer, the show celebrates diversity and underrepresented groups without drawing too much attention to its socially progressive mandate, casually diving into each culture (Jews, bisexuals, Filipinos) textually rather than incidentally blind casting a diverse group. After all, visibility itself is powerful. As Brosh McKenna wrote to kick off her movement, “It’s hard to become what you do not see.”

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