Helen Mirren criticizes director Sam Mendes for only naming male influences

In yesterday’s Tom Hiddleston post, I included a photo of Helen Mirren, who was also in attendance at the Jameson Empire Film Awards over the weekend. Helen looked amazing, of course, and as it turns out, Tom presented Helen with the Legend Award. Before that happened, though, Skyfall director Sam Mendes was honored several times over (for Skyfall, obviously) and when Sam spoke, he had named some of the men who were his major influences. And when I say “men” I mean “all sausages”. So when Helen came up to make her Legend speech, she called him out for only admiring dudes:

She was presented with the Legend Award at the Empire Awards on Sunday evening. And proving that she truly is a legend, Helen Mirren took the opportunity to criticize Sam Mendes after he failed to mention any female film makers as his influences.

As she arrived on stage to pick up her own award, she began her telling off by saying: ‘I don’t want to unduly pick on Sam Mendes, but when he spoke about his inspirations earlier this evening, I’m afraid not a single one of the people he mentioned was a woman.’

Continuing The Queen actress said: ‘Hopefully in five or 10 years, when Sam’s successor is collecting their Inspiration award, the list will be slightly more balanced in terms of its sexual make-up. In the meantime, this one is for the girls.’

As she left the stage, the dame was reportedly met with huge applause from the audience who clearly agreed with her point. The Skyfall director, who picked up three events on the evening, used one of his speeches to credit the directors that had inspired his own career. Some of the names he mentioned in his men only list included Paul Thomas Anderson, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman.

It is unclear how Mendes, who won Best Film, Best Director and the Empire Inspiration Award reacted to Helen’s public telling-off.

Not one to dwell on things, Helen, 67, did also make a joke at the ceremony in the Grosvenor House Hotel. Accepting her accolade, she said: ‘I feel more of a leg-over than a legend. I have been more in my career.’

[From The Mail]

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as I watched the push-pull of coverage about Sheryl Sandberg’s advice/memoir-ish book Lean In. Sandberg talks about women mentoring women, and she also says that some of the most significant mentors she’s had in her life were men, men who saw something special in her and gave her a leg up professionally. Her point was, I think, that if women want to succeed in business (any business), we can’t simply wait around for a powerful woman to mentor us – we have to build alliances and professional friendships wherever we can get them. I believe the same goes for men, by the way – why can’t a man have a female mentor? Why can’t a man’s professional life be significantly influenced by women?

Back on topic, I don’t think it’s particularly strange that none of Sam Mendes’ directorial mentors/heroes are men – something like 95% of all film directors are men, so it’s not like Mendes would drop in Kathryn Bigelow’s name just for some gender equality. But here’s what I DO find odd – that his inspirations/heroes are ONLY male directors. What about his mother? Or a female producing partner or business partner? How about a wife or an ex-wife? How about a female artist or an actress or something? Compare Sam Mendes’ gender tunnel-vision with a director like Ridley Scott, who consistently talks about all of the female influences on his life – and Ridley has a history of making films ABOUT strong women too.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Deme/WENN.

 

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39 Responses to “Helen Mirren criticizes director Sam Mendes for only naming male influences”

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  1. lisa2 says:

    ITA..I don’t think slap on his hand was fair. If he had been a woman and listed the women that influenced him I doubt she would have said a thing. IN all fairness as was noted the majority of directors when he was beginning were MALE. So that would be his early influence. I can understand the point of him mentioning female directors or other women that influence him TODAY

    but let’s be real. We see females cutting each other down all the time in Hollywood. Calling women nasty names. Some of it is media created, but most is Women/Hate and jealously. So all this Girl power and Girl/Girls crap is just that. I wish Helen would speak up about the nasty things women are saying about each other. Women have a lot of house cleaning to do before we try to make Men better.

    • Chiquita says:

      Completely. If a woman director had named only female influences, would Mirren be tsk-tsk-ing that too? Highly unlikely. Hypocrite.

      • OutstandingWorldCitizen says:

        ITA!!!! We all have gender biases. Is it fair? No. I love HM but this was unnecessary. She coming across as some chastizing OLD BROAD which isn’t way I see HM. I’m over it already. I’ll give her pass. She’s a vet which explains her stance.

    • Jill says:

      +111111 Women are nastier to each other more than men are nasty to them :( . We really need to cut that out.

    • jen says:

      I agree Helen was totally unfair. Jeez, give him a break. These are his influences, not yours. Tell people your own female influences if you think it’s so important to have those names out there. I hate this PC stuff – should he lie about his influences just so he won’t be subtly criticized by someone who wants to make a point at his expense? Way to take the shine off a good director’s well-deserved moment Helen. Maybe next time you win an award that you’re really proud of, the person who follows you should criticize some aspect of your acceptance speech and see how you feel about it. Ugh, she should apologize.

    • etl says:

      You are missing the point.

      All you have to do is watch Skyfall and pay attention..

      Sam Mendes is very talented, but he is not exactly pro-feminist – never was, never will be. That’s fine. But – I think in this movie, in particular, Bond is the central figure – again – the man who saves the world, and those poor, poor women, what would they do without him?

      We used to admire M, and now she turned into an old lady, who hangs on to him for protection. Oh, and Moneypenny – field work was a little too tough for her, poor little thing, she prefers the secretarial work.

      I know he – Sam – was not credited as a writer, but he most certainly had a hand in the direction of the script took. I would be surprised if that was not the case.

      And does anyone remember the disposable prostitute who risks her life for him, even though he killed her boyfriend/ticket out of sexual slavery – so he shags her – and then next thing is she is shot by Xavier Bardem’s villain, while Bond stands by, watching – and nothing is ever said about her afterwards?

      I am not an extreme feminist, but in my opinion, this Bond film was yet one of the most chauvinistic ones of the recent years – so in fact, we have regressed, rather than made headway. And I think Helen Mirren was well aware of this – after all, she starred in a fantastic BBC crime series, where she played an older female chief inspector, who becomes superintendent and takes over a distinctly MALE role – so this dig was impeccably done, IMO – and kudos to Helen for bringing it to the table in such a devious, tasteful and brave way:)

  2. Maria says:

    i dont see the big deal, its all in the way how you interpret Helen Mirrens statement.
    i dont think she wanted to attack him, she wanted to point out that maybe in ten years there will be more female directors.
    as of right now, its like you say. there are basically only men, if an nba all star talks about his idols they will be men, too.
    oh and even if we had a 50/50 with men and women in directing, i wouldnt see a problem if he only had male influences. thats not sexist, its his life and if his idols are men, whatever. i practically only listen to female music artists, doesnt mean i think led zeppelin sucks because they are men. he didnt say anything bad about women.

  3. Ginger says:

    I love Helen all the more for calling him out. I just listened to the audio book version of Lean In and I highly recommend it! Thanks for mentioning it. A lot of women are on this board and I think it is worth looking into for all of you if you are so inclined. I found the book to be inspirational. And you are correct Kaiser…he could have mentioned his wife or mother or daughter, etc. as a personal influence. If we want more gender equality then we need to take over more leadership roles.

    • Soapboxpudding says:

      But she didn’t single him out. If you watch the clip she specifically says that she is not taking him to task for his own inspirations but hopes that in a few years prominent women directors, which there are many of now but weren’t in the past, are included in such a speech.
      She noted that the business has been dominated by men for years, and was when she started, but many women work in lighting, sound, directing, and producing now. She was hoping future honorees influences reflect the changing dynamic of the workforce.
      The mail’s article and this one sensationalize what she said. Watch the clip. It’s a great speech and much more nuanced than reported.

  4. Hannah says:

    From my reading of the reports, I understood that Helen was just making a point that we really need more equality in the film industry. I don’t think she was criticizing Sam Mendes personally. She was probably listening to that speech and thought, “Gee, there really aren’t a lot of female directors…”. But I don’t know, I wasn’t there, obvs.

  5. G says:

    This one’s for the girls!! Sam Mendes is gross. There’s a special place in heaven for Helen Mirren, that was awesome!
    And thanks for giving a shout out to Lean In, seriously she nailed it. The corporate world is one giant fraternity, it gets discouraging after a while when you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

  6. Jess says:

    Weird thing to call him out for. If I were making a list of my favourite directors it would be all dudes as well, and I think that holds true for most people. Also, not everyone wants to use an awards ceremony as a platform for discussing who’s influenced or inspired them in their personal life (I always cringe when actors win something and talk about their mum for half the speech. Just thank her later in private, no one else cares…) He was talking about the directors who infuenced his directing, not everyone who’s ever influenced him.

    Mirren could have made the (entirely valid) point that there are too few female directors without bringing Mendes into it.

    • Diana says:

      I think she made her point quite effectively, tbh. There are too few women in the directing game. She highlighted this by talking about the male director who only has other male director influences.

      Hollywood has a distinct lack of diversity in directors. She was just calling attention to it. I’m not sure why everyone’s all “oh poor Sam Mendes!!!!111!!!” now. Like, he’ll be fine. He’s a big boy. On the other hand, I kind of applaud Helen for her ballsy move. Someone has to say and notice these things, or nothing starts to change.

    • Claudia says:

      I completely agree, Jess. Mendes didn’t mention any female inspirations in other professions because he was discussing how other directors influenced his directing style.

  7. bns says:

    She’s absolutely right. The film industry is so incredibly sexist and racist and it’s good that people speak up.

  8. mkyarwood says:

    I think she focused on him ‘cos that’s who was there. She’d have slammed any other dude, and I’d like for any woman director to have the same chance to drone on about their influences and see how many of them are women /shrug. It’s a male dominant industry.

  9. spinner says:

    I love Helen & I think she got her point across in a very precise way without being mean-spirited or overly critical. She planted the seed & hopefully it will grow from here & on…

  10. original kay says:

    I had to read it a few times, and I think she was pointing out the lack of female directors who make it really big. It cannot be for lack of available talent, I think they are more passed over than men.

    • original kay says:

      ah, that being said, I don’t like kathryn bigelow at all.
      her movies suck, IMO.

    • jaye says:

      I applaud her for speaking out about the lack of really successful women in the industry, but she could have done so without even mentioning Sam Mendes name, even if her intent was to bring attention to the inequity of the film industry in general. I don’t know anything about Sam Mendes’ personal life other than that he was married to Kate Winslet so I can’t speak to that, but his professional influences are his own.

  11. Tiffany says:

    Simple. Sam Mendes is not Ridley Scott and I feel never will be. After seeing several of Mendes films and how he acts in his personal life, he would not know a strong woman if she sat on his face.

  12. Jj says:

    I think that the reason women have a lot of male mentors (for me it’s been mostly men too) is because its only recently where in the business world we’ve had women who could be mentors, and I think a lot of them are still trying to prove themselves. Yes, there have been some great females in all aspects of jobs but theres always been more men in higher placement/ positions of mentorship. It’s easier to be a mentor when your position has been secure. That said, I am seeing a lot more women mentors, maybe not in the business sense but in the personal sense. A lot of my friends are “big sisters”, or have amazing jobs that help I look to for guidance on my own path. And it’s silly to say, oh she’s a hypocrite because if he said all women directors no one would have minded. That’s because women are still working to get that same recognition men a lot of times automatically have. Not the same thing at all, I hate that flip sided argument.

    • MaiGirl says:

      I agree. Hollywood has been a sexist boy’s club from its inception, so there is no equivalent. Men control Hollywood, so they have called the shots; women have never had such a monopoly. When a small bunch of women become power players and mostly tell stories from a woman’s point of view for several decades, then there might be more of a comparison.

  13. lucy2 says:

    I too don’t think it was a criticism of him, so much as the industry as a whole.

  14. greenraygirl says:

    Hilarious pictures of Mr Mendes.
    So smug.
    So groomed.
    So moisturised.
    So very very manly.

  15. bluhare says:

    I’m coming to see you, Helen!! Can hardly wait!

  16. Fleurthefrenchy says:

    Well said Helen! It takes some guts to do that!
    Love her!

  17. silly you says:

    this is just ridiculous. so he was never inspired by a woman? so what? his experiences, the things that motivated him and challenged him personalltly and professionally are his. there is nothing to see here, folks. i love me some HM, but this is some crap. actually, i was just thinking…
    she’s my inspiration for hotness after 60…does this mean i need to pick a male inspiration, too?? you know, to be fair…

  18. Jenny says:

    I love Helen for this! I think its great that someone as well respected as she speaks out. I know people are actors and have met mendes. He is nice apparently but very much part of an elitist upper class white english cambridge club, it a bit removed. He is not part of this wider more diverse society. I dont think helen slammed him she just pointed out that there must be women that has influenced his way of seeing, thinking making movies too. And to the people who say there are so few women?
    What about an editor like Thelma Schoonmake for example? She has worked with Scorsese for his entire career and is a true giant in editing. There ARE women who has made a wonderful contribution to movies and could have been mentioned.

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