On Tuesday evening, A Wrinkle in Time and New Gods director Ava DuVernay took to Twitter with a major Star Wars announcement, though it wasn’t about herself. For the first time in the franchise’s history, a black woman will direct a significant portion of a Star Wars film. Her name is Victoria Mahoney; remember it.
Mahoney has signed onto JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX as second unit director, putting her in charge of overseeing the direction of the movie’s supplementary footage like establishing shots, stunts, and cutaways. It’s a role that’s key to maintaining visual and narrative continuity, something that can make or break a film. Mahoney’s involvement marks a major milestone in her career, during which she’s directed short films and episodes of TNT’s Claws, Grey’s Anatomy, and Freeform’s upcoming Misfits adaptation.
Putting a black woman in charge of a Star Wars film’s second unit is an incredibly important step in the right direction toward diversifying the latent pool that studios tap into the helm major projects — and making Hollywood a more inclusive space overall. But it’s important to bear in mind that there’s still a lot of work to be done, because one black woman heading up one Star Wars film’s second unit will not solve the industry’s larger issue of excluding people who are not straight white men from positions of power.
Second unit directors often go on to become first unit directors and so the more opportunities there are for historically marginalized creators to get those gigs, the better. At the same time, however, insisting that people from those groups must work their way up the ladder this way in order to “prove” that they deserve to be put in the first unit directors’ chair is inherently problematic, because white guys with little to no experience are given a chance all the time. For the contrarians in the back who need to be reminded, I direct you to 47 Ronin, Tron: Legacy, The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor: The Dark World, Jurassic World, Fantastic Four, and all of the other easily Google-able examples of instances when relatively untested white directors were given multi-million dollar projects.
It doesn’t matter whether these projects succeed or fail because the core issue is that that same kind of blind faith is not traditionally put in directors who are women or people of colour or queer. That kind of access and opportunity is what would ultimately make directing in Hollywood more egalitarian, and it’s still a ways off.