By Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle
Desiree Akhavan is not Lena Dunham. Yes, both are females, both hail from New York and both are filmmakers but one does not subsume the other. Why are “minorities” so often reduced in this way? Minorities in double quotes because women are over half the population after all! Yet still in the context of filmmaking females are still unfortunately counted as a minority. It’s true that comparisons are always made within the arts and fair enough, this is good way to situate an artist, particularly a newer one. And of course artists themselves admit influence, Desiree Akhavan describes her debut film Appropriate Behaviour as ‘the gay Annie Hall’.
Yet there’s a difference between noting connection, Noah Baumbach is Woody Allen-esque, Amy Hempel is like Lorrie Moore, every male singer-song-writer is Dylan-like and so on, and actually saying that this person is that person’s replacement. Which is what these continual comparisons and declarations seem to imply. As if we’re only allowed one high profile ‘minority’ at a time. Comedian Stephen K Amos nailed this phenomenon when he claimed that he was waiting for Lenny Henry to die so that he could take over the role of the one sanctioned British Black comedian.
Whether it’s because of institutionalised prejudices or more benignly because the media finds a particular type of creative rare, (a female writer-director-actor, wow!), and therefore unclassifiable, that this reductive labelling still occurs, I don’t know. But the tone of these articles seems to me to set up a sort of competition between filmmakers and of the noxious rather than the healthy variety. One filmed interview with Akhvan for example began with the declaration ‘I preferred Appropriate Behaviour to Tiny Furniture [Dunham’s debut]’. Well that’s a fine opinion to hold but also irrelevant. And the effect of these constant collations of the two artists tends to diminish the work of both. Surely there’s more interesting points to be made when interviewing such interesting women. Plus I’m not sure many reporters would interview Noah Baumbach and begin with the line ‘I preferred While We’re Young to [Woody’s latest] Magic in the Moonlight.’ To quote Desiree Akhavan herself: ‘There is room for more than one female film director in New York’. And thank goodness for that!