Why “Big Little Lies” Fucking Over Andrea Arnold Feels Especially Frustrating

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I couldn’t bring myself to watch “Big Little Lies” last night. I may check out the newest episode later this week, but honestly, I’m in no hurry. Indiewire dropped a bomb about the HBO hit a few days ago; while Andrea Arnold was hired to direct the full second season of “Big Little Lies,” Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed the entirety of the first season, did a re-edit of Season 2 to make it look more like Season 1. And according to sources, this “had always been the plan, although unbeknownst to Arnold.” In other words, he was always going to become re-involved, but this fact was hidden from Arnold, who was led to believe she’d be steering the ship.

To say that this report is infuriating is an understatement. Let’s start with HBO, which sucks in relation to female directors and doesn’t give a shit. Let’s remember how few female writers and directors were hired over the course of “Game of Thrones.” At least “Sharp Objects” had a female writer and showrunner in Marti Noxon (who, incidentally, was very vocal about clashing with series director Vallée while filming the Amy Adams-starrer).

I have to admit: we all bought the pile of poop that was shoveled surrounding “Big Little Lies.” The narrative emphasized that the ladies made it happen, namely Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who serve as both exec producers and stars. Media surrounding the show celebrated how it puts women and their relationships in the spotlight, offering a nuanced look into female friendships and relationships. I’m not trying to undermine or belittle Kidman or Witherspoon’s contributions, but it’s critical to remember that the first season was both written and directed entirely by men. That doesn’t exactly jive with the “girl power” message that was being shoved down our throats about the show.

David E. Kelly reprised his Season 1 writing duties, but Vallée was unavailable to direct Season 2 due to his commitment to “Sharp Objects.” Personally, I think they had no choice to hire a female director for Season 2 — it was a really bad look to have all of these men behind the camera while continuously advocating for the importance of telling women’s stories. (Plus, both Kidman and Witherspoon have been vocal about the need for more women directors in recent years.) I am beyond tired of how men get to shape the stories of women’s friendships and women’s power. It’s just enough. And it won’t get better at HBO now that Bob Greenblatt (remember how Theresa Rebeck was fired from “Smash”?) is now in charge.

Vallée has said Arnold was hired because he believed that their visions were similar. I actually find this statement offensive. Has he seen “Red Road,” “Fish Tank” and “American Honey”? I remember being mesmerized by “Red Road.” While I believe that whole concept of the “auteur” director is laced with sexism, Arnold is an auteur. Her vision is singular. The whole point of hiring someone like her is that she brings a unique lens to her work. Yet they were always planning to make her eps conform to Vallée’s vision. I guess he thought her style was similar enough to his own that it could be cut and re-fashioned to resemble his — used as raw material to work his will on.

The situation is causing a outcry on Twitter and elsewhere on the web. This has really riled people up, and understandably so. Women are so fucking sick of the bullshit promises and then having the rug pulled out underneath them. Where are the statements from the DGA promising an investigation? While Arnold did not have final cut — remember this is TV — would this have happened to a male director, and especially one of her stature? The executive producers, which include Kidman, Witherspoon, Kelly, Vallée, and Arnold, have final cut. The question I have is who made the final decisions and why. This is not about negotiated rules. This is about the treatment of a director and her vision — which we all know is respected much more when it comes from a male director.



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