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Victoria Mahoney, the First Woman to Direct a Star Wars Film, Explains How She Got the Job

The gang.
The gang.
Image: Disney/Lucasfilm

Victoria Mahoney made Hollywood history when she became the second unit director on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, making her so far the first (and only) woman to direct anything on a Star Wars movie, placing her alongside a handful of directors on The Mandalorian as the only women to direct Star Wars media in general.

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Now, thanks to a column Mahoney recently penned for the Hollywood Reporter, we have a clearer picture of how that hiring happened, and what its implications are for Hollywood’s systems for finding directors. In it, Mahoney explains that her ambitions were always to direct big franchise films, but that the industry itself stymied her.

“It’s no secret to my peer group I’d been trying to break into the studio-franchise realm for 10 years. Begging to simply get a meeting. Nada. Zilch. Nunca,” she explained.

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That changed when J.J. Abrams, frustrated with the lists of directors he was receiving, reached out to a friend: Ava Duvernay.

Here’s what Mahoney said about that decision, and what it means for Hollywood:

As for J.J., after numerous, widely circulated, almost identical lists of directors had landed on his desk, he decided to do outreach calls of his own. When he phoned Ava DuVernay for her list, she said, “I happen to have a great list, J.J., but I’m not giving it to you. I’m giving you one name and one name only: Victoria Mahoney.”

In Hollywood’s four decades of making top-tier franchise films, no one other than J.J. has stepped out of traditional hiring practices to take a risk on an outlier like me to helm their second unit. Mind-blowing, right? Not one other filmmaker, producer or studio before him. Equally disturbing: No one else in that position of power has since.

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In the column, which is worth reading in its entirety, Mahoney goes on to explain how her hiring has inspired younger filmmakers, who now regularly want to talk to her about sci fi and their hope to direct these kinds of films one day. The message is clear: power and success can be used to serve other people, and those who succeed can pull up others around them. These efforts, Mahoney makes clear, are a way that Hollywood and industries like it can promote diversity, and should be the responsibility of those with the ability to make them.

It also goes to show how important representation behind the scenes is. When creators from marginalized groups are getting to make stuff, and getting paid to do it, everyone benefits.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters December 20th.


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io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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DISCUSSION

alliterator85
alliterator

This is great and I hope that Victoria Mahoney — as well as Deborah Chow and Bryce Dallas Howard — is able to direct her own big budget franchise films, rather than just second-unit or television episodes. It speaks to how entrenched sexism is in Hollywood that it took thirteen years between Patty Jenkins making the Oscar-winning Monster and being offered Wonder Woman and for Marvel, it took twenty-one films before they chose a female director.

Thankfully, late 2019 and 2020 appears to be a turning point. Not just with Mahoney’s work on The Rise of Skywalker and Chow and Howard’s work on The Mandalorian (which has been excellent), but also five big budget franchise films in 2020 with female directors: Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, Niki Caro’s Mulan, Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman 1984, and Chloe Zhao’s The Eternals.

Hopefully, this will mean that a bigger, more inclusive list of directors will be passed around, instead of the same male-dominated one.