Jessica Chastain’s New Movie Is Groundbreaking—and Not Because of the Action On-Screen

In an essay for ‘The Hollywood Reporter,’ the actor praises the power of women directors.

Jessica Chastain at "AOL Build Presents 'Crimson Peak' " at AOL Studios on Oct. 16 in New York City. (Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images)

Dec 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

In just five years, Jessica Chastain has garnered more than a dozen feature film roles, a Broadway debut, two Academy Award nominations, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. She’s portrayed a Mars mission commander in space in The Martian, a CIA agent who hunts down Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, and the title character in an adaptation of the biblical tale Salome.

But of all the blockbusters on her densely packed résumé, no on-set experience compares to that of her latest film, The Zookeepers Wife, Chastain told Pamela McClintock in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter that was published Wednesday. That’s because the World War II drama, set in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, is written, directed, and produced primarily by women.

RELATED: Fed Up With Hollywood Sexism, a Filmmaker Created Her Own Database of Women Directors

“It’s a very collaborative experience, and it’s been heaven for me,” Chastain told McClintock of being surrounded by so many creative women during the film shoot in Prague. “We know how rare making this kind of film is. We’re giddy with happiness,” the 38-year-old said in the essay, which also touched on Viola Davis’ inspiring Emmy speech and Ellen Pao’s essay for Lenny Letter about gender discrimination.

Rare might be an understatement. While Chastain has worked with four female directors on feature films—that’s quadruple the number of women directors that Brad Pitt says he’s worked with over three decades—women are vastly underrepresented in the field. Data released Wednesday from the Directors Guild of America shows that women accounted for just 6.4 percent of its contracted directors across 376 movies released in 2013 and 2014.

About 20 percent of the overall production crew on The Zookeepers Wife is composed of women, according to Chastain’s estimate—and that didn’t happen by accident. Research supports the theory that productions created or executive produced by women are much more likely to have a greater percentage of women employed behind the scenes than those with male creators or executive producers. That’s according to a study of TV series published in September by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

“If you look at the people who put the film together, it’s a lot of women who have had a difficult time in the industry, so of course they are going to want to be on a set where they aren’t the token woman, where there are more voices,” Chastain told McClintock. “And I’m positive that just comes from the women in the power positions making room for other women.”

Chastain said she’s attached to another to-be-announced film with a woman director and is hopeful that the gender ratio will improve in all aspects of the industry, from screenwriting to producing.