Movies & TV / Columns

Did Elizabeth Banks Have a Point About Steven Spielberg’s Diversity Record?

June 17, 2017 | Posted by Steve Gustafson

While accepting an award at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards last week, actress and director Elizabeth Banks called out director Steven Spielberg for the lack of female lead characters that have appeared in his movie over the years.

According to The Wrap, here’s what Banks said during her speech:

“I went to Indiana Jones and Jaws and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead. Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out but it’s true.”

Actress Shari Belafonte called out, “The Color Purple,” to which Banks said, “OK, I was wrong. But he didn’t direct it, he produced it.”

For those keeping score, Spielberg, in fact, did direct the film. He also directed two other movies with women characters prominently: The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn, and The BFG with Ruby Barnhill.

Banks came out later with an apology. “I messed up,” she wrote on Twitter. “When referring to Steven Spielberg at the Women in Film awards, I framed my comments about his films inaccurately. I want to be clear from the start that I take full responsibility for what I said and I’m sorry. When I made the comments, I was thinking of recent films Steven directed, it was not my intention to dismiss the import of the iconic #TheColorPurple. I made things worse by giving the impression that I was dismissing Shari Belafonte when she attempted to correct me. I spoke with Shari backstage and she was kind enough to forgive me.”

“Those who have the privilege and honor of directing and producing films should be held to account for our mistakes, whether it’s about diversity or inaccurate statements. I’m very sorry,” she added.

But her point was made and it’s brought up a couple of hot topics.

A segment of people online thought that by dismissing The Color Purple, which starred Whoopi Goldberg and earned 10 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture, Banks was ignoring people of color.

“Do you have any idea what The Color Purple, a movie about Southern poor Black women finding their voices, means culturally for Black women?” wrote Bitch Media editor Evette Dionne on Twitter.

“Black women are NEVER part of the conversation when White actresses or white women writers talk about women representation in Hollywood,” tweeted film writer Rebecca Theodore.

Then you have her original point and her targeting Spielberg about his lack of female lead representation.

That one speech caused plenty of ripples but does she have a point about Spielberg? First, taking aim at one of the biggest directors in Hollywood is either really brave or career destruction. It gets you in the headlines in the short term but can make you poison once you’re old news.

How responsible is Spielberg to pick a project that has a female lead? Is Banks’ career done for challenging Hollywood royalty?