J.J. Abrams is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. There’s a lot of discussion in Hollywood right now about inclusion, and opening up positions that are traditionally held by white men to a more diverse range of individuals. Just as in other aspects of society, there have been barriers that have kept women and people of color out of some key roles in Hollywood, as evidenced by the fact that with A Wrinkle in Time—a movie released in 2018—Ava DuVernay was the first black female director to ever be given a budget over $100 million. It’s been a bit of a feedback loop, as women and people of color have had a harder time getting these big jobs because they supposedly don’t have the experience necessary, but they can’t get the experience without being hired for the jobs in the first place. Not to mention the fact that white male directors who make a $5 million Sundance indie are handed the reigns to massive franchises like Star Wars or a Marvel movie straight away.
So it takes people in positions of power to enact actual change, and that’s exactly what Abrams is doing with Star Wars: Episode IX. It was announced yesterday by DuVernay that Victoria Mahoney will be serving as the second unit director for Episode IX, making her the first African-American woman to serve as a director in any capacity for the Star Wars franchise. For those unfamiliar, a second unit director is in charge of a film’s “second unit,” which is mostly reserved for filming stunt sequences and complicated action set pieces. This second unit shoots simultaneously with the first unit, which is comprised of shots involving the principal cast and is overseen by the director. Some filmmakers direct their own second unit, like Christopher Nolan, but on a film as massive as Star Wars it’s impossible to do both, and the second unit on a movie like this is a massive undertaking.
Mahoney just directed the CBS pilot Red Line from producers DuVernay and Greg Berlanti, and she also wrote, produced, and directed the film Yelling at the Sky. Joining Star Wars as its second unit director is a massive leap for Mahoney, and the kind of opportunity that will only open more doors for the filmmaker.
Abrams has been serious about inclusion initiatives, going back to the foundational decision to center this new Star Wars franchise around a female protagonist. He’s producing a number of projects directed by women through his Bad Robot banner, and it’s incredibly exciting to see him enlisting someone like Mahoney to join him for the trilogy-capping Star Wars sequel.
Happy to share this historic news. A black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away. First unit director #JJAbrams. Second unit director @VictoriaMahoney. #StarWarsE9 #StarWars pic.twitter.com/s689jv9I4u
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) April 17, 2018