At a YouTube Space LA fireside chat last night, Guillermo Del Toro had plenty of sage advice to give to aspiring filmmakers and storytellers. As a Latina film journalist who hopes to make genre films in the future, I took the opportunity to ask Del Toro his thoughts on the assumption that women simply aren’t interested in making monster, dinosaur and superhero studio films. He talked about the history of gender inequality which inspired his lead protagonist Edith (Mia Wasikowska) in his upcoming picture Crimson Peak, who starts off as an aspiring writer who gets told her manuscript has pretty handwriting and she should stick to love stories before resorting to typing her manuscript to hide her gender. While we can’t say much about the film other than that’s pretty much the tip of a really pointy, multi-leveled haunted estate of a female driven tale, we can share Del Toro very real and lengthy response on the subject of women in film and the dismantling of societal limitations.
I think what I portrayed in the movie [Crimson Peak] is completely real. When the Brontes tried to publish their manuscript they had to sign them with a man’s name. Charlotte Bronte had to use a pseudonym for the publisher to read the manuscript, in fact, Jane Eyre was first published under a pseudonym–the same with Emily.
In the same way I intimately know what it is like to go through immigration [customs] in the U.S. I know that for a U.S. citizen it’s visible, you just show your passport and you go by. Women have to have a passport in basically everything they do in life- you have to go through customs. The key is for that passport to exist as much as you can, on the exterior, but not inside.
You know, I think that we are limited only by the things we know about ourselves. I’m 50. I was born in Zapopan Jalisco, Mexico where nobody thought anybody born in my country, let alone in my little province, and in my little barrio, would ever do films–much less genre films that you could have an audience for. Think about what makes you you as a passport that allows you to travel–not a thing that ties you down. I think that it sounds truly like fucking Deepak Chopra new age shit but its true. The only limitation that exists is objectively is the one that you believe in—that they tell you and tell you and tell you and you finally believe it.
I was discussing this with Jessica (Chastain) about her character Lucille, and I told her this story, which is true. Elephants are one of the largest animals on Earth- the reason that they stay tied to that little fucking stick in the ground that is no more that one feet in, with a little fucking rope, that they could snap and kick the shit out of everybody in the audience, is because when they were little they were tied and they couldn’t move. So we are raised like that. Socially we are raised to believe in a different type of stick for men and a different type of stick for women because socially, I honestly believe the system wants us distracted by what makes us different–that makes us hate each other and separate each other by the most superficial things. We grow like that little elephant and we cannot fucking pull the stick because we bought it.
So all I’m saying is, there is a part of that, that objectively is more against you but I assure you if you believe in it, it become heavier. I cannot guarantee that it will become lighter if you don’t but I can guarantee it becomes heavier if you buy into it.
[…]Honestly if you want to tell a story that has weight for you, you have to tell things that make you emotional. Crimson Peak for me is as much a personal movie for me as The Devil’s Backbone, or Pan’s Labyrinth, its very different but it is as personal. I am Lucille, I am Thomas, I am Edith, I am the father and everybody in that movie, the good guys and the bad guys–it’s me. I write them from the knowledge of what they’re feeling. I think that that’s the only thing you need to do is speak of yourself in your work not in a solipsistic, navel gazing way–speak about what hurts you and there is a chance it may find somebody. Your audience may be two people. You know what? That’s two people more than you would have if you had never talked.
[…]To finally maybe answer your question about genre. I think we have been domesticated to believe that we exist and can be conformed to one gender. I think spiritually, our soul possesses both qualities. We all have a way to be more human by acknowledging that we were made spiritually and emotionally of a composite of those sides. I do think that when a side is more predominant, you can maybe gravitate to one material or another but I suspect its social re-education.
So just reclaim the genre, you have the right to talk about as a human and then bring your own experience that can be then socially more female or whatever. Just reclaim the right to talk about what you wanna talk about. My favorite horror movie of the last ten years is The Babadook, which is made by an amazing female director. But I really think that it truly is: Don’t believe that shit.
The profound message in his answer speaks to not just women but to anyone who has obstacles thrown their way for not wanting to fit into the expectations society tries to limit us with. I really hope that if you’re in a creative funk and feeling discouraged this gives you the boost you need to keep moving forward and encourage the cultivation of more equal opportunity.
Crimson Peak opens October 16 and is Rated R.