“New Moon” will rise without Catherine Hardwicke

What happens when a film director turns a $40 million budget into a $140 million box office blockbuster? If your name is Catherine Hardwicke, you’re shown the door.

With the Twilight premiere, Hardwicke delivered the highest-grossing opening weekend ever for a female director. And the movie’s earnings are still climbing as Hardwicke and the Twilight stars promote it internationally.

So what happened? Depends on whom you ask. The official story is that Hardwicke passed on Twilight sequel New Moon because she wanted more development time than allowed by Summit Entertainment’s target release date of late 2009 or early 2010. Although New Moon focuses less on Edward (Rob Pattison) than the other Twilight installments, the studio wants to give its fan-girl audience plenty of Pattison. To accomplish that, Hardwicke reportedly wanted a few more months to work on Melissa Rosenberg’s script than the studio was willing to give. When the studio wouldn’t budge, Hardwicke walked. I bet she also was a little scared of Pattison’s hair.

According to Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily, studio insiders reported that Hardwicke was “difficult and irrational” during Twilight production. (What director isn’t?) But, according to commentators like Cinema Blend’s Katey Rich, such descriptions are code for “female.” In other words, Hardwicke was fired because she’s a woman.

“[Those] words are constantly used to denigrate women in power, reducing them to the stereotype of the helpless, flighty, overemotional victim who doesn’t know what to do with control when she gets it,” Rich writes. “It’s one of the many stereotypes that keeps [sic] women out of the director’s chair, and even Hardwicke, who had the biggest opening weekend ever for a female director, is being taken down a peg as punishment for her success.”

Interesting. Rich goes on to note that Twilight is one of the first female-driven franchises in history, with a female writer, director, screenwriter and star. Since the saga is told from a teenage girl’s point of view, Rich says, the women behind the movie are doubtless the reason the film has been such a big hit.

Of course, the best way for Summit to head off accusations of sexism is by hiring a woman director for New Moon. One name that seems to keep rising to the top is Kathryn Bigelow, who is better known in film circles than her IMDb profile indicates.

Ropes of Silicon has a rundown of other female candidates for the job (written before Hardwicke was canned). Film.com has some suggestions, too, including Saving Face director and out lesbian Alice Wu.

Whatever comes to light in the coming weeks about why Hardwicke and Summit parted ways, at least the success of Twilight proves that an indie female director can make a commercially successful — and highly profitable — movie. Hopefully that will make studios take another look at women directors for big budget films.

What are your thoughts on Hardwicke’s dismissal? Do you think she was fired because she’s a woman? Who should replace her at the Twilight helm?