Michelle Danner
Michelle Danner is the director of ‘Miranda’s Victim.’ (Credit: Courtesy of Michelle Danner)

Not every movie can be “Barbie,” of course, but it’s been a good year for women film directors. And for women-centric content: Consider “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which is currently shattering box-office records and giving theaters a sugar rush

But the reaction to a new women-led film, “Miranda’s Victim,” has been mixed, which may have more to do with its subject matter – and men’s and women’s responses to it. Based on a true story, the film gives voice to Trish Weir, a young woman who is kidnapped and brutally raped in 1963. Her assailant is Ernesto Miranda, whose name is now synonymous with the rights for arrested individuals. (“You have the right to remain silent…”)  

“It’s a story about a woman that underwent sexual assault and fought for justice,” says director Michelle Danner, during a recent interview from her Los Angeles home. “It’s a great twist to the movie about karmic justice.” 

The New York Times named it one of the most anticipated films of Fall 2023, and the cast is star-studded. Abigail Breslin plays the lead and Sebastian Quinn is Miranda, whose conviction is thrown out by the Supreme Court after his attorneys (played by Andy Garcia and Ryan Phillippe) argue that his confession was coerced. Luke Wilson, Donald Sutherland and Emily VanCamp also star. 

“Miranda’s Victim” premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February and opened in theaters this month. It’s also available on-demand on Apple, Amazon and other online platforms. As of this week, the film has a 68% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes but a 98% audience rating. 

“What I’m realizing is that, there’s not enough women that are reviewing,” Danner says. “It’s dominated by men. It’s interesting because I think the women that have reviewed it get it more than some men. I shouldn’t say all the men because some get it as well.”

Of the 15 reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes, only two are women, both of whom gave favorable reviews. One of them, Jenny Karmode, noted that “Miranda’s Victim” “makes an important contribution to the conversation around sexual violence.” A reviewer who didn’t like the film, Robert Kojder, called it “lousy filmmaking.” 

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a group founded in 2006 to amplify the voices of women critics, featured “Miranda’s Victim” as its movie of the week, noting: “By centering the film on Trish and her experiences, Danner asks viewers to reconsider their assumptions about the story behind this arrest-scene staple.”

The film, which includes a graphic depiction of sexual assault, has resonated with women viewers, Danner says. At numerous festival showings, women have come up to her “with tears in their eyes, thanking me for making the movie and saying it was so healing to see it,” she says. “They have a story too, but they didn’t speak up, and this gives a voice to their pain and what they endured.”

Danner says she made sure to include a statistic at the end of the movie, that for every 1,000 assaults, there are only five convictions. “What I realized is that there are so many more stories of sexual assault than we know of, so many,” she says. “This is a crime that stays very unpunished.”

‘The Best Is Yet to Come’

Danner is a longtime Hollywood insider, having started the Michelle Danner Acting Studio in 2000. Students have included most of the cast of “Miranda’s Victim,” as well as Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek and James Franco. As a teacher, she is known for an approach she calls “The Golden Box,” which incorporates any number of different acting methods named for famous instructors, including Stella Adler and Uta Hagen. 

“I don’t believe that there is one way to do it,” Danner says. At her school, actors are encouraged to choose bits and pieces of various acting techniques that work for them, and stick them in their “golden” box. “We really recognize that there’s the uniqueness of someone’s instrument, and we tailor to that.”

She was approached to helm “Miranda’s Victim” after producer George Kolber saw her work on “The Runner,” a 2021 crime thriller. “I got an email saying, ‘Would you be interested in directing this?'” Danner says. She didn’t hesitate. “I’m just as insecure as anybody,” she laughs, but she knew how she wanted to approach the movie. “Directing is stressful, but I like directing because I like that you get to design the painting,” she says. “You get to pick the canvas, the textures, the colors.”

“Miranda’s Victim” is her biggest project to date. Danner wouldn’t disclose the exact budget, but  “it’s a period piece in Arizona, so you have the cars, the costumes, the hair, you have to create the world of 1963 …. and that, of course, is expensive,” she says. She also wouldn’t disclose her age (other than “definitely” over 50), saying women face enough obstacles in Hollywood. 

“I have earned my budget. I started small and every project was a stepping stone to another project that had a little bit more,” Danner says. “With age comes more knowledge, more experience, more wise-ness.” She just wishes society accepted that more and “there wasn’t so much this ageism thing.”

It doesn’t appear to be hindering her, at least. One of her next projects is directing “Helios,” a big sci-fi “space disaster” movie – a genre dominated by male directors. “My sister, a few years ago, for my birthday, gave me a card where she said, ‘The best is yet to come,'” Danner says. “I firmly believe that.” ◼