April 9, 2020

The Oscars left out female directors, again

Becky Miller ’20, Print Editor-in-Chief

While female directors and filmmakers continue to produce award winning films, awards season often does not bring them the recognition they deserve. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

In its 92 year history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has only nominated five women for Best Director, and only ever selected one female nominee as the winner (Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009). This past year, women have made astounding gains in the notoriously male-dominated film industry, directing a record-breaking twelve of the top 100 most profitable films in 2019. Yet, unsurprisingly, no women were nominated for Best Director in the 92nd Academy Awards.

Although predictable, this one hurt. “Little Women” film-maker Greta Gerwig, who would have been the very first woman nominated twice for Best Director, was left out, as were Celine Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), and Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”). “The Farewell,” as well as “Booksmart,” directed by Olivia Wilde, both received higher Rotten Tomatoes scores than three Oscar nominees: Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

Given their filmmaking feats in the past year, the lack of a female Best Director nominee is unacceptable. 

In a year where women have received unparalleled critical acclaim and earned chart-topping box office sales (Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” collected $150 million at box offices worldwide), only 31 percent of individuals nominated across all 24 Oscars categories were women. Women are making more movies than ever before; the talent pool is obviously there. The 68 percent male and 84 percent white Academy, however, is still disinterested in nominating them.

The 92nd Oscars is not doing much better with regards to racial diversity amongst nominees; among the five big categories across acting and directing, there were only two people of color nominated: Bong Joon-Ho, “Parasite” director, and Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet” actress. 

No awards show is perfect, and the 92nd Oscars certainly won’t be the first. “Little Women” got nods in six other categories, including Best Picture, but Gerwig’s directorial snub is disconcerting and feels unfair given the movie’s praise. Gerwig’s direction was masterful, her movie’s chronology, storytelling, and camera work enchanting. She deserves recognition. 

While I do not think a woman should get an award just because she is female, I do believe that female filmmakers genuinely earned nominations this year. They made leaps as leaders in the industry where, according to USA Today, 94 percent of women across the film industry have experienced some form of sexual misconduct during their careers. 

No matter how well-directed “Little Women” or “The Farewell” are, the film industry and the Academy still favors movies about white males. “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Lighthouse,” “The Two Popes,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” all 2019 movies, three of which were Oscar nominated and one of which won two Oscars, are all stories about two men. 

“There is a systemic belief that stories about men matter more than stories about women,” said Amy Pascal, the former chairwoman of Sony Pictures and the “Little Women” producer. “I don’t believe that’s true. And I don’t believe that makes something more commercial.” 

It’s time for awards institutions to acknowledge that female filmmakers are worthy of the awards that men typically win. Women are breaking into the film industry at historic rates (10.6 percent of the directors of 2019’s top movies were women, compared to the average 4.8 percent over the last thirteen years), and their work speaks to their level of talent and drive. I see no reason that the film industry, the Academy, and our society should keep undervaluing some of the best current directors and filmmakers and promoting a male-dominated culture both on and off the screen.

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