Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Screen “Did this film direct itself?”: The forgotten women filmmakers

“Did this film direct itself?”: The forgotten women filmmakers

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“These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year” were Emma Stone’s words as she introduced this year’s nominations for the Best Director Oscar. The statement was met with cheers and applause from the audience as the Academy was called out for their poor form in gender representation.

Gerwig, the woman behind Lady Bird, is only the fifth woman ever in the Academy’s 90-year history to be nominated for Best Director. The only woman to ever win is Kathryn Bigelow in 2009, for The Hurt Locker, a moment that failed to signal a turning point for recognising women behind the camera. In fact, women are poorly represented in directorial roles generally, with only 7% of the directors of the top 250 films being women. Of the few women allowed to make movies, fewer still are backed by a studio willing to fund a major awards campaign.

“If marginalised voices are to be heard, studios need to fund the campaigns to get the industry to take notice”

The Academy failed to acknowledge Patty Jenkins this year as the director of Wonder Woman, despite being discussed as a contender. Other blockbusters such as Logan and Dunkirk were recognised – however, it was the summer phenomenon of Wonder Woman which was ignored, largely because Warner Bros. failed to launch a convincing awards season campaign that could combat the shadow that was the Justice League film, and influence opinion on what it would mean to nominate Jenkins for the instant superhero classic. If marginalised voices are to be heard, studios need to fund the campaigns to get the industry to take notice, hence why Universal pushing Get Out’s Jordan Peele and A24 doing the same with Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig was so vital.

Kathryn Bigelow, at the 2009 Academy Awards

It’s tough though when, even if they have been given significant support, women are still not given the recognition that they deserve. There has been a total of 13 Best Picture nominations which have been directed by women – but only five of those women have been given the nod for the Best Director award as well. Continuously, even when they have made outstanding films, women have been shunned and ignored for their efforts. In 1992, when The Prince of Tides was nominated for Best Picture along with six other nominations, Barbra Streisand still wasn’t recognised for her role as director, leading to that year’s host Billy Crystal quipping “Seven nominations on the shelf, did this film direct itself?”

Emma Stone’s gender-dividing comment did fail to recognise the ethnically diverse nominations for this year’s directors though. Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) were both nominated, and both interrupted the pattern of the Academy which has repeatedly been called out on how the #OscarsSoWhite. Guillermo del Toro’s win was a remarkable victory as it signalled the fourth time a Mexican has won the accolade in the last five years (Alfonso Cuarón in 2014 and Alejandro González Iñárritu in 2015 and 2016). While gender disparity might not have been quelled as much as hoped, the status quo of the industry had nevertheless been disturbed and that is a step in the right direction towards empowering marginalised voices.

“the status quo of the industry had nevertheless been disturbed”

It’s clear then that women filmmakers are given opportunities rarely, however, the USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative’s study into female directors in the industry , more accurately, and bluntly, said that “the director’s chair is white and male”. A Woman of Colour is still yet to be nominated for Best Director. While non-white men and white women have snuck in to be acknowledged on the odd occasion, the Academy still fails to be intersectional. There seems to be little opportunity and spotlight for WOC, so much so that the list of those who have been overlooked appears excruciatingly disheartening: what about Ava DuVernay and Selma’s Oscar Snubs? Dee Rees overlooked as being the one to break Netflix’s Oscar curse? What about Gurinder Chadha and Tanya Hamilton? The Oscars, and the industry, have increased diversity to tick their political correctness boxes. But their actions can’t help but be read as mere moves of tokenism to prevent backlash.

Greta Gerwig

With the dawn of the Time’s Up movement meaning that an abundance of powerful men have been exposed for sexual misconduct, it’s hopeful that the industry will see an actual effort towards embracing stories by and about women and work towards eradicating the sexism so inherent in the industry. However, the film and award sector are a massive money machine. Women filmmakers from all backgrounds need to be supported economically – whether that’s through campaigns funded by the studios, inclusion riders being a common clause of contracts, or the tickets that we as the audience buy. Although they shouldn’t have to prove it, women have shown that they can make cinematic masterpieces and, if we want more of them, then we need to pressure the industry to embrace equality more fully. Besides, these movies aren’t going to direct themselves.

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