Female Directors Were Shut Out By The 2019 Oscar Nominations, But The Real Problem Extends Beyond Awards
Last year, Greta Gerwig's Best Directing Oscar nomination was met with celebration and no small amount of optimism. Despite her being only the fifth female director ever nominated in the Oscars 90-year history, it felt as if it was a step forward, a small, but hopefully positive sign that maybe the Academy was turning a corner when it comes to female representation. (No woman of color has ever been nominated in this category, FYI.) But, then the 2019 Oscar nominees were announced, and not one woman earned a Best Director nomination. Boy, what a difference a year makes.
Honestly, this shut out isn't all that surprising since it's essentially been going on for nine decades. So why then does this year's shut out somehow feel worse than years past? Maybe it's because this year was filled with so many talented women making films that were critically acclaimed. Yet, they still couldn't get the Oscars to take them seriously.
Karyn Kusama's Destroyer, Tamara Jenkins' Private Life, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here were all celebrated films, yet were all shut out. Chloé Zhao's The Rider wowed critics and was the surprise winner at the Gotham Awards, but her name was barely mentioned as a serious contender in the run-up to the Oscar nominations. In the end, her heartbreaking film about an injured bull rider ended up with zero nominations.
Even movies directed by women that did end up on the Academy's radar in other categories failed to make the cut. Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me? nabbed three nominations, including Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor for her stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, respectively. Still, she wasn't included in the Best Directing category.
In a Dec. 2018 statement to IndieWire, Jane Campion, the second woman to ever be nominated for Best Directing, tried to convince Academy voters that Debra Granik deserved a directing nomination for her latest film Leave No Trace. She did it by just stating the facts that not only "over the last 20 years, Debra has become one of the most important voices in American cinema," but her movie had "an extraordinary 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after 200 reviews." And still does after 208 reviews.
But it seems that Campion's plea fell on deaf ears. In fact, all the critical acclaim these women earned last year didn't seem to count for much where the Academy was concerned. How naïve it was to think that maybe comments like Emma Stone's "four men and Greta Gerwig" from last year's Oscars could be a funny callback to the past. Unfortunately, Portman's "all male nominees" comment from last year's Golden Globes could come in handy this year. And so, it's another year and another essay on the lack of female directors at the Oscars. At least for full-length films.
On the bright side, women dominated the documentary category this year. Chai Vasarhelyi, director of Free Solo; Joslyn Barnes and Su Kim, producers of Hale County; Diane Quon, producer of Minding The Gap; Eva Kemme, producer Of Fathers And Sons; and Betsy West and Julie Cohen, directors and producers of RBG, all earned nominations for their respective works.
But don't celebrate too much. Women and Hollywood reported back in December that over 50 percent of the documentaries in the Oscar race were female-directed. In the end, only two of the five nominees were directed by women (RBG and Free Solo).
It's disappointing to continuously see the erasure of women behind the camera at the Oscars and other awards shows. Based on data from the Women's Media Center, Deadline reported that out of the 211 individuals nominated for behind-the-scenes Oscars, only 25 percent were female, an uptick from the previous two years. Especially since the Academy has tried to make the case they are doing something about it.
In 2016, criticism that the Academy was too male, too white, and too old led them to make serious changes to its voting body. That year, they invited a record number of 683 new members to join — 46 percent of these new members were female, while 41 percent were people of color — including recent Best Actress winner Brie Larson, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, and Gerwig. Every year since, they've continued to expand the diversity of their voting body. Last year, the Academy added 928 members, the largest increase yet, with 49 percent of the newbies being women.
Still, these adjustments haven't led to any rapid change when it comes to the Best Directing category. Perhaps that because the individual guilds haven't done the same kind of aggressive changes to their membership as the Academy has.
And that is, in part, because the Academy isn't really the problem. Or, at least, it's not the only problem. Because to be nominated for a Best Directing Oscar, a woman actually has to get the job first.
In a recent study, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that despite a push to hire more women to direct in 2018, female directors lost ground over the past year. The percentage of female directors in the 250 top-grossing films of 2018 dipped from 11 percent to 8 percent.
This also came months after a Directors Guild of America (DGA) report found that out of 651 films released in 2017, women accounted for only 16 percent of those films directors. “Our new study shows that discriminatory practices are still rampant across every corner of the feature film business," DGA president Thomas Schlamme said in a statement to Variety. "These numbers hit home how the chips are stacked against women and people of color.”
To make real change, it's not enough to speak up about the lack of diversity in the directing category when that year's Oscar nominations are announced. More women will (hopefully) be nominated for Best Director as we continue to fight for more female representation behind the camera in the first place. This means changing the hiring practices, making sure more films are helmed by women, and generally, supporting films made by women.
Clearly, there are more than enough talented women out there to hire, but those in power need to really be able to give them the opportunity. That's the only real way that female directors won't be left off the nominations list.