After earning a historic Oscar nomination this year for Best Director — she's the first woman to be nominated for her directorial debut — it's no surprise that Greta Gerwig was named one of TIME's Most Influential People of 2018. But it might surprise you to know that in her dedication, courtesy of fellow director Steven Spielberg, her gender is never mentioned. She didn't earn this honor for being a female director, but for just being a director, and that's a big step forward for women in Hollywood. It's a sign that Gerwig and other women behind the camera are no longer being defined by their otherness, but by their talent instead.
In his tribute to Gerwig, Spielberg wrote:
"Not every year does a filmmaker’s solo feature debut sweep you up in its sweetness and pain, in its humility and frankness, and in its confidence in the art and craft of filmmaking."
In fact, he mentions two others that blew him away: Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, "and now Greta Gerwig and Lady Bird." It's a compliment coming from any director, but especially one who is such a Hollywood heavyweight who made a name for himself with his second film Jaws. But it's hard to overlook the all-male examples Spielberg gives as comparisons to what Gerwig's achieved, as if to say gender or race doesn't play a role in good filmmaking. Or, at the very least, shouldn't.
Spielberg's comparison choices make the case that Gerwig's Lady Bird isn't impressive for a woman, it's just damn impressive for any director. "Greta has a kind of momentum that feels like it must help contain a million good ideas from flying out of the atmosphere," he wrote.
Spielberg paints Gerwig as his peer, discussing a debate they had. He doesn't say what it was about, but implies that it was about filmmaking, writing:
"When Greta has heard your point, her hands flutter up—a pitcher’s wild windup, subverting any indication of the precision and effectiveness of what she’s about to fire back. And for a few stunning seconds, her elder becomes her student."
Spielberg gushed over Gerwig's "electricity," calling it "her gift to us in whatever she takes on next." Like so many others, he's a fan and he's excited to see what her future holds. "The poet David Whyte wrote, 'Good poetry begins with the lightest touch—a breeze arriving from nowhere, a whispered healing arrival,'" Spielberg says. "The poetry of Greta Gerwig’s filmmaking is that breeze I cannot wait to feel again."
In just a little over 200 words — 203, to be exact — Spielberg wrote a tribute to Gerwig's artistry without every uttering the phrase "female director," because it's not necessary in understanding what she does and the sooner we all recognize this, the better.
The milestones are important, which is why Gerwig being only the fifth woman up for Best Director in the award show's 90-year history, shouldn't go unrecognized or unmentioned. In fact, highlighting this paltry number of women to earn a nomination shows what Gerwig was up against with her debut. It also points out how much work Hollywood still needs to do by way of recognizing women behind the camera. (This year's Oscars also nominated its first ever female cinematographer, Mudbound's Rachel Morrison.)
But it shouldn't be Gerwig's storyline, because limiting her to being just a female director confines her artistry. There is so much more to what Gerwig is doing than reaching Oscar milestones, and Spielberg gets at that with his TIME piece.
Gerwig's journey to getting her first movie made wasn't easy; it took years, and a lot of that had to do with being a woman who had never helmed her own movie. But, some may say her success is despite her gender, since it's not easy being a women who makes films about women.
When Variety spoke with Gerwig earlier this year, she talked about growing up loving female directors like Claire Denis, Kathryn Bigelow, and Agnès Varda, who she said was as good as "Truffaut, or Godard, or your husband," who was French director Jacques Demy.
“Every year they come out with the numbers. You know, out of the top 100 films, by gross, 4% are directed by women," Gerwig told Variety. "I think those numbers are going to shift. And it seems like it’s going to be less and less its own category. There are just going to be … directors.” Gerwig's hard-fought success might mean that the next young woman who wants to make her own movie will have an easier time, and that should be celebrated.
Gerwig deserves her TIME honor, but more importantly, she deserves to be recognized for her talent and how it's pushing Hollywood forward. Not because she's a woman, but because she's a director that has a long career ahead of her. And like Spielberg, most of us can't wait to see what she does next.