These Oscar-Nominated 2018 Movies Have Women Behind The Lens & Making History
Change is often slow to come, even when there's a groundswell of support behind it. Despite rallying cries at last year's Oscars for more diversity (a broad designation including anyone, anyone at all, that wasn't cis, white, and male), the filmmaking industry is a massive machine based on social connections that's loath and slow to change. One small action that can help is being more of some of the wonderful women already doing great work in the industry. Below are six Oscar-nominated 2018 movies with women behind the lens, either directing, writing, or acting as director of photography.
These three roles carry the weight of what a film becomes. The writer gives a film its structure, builds scenes with characters and locations, and creates the blueprint the director will work from. Most people are pretty familiar with a director's role; he or she acts as captain of the immense army movie crews often are, works with actors to capture performances, and adds flesh to the script's bones. The director of photography (or DP) is less-known by the public but just as important, as that person works very closely with the director, creates the visual language of the film, and figures out the technical aspects needed to capture the director's emotional vision using lenses, lighting, set-up, and camera. It's even more of a boys club than writing or directing, as the tech elements and assumptions about women's competence with them often prevent ladies from even getting a chance to DP.
So, let's honor some of the women doing amazing things behind-the-scenes.
This story was created in support of Bustle's 2018 Awards Season pledge. Read more here.
Rachel Morrison, DP — 'Mudbound'
This year, Morrison made history as the first-ever woman nominated for an Oscar in cinematography. In addition to Mudbound, she's also lensed two films with director Ryan Coogler: Fruitvale Station and the immensely anticipated Black Panther. In an interview with Collider, when asked about the scale shock of working on indie films vs. a Marvel tentpole movie, even with the same director, Morrison said, "It just felt like we were making a gigantic indie movie...The bigger the movie gets, the problems just kind of escalate in the same way."
Greta Gerwig, Writer/Director — 'Lady Bird'
An indie darling beloved on both sides of the camera, Gerwig depicted an honest, earnest portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship in Ladybird and it earned her two Oscar nominations, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. She's the fifth woman ever to be nominated for Best Director, and if she wins, she'll only be the second woman in Oscar history to do so — the first was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
Liz Hannah, Co-Writer — 'The Post'
A producer who hoped her first-time spec script would be a calling card to more work down the road, Hannah was shocked when former Sony studio head Amy Pascal said she wanted to produce Hannah's story. She was even more bowled over to learn Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing. A year later, her script's been nominated for Best Picture and Best Lead Actress (for Meryl Streep). In a Vulture interview, Hannah said, “I did a lot of meetings after the script sold, and people would ask, ‘What is your dream project?’ I’d answer, ‘Oh, I just made it.’ ”
Vanessa Taylor, Co-Writer — 'The Shape Of Water'
The longtime television writer and producer says her work on Game of Thrones opened doors she'd been determined to enter for herself. In her Variety article on Hollywood sexism, Taylor said, "When I was starting out in the business, two (enormously talented) female friends and I discussed the problem of gender discrimination. Our solution: to be undeniable, so talented our gender would be irrelevant."
When Fox Searchlight finally gave del Toro the go-ahead for his dream project, his agents reached out to Taylor, because del Toro was an enormous Game Of Thrones fan. Though the two only met three times due to del Toro's travel schedule, Taylor describes a warm partnership via email and letters. And at the Critic's Choice Awards, Taylor (who hadn't met the cast or crew until the film's premiere) was singled out by del Toro as one of the many women who'd helped make The Shape Of Water possible.
Dee Rees, Director/Writer — 'Mudbound'
Rees' Mudbound nabbed four Oscar nominations, including Best Cinematography, Best Original Song, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Despite that, many feel the film was snubbed by the Oscars for not receiving a Best Director or Best Picture nomination, especially given that the gritty historical drama of two families struggling in the South checks off so many Oscar-winning boxes. Hopefully Rees' immensely personal story (she worked her own grandparents' lives into the script) will gain wider audience just by being nominated.
Emily V. Gordon, Co-Writer — 'The Big Sick'
Gordon is aware of the strangeness of writing about your own life story and watching someone else play you, especially with hindsight. In a Jezebel interview, Gordon said, "I had to do a lot of work with myself to realize just how stupid I was early in our relationship and how I was coming at it from this blind spot...Even now, after ten years, I have the tip of the iceberg." Gordon's honesty and openness in working with writing and life partner Kumail Nanjiani came through; the movie's been an immense success and is up for Best Original Screenplay.
Laura Checkoway, Director/Editor — 'Edith + Eddie'
When you learn that Checkoway's previous career was penning investigative stories and celebrity profiles as senior editor of Vibe magazine, her success with debut documentary feature Lucky makes a lot more sense; she's been observing and documenting humanity for years.
Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Director — 'Heroin(e)'
Sheldon (pictured center) doesn't just seek out stories, she prefers living them. Speaking to 100 Days In Appalachia, the Appalachian native explained, "I love the fact that I understand the place I’m documenting on a whole other level because I pay the same electric company and drink the same water.”
Kate Davis, Director/Editor — 'Traffic Stop'
Longtime documentarian Davis (pictured on the left) made this short specifically hoping it would have an impact. Speaking to HBO, she said “I feel like [Traffic Stop] opens itself up to a larger story. I hope it starts a real legal change.”
Laura Valladao, Cinematographer — 'My Nephew Emmett'
The young cinematographer already had an impressive variety of shorts and TV shows under her belt before working on this film.
Rachel Shenton, Writer — 'The Silent Child'
The longtime TV actor's first screenplay came from a very personal place. Shenton told The Daily Mail that after her father became profoundly deaf, she realized the effects hearing loss can have on a person. "That gave me the impetus to then learn sign language, I quickly fell in love with the language and I have been heavily involved in the deaf community ever since."
Katja Benrath, Director — 'Watu Wote: All Of Us'
Originally Benrath wanted to be in front of the camera. Speaking to Borrowing Tape, she said, "I had nothing to do with film and movies and I didn't want to. But then, I got a small part in front of the camera and I fell in love, with acting in front of and behind the camera, being truthful, telling truthful stories, being able to open up perspectives for audiences."
Julia Drache, Writer — 'Watu Wrote: All Of Us'
Not just a writer, Drache is also an editor, assistant editor, and camera operator.
Ildikó Enyedi, Writer/Director — 'On Body And Soul'
Receiving an Oscar nomination for her first feature film in 18 years (she's been working in television and making shorts in the meantime), Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi hasn't had a typical career. Speaking with popMatters she explained why she was resistant to even the idea of making a career out of film, saying, "each film of mine came from a very elemental need to share something."
Nora Twomey, Director — 'The Breadwinner'
It's a director's job to rally and motivate their crew to be invested in the story, and with animation even more labor-intensive than live-action, it's no easy task. But it's the most important one. Nora Twomey told No More Film School, "As a director, you have to believe your own characters and story, if you can't convince yourself that the drawings on the screen are real people that you care about, you can't expect an audience to do so."
Anita Doron, Writer — 'The Breadwinner'
A talented writer who also directed 12 films, Doron was drawn to the Afghanistan-set story due to her childhood in the USSR. In an interview with TEDFellows she said, "Afghanistan was a big part of Soviet mythology. It was this mysterious place where Soviet soldiers died senselessly...As I later got access to information about the country, I was fascinated and saddened by the tragedy of this place used as a battleground by empires at war with each other."
Dorota Kobiela, Co-Director/Writer — 'Loving Vincent'
Kobiela is pictured above, after hearing the news that her animated feature Loving Vincent, which brought together 125 painters for the world's first fully painted feature, was nominated. The Oscar nod is official acknowledgement of the filmmaker's labor of love.
Ru Kuwahata, Co-Director — 'Negative Space'
Kuwahata is one half of Tiny Inventions, the animation team who created Oscar-nominated short Negative Space. This is the duo's fourth short film, but they've won triple the amount of awards. Kuwahata also teaches animation at the Maryland Institute of Art, and lectures across the globe.
Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Cinematographer — 'Molly's Game'
In an interview with MovieMaker magazine, Christensen said of her cinematography, "I want to understand the story, because otherwise how do I know where to put the lights? I don’t just put a light there to make you look pretty. I put a light there to support the words." It makes clear that cinematography is as integral to film storytelling as the writing and directing.
Agnès Varda, Writer/Director — 'Faces Places'
Varda, major filmmaker of the French New Wave movement, has made outstanding movies for decades. The Academy finally decided to recognize her work with an Honorary Oscar in 2017. This year she received her first ever nomination, additionally becoming the oldest person ever nominated. Asked by Vulture how she felt finally getting a nod, Varda responded, "I’m just saying, I’m not dead yet."
A January 2018 study by USC Annenberg examining race, age, and gender in the director's chair had the disheartening news that from 2007-2017, a mere 4 percent of directors were female, and only .6 percent, not even a whole percent, were non-white. Hopefully by shining a light on the amazing women behind the camera, the idea of women not just in, but succeeding in these roles will be normalized. It'll be one small step closer to a Hollywood that reflects reality behind the scenes.