Oh dear, have we not learned anything now from last year? Yesterday, the nominees were finally announced for the 91st Academy awards, and like many out there, I was eager to find out which directors would be up for the top prize.
The names appeared on-screen, one after another: Alfonso Cuaron (Roma), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Adam McKay (Vice) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War). And, while I am chuffed to see Cuaron, Lanthimos, Lee and Pawliowski (McKay, not so much) have their names announced, there was something glaring obvious that these directors all share in common. They are all male.
Now, before anyone jumps up and declares that there just hasn’t been any decent films directed by female directors, I would like to point out that 2018 was an excellent year of films from female filmmakers. And just to remind readers, I would like to point out five films from female filmmakers that in my personal opinion, are Oscar worthy. You are welcome to suggest other films too (please leave a comment below).
We saw the likes of Lynne Ramsay’s noir thriller, You Were Never Really Here, a well crafted and intelligent film with a strong central performance from Joaquin Phoenix (who has also been snubbed by the academy). You Were Never Really Here has violence at its core, but it doesn’t relish or delight in showing us. For Ramsay, the violence isn’t the appeal of the story and she has a subtle touch dealing with more graphic material. The film is an exploration into redemption, masculinity, and mental illness, peeling back the complexities of masculinity and critiquing society’s expectations of men.
Another film which also touched upon these themes, was also directed by a female filmmaker. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a poetic and tender film, which is quite a small, intimate examination of the relationship between a father and daughter. Like Cuaron’s Roma and Pawlikowski’s Cold War, we get the impression that Leave No Trace is a very personal film. As stated by Manohla Dargis’ review for The NY Times, ”With Leave No Trace, the director Debra Granik demonstrates her gift for making cinematic spaces vibrantly, palpably alive.” Leave No Trace, is a film full of life and beauty which leaves a lasting impression.
Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro was sadly not put forward as Italy’s entry for the Best film in a foreign language. Happy as Lazzaro is a modern-day fable, with gorgeous cinematography and a simple, put compelling narrative. The films follows Lazzaro, a young peasant so good that he is often mistaken for simple-minded, and Tancredi, who asks Lazzaro to help him orchestrate his own kidnapping. Happy as Lazzaro was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes film festival. Although, the film lost to Shoplifters, Rohrwacher did win the award for Best Screenplay. Happy as Lazzaro is a tender film which looks at the current state of humanity, without ever being too overtly dramatic.
Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots is a gorgeous looking film, which follows Saoirse Ronan’s Mary Stuart as she attempts to overthrow Margot Robbie’s Queen Elizabeth I – with dire consequences. Mary Queen of Scots is Rourke’s film debut, but she has had a long career and background working in theatre. Costume drama’s tend to do well at the Oscars, but Mary Queen of Scots only picked up two nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the 91st Academy Awards. Like The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots examines the challenges and misogyny faced by women in power during a time where women were considered inferior.
Lastly, I would like to mention the excellent and moving The Miseducation of Cameron Post directed by Desiree Akhavan. Based on the young adult novel, the fim is set in 1993, and centres around a teenage girl who is forced into a gay conversion therapy center by her conservative guardians. The film’s strength lies in its simple, straightforward approach to storytelling, without being too forced or overdramatic.
A small, quiet and very honest film, this could have been 2018’s Moonlight. Akhavan has a distinct voice and approach to storytelling, and understands the power of framing a shot and the use of lighting to create atmosphere. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a low-key character-drama captured in an unexaggerated, ‘realistic’ way.
There’s five films by female filmmakers that were released in 2018, and I would argue are far superior than Vice, (and don’t get me wrong, I rather liked Vice for what it was). I am not demanding that films are nominated simply by the gender of their director, but frankly this is all getting a bit silly now. In all of the 91 years that the Oscars have been taking place, there has only be five female directors to be nominated for the best director award. Only one female director has won: Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
A number of films over the past several years that were directed by women were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. This is a category which allows for more nominees. These films include The Kids Are All Right (directed by Lisa Cholodenko), Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik), and Selma (directed by Ava DuVernay). However, the directors of those films were not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.
It’s about time that something changes. Perhaps, we should all admit that there’s a serious bias going on in the Academy. Is it time we start using the hashtag, Oscars so Sexist? Perhaps, the choice of just five nominees for best director is too limited or perhaps there’s needs to be a separate category (best debut from a first time director for example), in order to ensure these female filmmakers and their work won’t continue to be overlooked. It might even be worth considering a quota system, where at least one female filmmaker and person of colour is nominated for best director every year. And, while this sounds drastic, it might help shorten that gap. Hopefully, for the 92nd awards, I won’t need to repeat this article.