First, consider this – In the 90 year history of the Academy Awards, no women have ever been nominated for Best Cinematography. True, there are very few that have wedged their way into the techie boys club, but their small numbers don’t mean lesser quality or command of the medium.
Past standouts would include Lisa Rinzler (Pollock), Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler), Amy Vincent (Eve’s Bayou), and Mandy Walker (Australia) – all visually stunning films, but no attention given.
Even most female directors select male DPs, for the most part, which becomes a real head-scratcher the longer that continues. Two major films in 2017 that were directed by women, Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins) and Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow), were lensed by men. Exceptions were directors Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats) and Dee Rees (Mudbound) – both of which were exquisitely shot by Helene Louvart and Rachel Morrison, respectively.
Cinematographer Rachel Morrison made a big splash with Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station in 2013, then again the next two years with Daniel Barnz Cake and Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope. This year, she topped most of her peers, male and female, with her stunning work for Dee Rees Jim Crow era epic, Mudbound, nabbing the New York Film Critics Circle for Best Cinematographer and nominated by both the LA Online Film Critics and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association, along with a Critic’s Choice nomination, the results of which will be revealed next week. This is the closest a woman has gotten to being nominated for an Oscar in that impenetrable fortress of a category.
In 2016, Morrison was tagged by Ryan Coogler to serve as DP on his upcoming Black Panther for Marvel Studios, smashing the glass ceiling in the tent pole fantasy genre. It’s a beginning, and one hopes change will be sure, if not swift. As Morrison said when she was accepting her Kodak Vision Award in 2013:
“It baffles me how women remain such a minority in an industry whose primary currency is visualizing human emotion…”
In the meantime, is there a more qualified cinematographer to land a position among the top five at this year’s Oscars? Nope. There isn’t.