For the second year in a row, the Oscars have failed to include any female directors in its list of nominations. On paper, this seems like a sad coincidence — except when we remember it hails from a long history of snubbing women as best directors, with only five nominations in the Academy Awards’ 91 year old history and one single winner.
To say that men have simply been better at directing over the course of the years is unrealistic; it’s true that (white) women didn’t have a prominent role in film directing until the 50s, but in recent years, female directed films have received both critical acclaim and international recognition. (A report published recently shows women filmmakers score, on average, one point higher than men on Metacritic).
If we want to speak of “fairness”, we need to focus on the playing field. The same report shows that only 13 per cent of directors sponsored by the world’s biggest production companies are women, while most female filmmakers remain within the independent film sector. In order words; film giants do not trust women with their films and are reluctant to pour money and resources into their projects.
Defying this, female directed films have done well at the box office this year. Of the top 100 movies of 2019, twelve of the directors were women, up from five in 2018. The 2020 Oscars have been regarded as “record-breaking” for their 62 women nominations over all categories — but why is this seen as notable when it only comprises a third of all the nominees?
This year’s lack of representation shows – more than ever – that women’s stories are just not taken seriously. The anger that Greta Gerwig’s award snub has caused is understandable, and reflective of Hollywood’s wider problem. Little Women grossed $60 million at the box office, achieved a 95 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 91 at Metacritic.
What’s even more notable: the film achieved nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Picture, two categories that often go hand in hand with the Best Director category that Greta Gerwig missed out on. This is not to say she deserved a nomination over her male counterparts, only that the reasons behind this are not related to her talent as a filmmaker, but rather the story she chose to tell. Little Women’s femininity should not alienate boys. At its core, it’s a story about growth, ambition, and family — that just so happens to be told through a woman’s perspective. And yet men just aren’t watching it, with only one third of the film’s theatrical audience were reported to be male.
Of course, in a world where every piece of media is pretty much available to everyone, we’re told to look at this with an open mind: everyone should watch whatever they please. But the reality of it is that awards bodies have always been male dominated, and it is thus their taste which dictates which stories get funded and told.
It’s an inevitable cycle in which certain narratives are marketed as “feminine” and overlooked, thus prompting every other female written or focused story to stay in the production floor due to an apparent lack of interest. And since nominations and awards have a tangible effect on female directors’ careers — snubs like the one in 2020 will most likely guarantee a similar one in 2021, and so on.
Rather than a question of forcing gender balance at the awards stage, the media should focus on giving an appropriate platform to minorities to allow their talent to be recognised and judged fairly alongside the ones that have been constantly acknowledged for the past ninety years.
Illustration: Hannah Riordan