The Oscars' best director boys' club is a disgrace
In news that will surprise no one, the Oscars have yet again boxed women out of the category for Best Director. With the exception of Bong Joon-ho's much-deserving Parasite, this year’s disappointing slate of director nominees include Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Todd Phillips (Joker), Sam Mendes (1917), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood). In the Year of Our Lord 2020, the Oscar nominations across the board are frankly exhausting—they are largely a too-white, too-male, too-old slate of dull and distressing choices. Issa Rae, who announced the nominations alongside John Cho, said it best: “Congratulations to these men.”
The dismal Oscar nominations come on the heels of last week’s embarrassing set of BAFTA nominations, where women were again boxed out of the best director category—and all four acting categories contained only white nominees. In the past ten years, the only woman nominated in the Best Director category at the Oscars was Greta Gerwig, nominated in 2017 for Lady Bird. Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2009 for The Hurt Locker, remains the only woman to ever win the award. Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow’s next feature film, was nominated for Best Picture in 2012, yet Bigelow was not nominated for Best Director—in fact, no woman has ever been nominated twice for Best Director. Gerwig, one of the industry’s leading voices and brightest talents, seems to have been fast-tracked on the same road to directorial second-class citizenship as Bigelow, as her Little Women was nominated for Best Picture, but not Best Director.
Best Supporting Actress nominee Florence Pugh sounded off to Entertainment Weekly, noting how art imitates life in the snub of Gerwig.
“She’s literally made a film about this,” Pugh explained. “She made a film about women working and their relationship with money and their relationship with working in a man’s world. That’s literally what Little Women is about, so [this] only underlines how important it is—because it’s happening.”
Each year that this sorry state of affairs continues, it becomes ever more confusing, confounding, and infuriating. The Academy’s dismissal of female filmmakers communicates to these trailblazing women that their stories and their artistry doesn't matter. It also makes it excruciatingly clear that, as much as the Academy loves to tout its own perceived diversity, such “diversity” is not an authentic inclusion of filmmakers and performers from all backgrounds—rather, it’s only a conciliatory, tokenizing gesture made to pacify critics.
It’s unforgivable that this year’s nominees do not include Gerwig, whose Little Women is among the most lauded and visionary films of the year. It’s unforgivable that they do not include Lulu Wang, whose The Farewell is a singularly unforgettable and poignant film. It’s unforgivable that they do not include Lorene Scafaria or Olivia Wilde, who, in Hustlers and Booksmart, delivered bold, assured, sensitively told stories of uniquely female experiences. Instead, the Academy has thrown its weight behind familiar stories of aggrieved male fragility—and familiar male filmmakers, who have made long and profitable careers of telling these stories ad nauseam.
Gerwig herself, writing in Vanity Fair a few days ago, wrote about the stories that we as a culture consider “important,” saying, “I still think we very much have a hierarchy of stories. I think that the top of the hierarchy is male violence—man on man, man on woman, etc. I think if you look at the books and films and stories that we consider to be ‘important,’ that is a common theme, either explicitly or implicitly.”
Gerwig could not be more correct—it’s not simply that female filmmakers are sidelined, but that stories coded as “female” are bastardized. If the Academy hopes to retain any sense of authority or legitimacy, it needs to radically reimagine itself and its membership. Perhaps voters should be required to attend screenings of every eligible film, rather than reportedly skipping those in which they are disinterested. Perhaps it’s time to cull the ranks of the Academy, or to put term limits on academy membership. Whatever the solution is, the Academy best identify and implement it soon—or else run the risk of becoming irrelevant while they judge a world that no longer exists.