Over the course of this series, we have looked at the Academy’s history when it comes to nominations and wins for films directed by women. We have looked at the disappointing statistics, as well as the many worthy contenders for this year’s races.
And today, in part three, we conclude this series by bringing everything together with the best directors and pictures directed by women in 2018. Unlike the first two parts, today we will discuss Oscar’s history in directing and picture, and then look at the year’s contenders as one group.
The most widely-known statistic regarding films directed by women is, of course, the fact that the Academy has only ever nominated five women for Best Director.
Despite Dorothy Arzner, Ida Lupino, and Agnès Varda creating brilliant films over the years, it wasn’t until 1976 that the Academy finally found a female director they couldn’t ignore. Lena Wertmüller didn’t win that year, but it seemed that at last women were being taken more seriously as filmmakers.
And yet, it would be another 17 years before another woman was nominated in the category when Jane Campion earned that distinction in 1993. In the years between 1976 and 1993, films like “Yentl,” “Children of a Lesser God,” “Big,” and “Awakenings” all score well-deserved nominations. It seems impossible that Penny Marshall, for example, was never nominated for Best Director. She had one Best Picture nominee and two that should have been. And yet, they ignored her entirely.
Of the five nominees, only Kathryn Bigelow has taken home a statue. If people thought Wertmüller’s nomination would open doors, it seemed certain Bigelow’s win could. But it would be nine years before another woman, Greta Gerwig, even made the lineup. Ava DuVernay, Angelina Jolie, Susanne Bier, and even Kathryn Bigelow are among the many talented women that have been ignored in recent years.
Thirteen Best Picture nominees have been directed by women. Thirteen in 90 years of Oscars. The first was “Children of a Lesser God” in 1986. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” still has the distinction of being the only winner.
Every year, a certain small but vocal chorus sings the false refrain that there just aren’t enough “worthy” films to consider. In 2017, “Mudbound” collected four nominations, but was not considered as a serious possibility by most prognosticators. “Battle of the Sexes” was all but forgotten by the time awards season rolled around. They ignored “Novitiate” and “Maudie” altogether.
Through the decades, women have crafted exceptional films that, even if they were admired, were never given the attention they deserved. This leads to the misconception that women’s films are somehow lesser. That they aren’t to be taken seriously or worse, that they aren’t art.
When films like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Reader,” and “Scent of a Woman” is nominated, they elicit head scratching, without much in the way of outright condemnation.
The 2018 Race
The year 2018 saw more than 80 films directed by women. Many of them are great, and not nearly enough of them have been talked about. Are all of them Oscar worthy? No, of course not. But then, neither are a lot of the films directed by men.
Here is a sampling of some of the year’s best:
- “Can You Ever Forgive Me?“; dir. Marielle Heller
- “Capernaum“; dir. Nadine Labaki
- “Dark River“; dir. Clio Barnard
- “I Am Not a Witch“; dir. Rungano Nyoni
- “The Kindergarten Teacher“; dir. Sara Colangelo
- “The Land of Steady Habits“; dir. Nicole Holofcener
- “Leave No Trace“; dir. Debra Granik
- “Madeline’s Madeline“; dir. Josephine Decker
- “Mary Queen of Scots“; dir. Josie Rourke
- “The Miseducation of Cameron Post“; dir. Desiree Akhavan
- “Nico, 1988“; dir. Susanna Nichiarelli
- “On the Basis of Sex“; dir. Mimi Leder
- “Private Life“; dir. Tamara Jenkins
- “Rafiki“; dir. Wanuri Kahiu
- “The Rider“; dir. Chloe Zhao
- “What They Had“; dir. Elizabeth Chomko
- “You Were Never Really Here“; dir. Lynne Ramsay
- “Zama“; dir. Lucrecia Martel
The prevailing wisdom is that the 2018 Oscar race is down to a few likely candidates. And only one or possibly two are on the list above. But for every Peter Farrelly, there is a Debra Granik, a Mimi Leder, and a Lynne Ramsay waiting. As people embrace “A Star Is Born,” they dismiss a great musical biopic in “Nico, 1988.” They chat incessantly about the polarizing “Vice,” while acknowledging the performances and little else for the better “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Yes, the Hollywood Foreign Press and several critics groups have already weighed in. But AMPAS doesn’t have to follow their limited scope. If there was ever a year to celebrate the necessary and brilliant contributions of female filmmakers, it is certainly 2018. With stories about Queens and Supreme Court Justices and women who fight daily to make the world a better place, it is time.