In the past, the Academy Awards have been notoriously exclusionary to female filmmakers. Over the course of its entire 90-year history, only thirteen Best Picture nominees have been directed by women and, perhaps more telling, only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow is the sole winner to date, whose film “The Hurt Locker” also won Best Picture).
Although it seems obvious there is a clear barrier between female directors achieving success at the Oscars that has nothing to do with the quality of their work, there are still plenty of critics who would suggest otherwise. Whenever people make the argument that more women deserve to be nominated, there is an immediate chorus of objections demanding to know which apparently more deserving male director should have been removed to make room for the “token” woman. Of course, the issue here is about fighting the assumption that male directors are inherently more worthy of a nomination than almost every single female director. Yet women filmmakers repeatedly get overlooked for their tremendous cinematic accomplishments. So the question is will 2019 be any different?
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this might finally be the year that female directors breakthrough, if only because of the number of women making high-profile films in 2019. There’s Lulu Wang with “The Farewell”, a dramedy that is universally adored by audiences and critics alike, making her part of an Oscar conversation that could see her as the fifth ever filmmaker of Asian descent and the first Asian woman to be nominated for Best Director. Greta Gerwig has the highly-anticipated “Little Women” coming out this Christmas as a follow-up to her tremendously successful directorial debut, “Lady Bird.” Marielle Heller, who was notably snubbed from the Best Director category last year for her work on “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” coming out this fall. This film is a biopic starring Tom Hanks as the universally beloved Mr. Rogers (three ingredients combined for Oscar voters to eat up), so its exclusion would certainly be surprising.
The list goes on and on; from Olivia Wilde’s ode to the high school overachievers in “Booksmart” to Melina Matzoukas’ stylish crime drama “Queen & Slim” to Claire Denis’ divisive but creatively ambitious “High Life,” there are women making critically acclaimed films in every genre. And with each new high-profile film directed by a woman, it gets more difficult to exclude them from the industry’s highest honor.
Especially given the controversy surrounding the Best Director category in recent years, it would be a shock and a disappointment to see women boxed out once again. There are so many female directors that deserve to be rewarded for their work. What’s more, being nominated and winning these types of awards often gives filmmakers more or less free reign on their following projects. It would be great to see what films women would make if they didn’t have to constantly fight tooth and nail for funding.