The Oscars have released their nominations for the official 2020 Academy Awards ceremony, with the biggest surprises including Joker and Parasite being nominated for Best Picture. However, what’s become a concern for many moviegoers is the noticeable snub toward female directors. Despite the increase of women deserving consideration at the Oscars, Greta Gerwig, director of Little Women, and Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell, were both noticeably ignored from the Best Director category, despite the former’s film being nominated for Best Picture. This disappointing turnout is sadly not a surprise, considering Hollywood’s long history of ignoring female directors.
The biggest piece of evidence for this is the noticeable lack of Oscars given to women in the directing field. Of the 71 directors to win the award, only one of them was a woman: Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 win for The Hurt Locker. In the 12 years since, not a single woman has earned another Academy Award in that field. This is particularly appalling when you consider that the number of female-led films has been steadily increasing over the years. Furthermore, only five women have ever even been nominated for Best Director. Those nominees include Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird).
While the efforts of these women are highly respected, it also can’t be ignored that several of them got to these positions through possible nepotism. Both Gerwig and Bigelow were previously married to highly successful male directors before they began their own film careers, and Coppola is the daughter of The Godfather‘s Francis Ford Coppola. Hollywood in general is an industry dependent upon interconnectivity, but there are far more stories of male directors finding success without the help of a family member, while many of the women listed here don’t have that achievement. This isn’t meant as an insult towards the efforts of Coppola, Gerwig, and Bigelow, who are obviously very talented regardless of their connections. Instead, it’s meant to draw attention to the nameless women who are just as talented (if not more so), but weren’t given the chance to direct due to their lack of contacts.
Though Hollywood continuously preaches efforts of becoming more progressive and open-minded, the Academy hasn’t adopted those ideals — repeatedly being criticized for its lack of minority representation. While this can be easily blamed on the 7,000 voters of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, we also can’t deny that public reactions to Oscars have something to do with this repetitive nature. Though a large section of the public is scathing towards the Academy’s lack of proper representation, there’s another portion that’s equally critical when atypical films are nominated for an Oscar.
“Typical” Oscar films fit in a very niche section of movies. A 2014 study found that “the genres of drama, war, history and biography were strong predictors of getting Oscar nominations, as were plot keywords involving political intrigue, disabilities, war crimes and show business.” Oscar-sweeping movies like Ben-Hur (1959), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and The English Patient (1996) all match these descriptions, as well as appealing to mainstream expectations through primarily white and male all-star casts. However, when movies that lack these characteristics, such as The Farewell, Hustlers and Little Women, are nominated, they’re often ignored by either the Oscars or the public. Though all of these examples fit into the “drama” category, they defy typical Academy expectations with their use of female protagonists and focus on atypical, even uncomfortable, topics — such as lesbian affairs, prostitution, rape, sex work, feminism, etc.
Though the continuous snubbing of trope-defying, female-led films is disappointing, there is some hope for the future. 2020 will include several big budget films led by women, including Mulan, Black Widow, The Eternals, and Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Many of these films are already receiving lots of buzz and will hopefully further prove that women are fully capable of being qualified directors. The introduction of more female-led movies will also mean the normalization of women in a directorial position, hopefully making women win the Best Director Oscar a typical occurrence, rather than exceptional.