If Ava DuVernay is nominated for an original screenplay Oscar for Middle of Nowhere — a slim possibility, if more people see it — she will be only the second black female screenwriter in 85 years of Oscar history to do so. You have to yawn all the way back to 1972 to find the one and only co-writer of Lady Sings the Blues, Suzanne De Passe nominated alongside Terence McCloy and Chris Clark. DuVernay will be the first writer/director nominated as an individual.
The Oscars make a difference because they represent the status quo, the power dynamic in Hollywood. Kathryn Bigelow can win Best Director and Best Picture and it doesn’t really change things for women filmmakers. It’s still a white man’s game. But by some miracle, Bigelow made what was the best reviewed film that year. It was thrilling that any woman could have achieved just that much. Maybe women aren’t getting major deals and maybe they aren’t really winning any awards but there is no getting around the idea that it happened. Bigelow happened. If I was a young filmmaker in film school looking at the Oscars I might think, you know, I can do that too. Maybe I can’t make Avatar but I can sure as hell make The Hurt Locker. And you know, that’s not nothing.