Dear Academy: Consider the Women Directors

One thing we know about the industry now is that they prefer their women naked and on their backs. One they don’t like – women behind the camera. I would add to this consider filmmakers of color. Consider other narratives than those that serve middled aged white males.   Unstick from the romanticized nostalgia of the past: Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech…in a year where the first black president was re-elected due in large part to the changing tide of women and gay rights, the rise of immigrants the industry has decided to do what it does best: worship the white dudes.  Moreover, to choose a film, Argo, that does nothing to define what’s happening in our world right now but only massages the need to remember when white men ran Hollywood and the CIA. I am happy that (supposedly) Jimmy Carter will be vindicated. But less happy that it’s such a safe choice and evidence of the devolution of the Oscars.

Will a change ever come? I’ve been at this 14 years and I’ve only seen it go backwards. I’m still waiting.  I advocated for Halle Berry to become the first black actress to win. Ever.  She won.  No other black actress has won since. I advocated for Kathryn Bigelow in 2009. She won. But good luck getting close to that ever again.  Why does it matter? Look around you.

Thanks to Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein.

49 Comments on this Post

  1. Christophe

    Dear Women Directors: Make Better Movies

  2. Great link Zach!

    As opinionated, and petty, this member can seem some times, he sounds like he does know what he’s talking about. I was always confused over the difference between Sound mixing and Sound Editing. Glad to have that cleared up.

    However, he also sounds kind of racist. His comment about not voting for anyone with a name he cannot pronounce like Quvenzhane Wallis…oh boy.

  3. Does every single article really need those Argo slights? Can’t anyone just let if go for five measly minutes?

  4. moviewatcher

    Of those, I’ve seen Cloud Atlas, ZD30 and Ruby Sparks. I really want to see Take This Waltz.

    Cloud Atlas would be my #2 of the year and ZD30 would be around the 4-6 region.

  5. I don’t understand why the Academy goes to break down barriers and then never addresses Women or African-Americans in said categories until it’s been another 20 years.

  6. Thanks for putting that link Zach. It was very informative. I’d think I’d like to get that guy’s newsletter. He seems like fun. :)

    But I think he made a mistake in not filling in all the slots. He was doing the right thing when he put the movie he hated in 9th place. But if he really didn’t want ARGO to win he should have filled out the rest of the ballot with everything else just in case. If LINCOLN and ZERO DARK THIRTY aren’t the final two, then ARGO could win because he didn’t give a vote to something else.

    Does anyone know what he meant by top-lighting? He said that the cinematographer of DJANGO does that too much.

  7. @Scotty, the Wallis thing was a bit much, though I think “Alphabet Wallis” was a nod to JLaw’s SNL skit. Which is hurting her chances, see!

    I didn’t like what he said about Field (not that she’s winning anyway) or Jones (a shame, but people do think that about him). The rest I mostly agreed with or could appreciate — the kind of logical bias I have!

  8. @Antoinette, hopefully Lincoln is at least in the top 2 in which his vote will count. But thanks for that clarification. Seemed like a fishy choice.

  9. Yeah, possibly the ones who doesn’t shoot as if they would like to be men. So Jane Campion over Kathryn Bigelow, please. Sofia Coppola over Kathryn Bigelow, please. Sarah Polley over Kathryn Bigelow, please. Kelly Reichardt over Kathryn Bigelow, please. And so on…

  10. Women at the camera, there are very few. Penny Marshall was a great. Sofia Coppla’s films are Okay. But Kathryn Bigelow has a eye and a vision. Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker were incredible films.

  11. himynameiscole

    cool link, zach! i don’t think he meant he meant it to come off as racist, but it did. i think he was trying to make jokes or little one liners about why he didn’t vote for things with a swing and a miss on that one.

  12. I’d love to see Sofia Coppola win an Oscar for directing some day, and Sarah Polley be nominated for one.

    It’d be great to see more than one woman be nominated in the same year.

  13. You might as well say “Dear Cannes…” or “Dear Kansas City Film Critics Circle …”, does not matter. Women directors don’t get awards because there aren’t many women directors making movies. The Academy is not prejudiced against women. The simple fact is that male directors make a majority of the movies that are released. If you want to make statistics on how many women directors were nominated, why not make a statistic that says how many movies were directed by women. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but that’s how the industry looks like right now. Blaming the Academy (or any other award-giving group) won’t change anything. Women have been present in the industry since day one and right now they are making more movies then ever, which is good. But please, don’t blame the award givers for not honering female directors, because there is simply not too many of them and not too many film to choose from.

    You’re bitching about just 3 women being nominated for best director, but I’ll let you know that Anne Bauchens was the first woman to win for editing. That was back in 1940. Since then women editors are considered more skilled than men despite the Oscars. Every one knows that a movie can not exist whothout an editor and the editors that made motion picture history are Anne V. Coates, Thelma Schoonmaker, Dede Allen, Dody Dorn and many more.

    There are a lot of female editors, but simply not enough women cinematographers, sound designers, producers and yes, directors. Once that changes the Academy will change also. It’s not the awards that are fuckes. They are simply awarding the movies they were handed to choose from.

    “Lincoln” was directed by a man, so was “Life of Pi” and “SLP”. Does that make the Academy sexist for giving them so many nods?

  14. Dear Christophe: Agnes Varda, Chantal Akerman, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Anne Fontaine, Sofia Coppola, Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel, Lynne Ramsay, Agnes Jaoui, Tamara Jenkins, Susanne Bier, Naomi Kawase, Cate Shortland, Julie Delpy, Ava DuVernay, Claudia Llosa, Ursula Meier, Lisa Cholodenko, Lone Scherfig, Catherine Breillat, Liv Ullmann, Debra Granik, Vera Chytilova, Mary Harron, Agnieszka Holland, Diane Kurys, Sally Potter, Andrea Arnold, Margarethe von Trotta, Barbra Streisand, Darnell Martin

  15. Corvo’s post is something that just grates at me. Seriously what makes you think that Kathryn Bigelow wants to be a man? Has she expressed interest in a sex change operation that I didn’t hear about? Or is it because of the topics she chooses?

    Now that I think about it some more your post highlights what’s the root of sexism today: The idea that certain personality traits or interests are masculine or feminine. I don’t know about the rest you guys but I don’t think sensitivity or being nurturing is a trait that only applies to women. Nor did I ever think being strong and tough is only a man’s trait. Those are personality traits not sex traits to me.

    But our culture has ingrained it in our heads that those traits are exclusive to gender. And guess who has been dictating cultural constructs for hundreds of years in Western Civilizations? If you guess white males, then have a cookie.

    Speaking of sex change operations, we should add transgendered filmmakers onto that list. Lana Wachowski is the only notable one though.

  16. notchristophe

    >consider the women
    >zero dark thirty the only good film from that montage
    >zero dark thirty has multiple oscar nominations
    >considered.

  17. Aw man. Not more liberal propaganda. Glad to see Coles put Sasha in her place.

  18. This posting perpetrates such a false premise that it’s insulting.

    I can take Kathryn Bigelow’s snub with a grain of salt being that the woman did win Best Director three years ago.

    Furthermore, none and i mean NONE of the films in the montage would have had a snowball’s chance in Hell of being nominated even if they were directed by men. Either these movies were so off the radar or just not worthy.

    Also, while it may not be Best Actress – Mo’Nique and Octavia Spencer won since Halle Berry. Even though Supporting Actress is presumably the “lesser” award – it’s still notable that those two women won and not because of a quota system but because they gave great performances.

    Finally, a note about “Argo”. Where is written that the Best Picture Oscar must go to a film that speaks to our times and about where we are as a human race. Can’t a film win Best Picture because it’s a expertly crafted movie that delivers on a purely entertaining level?

    Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times after “Gandhi” won Best Picture in 1982 that the Academy has “confused the Oscar with the Nobel Prize”. How true. Especially since “Gandhi” won over wildly entertaining films like “E.T.” and “Tootsie”.

    It’s quite ironic however that the director of “E.T.” has made this year’s Nobel Prize Oscar entry. Good to see that the Academy is not going to mix-up the two awards this year.

  19. Not more liberal propaganda.

    I know, right? How liberal to consider men and women equal! It’s political correctness gone mad.

    If institutions like the Academy don’t recognise more female directors, fewer female directors will be given chances in the industry. They can set the ball rolling. That’s the point. It’s not about recognising the most deserved directors every year. That doesn’t happen. If that happened, Leos Carax would have an Oscar nomination this year, and David O. Russell would not. It’s about the Academy choosing the best choices available to them. One such choice, this year, might have been Kathryn Bigelow. Or Ava DuVernay for Best Original Screenplay.

  20. I don’t understand why Sasha would want the Academy to vote with a social conscience, when the voters decisions reflect the mindset of an entertainment industry. Surely there are other film awards from critics, AFI etc.

  21. @Jade Fox

    I don’t dislike Bigelow for the interests she has but for the message her cinema spreads, that is: “women have to do the same things that men do (and always did) to be considered, women must behave like men to be praised”. Feminist activists believe that Bigelow is on their side but she isn’t, she is only on the side of power, on the side of the ruling culture. The attraction for the american military machine is neither feminist nor progressive at all.

  22. “If institutions like the Academy don’t recognise more female directors, fewer female directors will be given chances in the industry.”

    They have to win on merit though. They can’t only be given awards because of their gender. That is what you guys don’t understand… Zero Dark Thirty was the only film from that montage that was good enough for Oscars. We have just as many male-directed films that were snubbed this year that were on the level of the ones in the montage.

  23. Elton Almeida

    Sofia Coppola is TERRIFIC. Love all her movies so much. So visionary

  24. They have to win on merit though. They can’t only be given awards because of their gender.

    Merit? Did David O. Russell merit his nomination? Oscars are not dispensed based on merit and never have been.

    We have just as many male-directed films that were snubbed this year that were on the level of the ones in the montage.

    And just as many on that same level that were nominated. It’s not a fair system to begin with.

    The Academy was established as a means of rewarding Hollywood, of publicly advocating films and people which Hollywood regarded as good for its image and, thus, good for its revenue. They’ll only improve their image by nominating and awarding more women, and it won’t have a negative impact on revenue.

  25. The obsession with black women is so annoying. Women come in all shapes, sizes, and endless combinations and permutations: native, asian, hispanic, pacific island, south asian, east indian, lesbians, athiests, jewish, married/single/divorced, disabled, old, young, thin, thick, and can be from any country on earth.

    Black/white does not equal diversity. In fact its very exclusionary. Coming from a woman I would expect more.

  26. @Christophe
    First of all….eat me….second of all, you are a fool and know nothing if you think women aren’t and haven’t been making great films.
    Please please Sasha don’t censor me! He deserved the comment.

  27. So which director should not have been nominated? I can only see one female director that should be in this list: Kathryn Bigelow. We can talk about Cloud Atlas (which also has two male directors), but then? There are also a few male guys who were left of the list and who I would rank above the female directors from this list. I am not biased against female directors at all – but except Bigelow I can’t see any snubs…

  28. Well, Cloud Atlas was directed by a man and a woman if we want to get down to it.

  29. daveinprogress

    The montage could have included ‘Lore’ by Cate Shortland. German/Australian co=production and Australia’s entrant for Best Foreign Film.

  30. I watched this without the pop music (which does the video no favors) and had the auto-play music of the BP winners throughout history. Much more powerful.

    And I really need to see Middle of Nowhere.

    I could see Sarah Polley’s script being snubbed and Cloud Atlas (I think a critic had it right that Lana Wachowski was born to do a movie on this story) being up for tech. Let’s also not forget Ginger & Rosa or Wuthering Heights (not shown in the film) that are both very beautiful films directed by women.

    Corvo- Bigelow’s whole relationship with feminism, gender, and filmmaking is much less broad and much more complicated than what you are saying. She was apart of the feminist movement and also had a small role in Born in Flames. Also her portrayal of gender and gender roles, especially in her early films is pretty fascinating. She’s been through the business and has been taken for granted more than once. Her crying victim, like a Catherine Hardwicke did for never being offered The Fighter, is something she would just never do, yes, but it does not mean she is not on the side of feminists (even if she would rather not be rewarded to the song of “I Am Woman” and Streisand giving her an award). And look, she returned making the films she wanted rather than trying to subvert from within the major studio apparatus. It is no different from a lot of filmmakers, male or female, who break away- her friend William Friedkin as just one example. Also it is pretty insulting that you think just because she has made male-driven films that it speaks to her gender identity. How come nobody says the same about Gary Marshall for making movies about women or James Cameron when he makes movies with female heroines? You must think that way about Lana Wachowski and Bound.

    Paddy- Bravo. I’d also add Michelle MacLaren who I think could evolve into another Bigelow but she has mostly done TV work (episode of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad). Any studio who does an action movie should be happy to have her.

  31. daveinprogress

    Thanks to the montage, I will check out Lynn Shelton’s ‘Your Sister’s Sister’. I especially like Emily Blunt (overlooked for lots of good performances) and Rosemarie DeWitt (overlooked for Rachel getting married)
    Not sure how i missed that one.

  32. Christophe

    well then, maybe the academy should multiply categories like they did for acting to make sure both males and females get awarded in every field and while we’re at it they should also add extra prizes to award minorities: best black director, best homosexual screenwriter (actually, gay writers have already won in the past, but some might feel inclined to blame homophobia for kuschner’s looming loss), best blind editor, best crippled makeup artist, and so on and so forth…

    Point of the matter is: I do not believe even for one minute academy members sit down and think “well, I loved such or such movie/performance but I’m certainly not going to vote for it bc it was made by a woman/black person/homosexual/handicaped person/you name it…” they just vote for what they like and it’s not their fault more often than not what they like was made by a white man.

  33. Pierre de Plume

    daveinprogress, I too recommend Your Sister’s Sister.

  34. I think it’s really a product of Hollywood studios not backing films written by female filmmakers.

    That Academy Awards can only go by marketing and exposure. A lot of members tend to have a white male-dominated bias because that is who makes up the majority of the Academy, like in many aspects of life. I’m sure if the Academy had bigger percentages of minorities from all aspects, and if Hollywood would actually allow more opportunities for minority filmmakers to make movies, but also have them marketed to the mainstream (of course audiences like movies with white characters even if they’re playing roles that are not ethnically-specific which is a whole other subject), then they would have more of a fighting chance.

    I think you can’t really blame the Academy for the inherent issues that make them only reward the status-quo with some exceptions.

  35. daveinprogress

    Thank you Pierre. I have discovered multiple titles from threads here over the years and comments that eloquent folk such as yourself share in your statements, that continues to broaden my cinematic horizons.

  36. I hope Sofia Coppola follows this year for The Bling Ring!!! Nice video by the way Sasha!

  37. Who said there were only 3 women nominated for Best Director? There were 4(not that that’s much better). Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow. And out of this group by the way while Bigelow was the only woman to win the Oscar, Jane Campion is the only woman to ever win the Golden Palm at Cannes, an award given to filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman, Felini, Scorcese, Altman, and one award Spielberg has never won. They tend to award Auteurs moreso than populist filmmakers.

    I think the problem is that women directors are viewed to make only “women’s” films and are therefore not seen by white male dominated Hollywood as being as good. I have nothing against Bigelow but I think Campion is a far superior filmmaker and I’ll stand by the fact I think Bigelow had success and awards(yes critics are also mostly male) because she makes what is seen as transitionally male films. Yes even ZD30 was violent, wi explosions, and its plot centered around a man, UBL, despite the fact we’re all supposed to view it as some feminist achievement. I would have been more interested in finding out why the CIA felt that bringing on more female intelligence analysts was done( and there is a story there by the way) but guess what, they would probably be considered too “female”‘, but I would have been interested in the film touching on that aspect. There was more than one female character in this movie right?

    Anyway off on a tangent. Until Hollywood realizes that men and women are different, are allowed to make different films or similar films, both engaging and watchable, we’re dealing with the indie film circuit and European cinema to continue to support women directors in their efforts.

  38. “Did David O. Russell merit his nomination?”

    Certainly. Much more so than Zeitlin. More so than Affleck, Tarantino, Hooper, and even Bigelow.

    I would’ve liked to see Sarah Polley nommed, but most directors wouldn’t know good directing if it bit them in the ass, so that was unlikely. Elegant blocking and thoughtful use of shot-size and composition, I suppose, are less interesting than “OMG IT’S MOVING IT’S MOVING EVERYTHING’S MOVING” — today’s gold standard for “directing.”

  39. Campion is a superior filmmaker to Bigelow — there are few creative visionaries working today who can match Sweetie, The Piano, Portrait of a Lady and even Bright Star for sheer visual inventiveness and attention to nuanced, “unfilmable” ideas and emotions — using the camera as a means of expressing the inner life of the characters, rather than utilizing the camera as a ‘record’ of the action that transpired that day on set.

    As Valerie astutely pointed, Bigelow, who is very talented and makes tremendously engaging genre work, gets “bonus points” for dealing in subject matter that appeals to men, and is thus seen as “more serious.”

  40. Sarah Polley is certainly cementing her place. Her recent “Stories We Tell” has already been getting 2014 awards buzz. We’ll see if it reaches mainstream, but i tend to think her films and subject matter are too thoughtful and obscure to Hollywood and “too female” and they just won’t get it or embrace it.

    But she also has the rights to Alias Grace, the fabulous book by Margaret Atwood, which is her next project. As a fan of the book, I can just salivate anticipating her elegant touch on this story.

  41. “I would have been more interested in finding out why the CIA felt that bringing on more female intelligence analysts was done( and there is a story there by the way) but guess what, they would probably be considered too “female”‘, but I would have been interested in the film touching on that aspect. There was more than one female character in this movie right?”

    Really? There’s been a lot of CIA analysts who worked there long before UBL was seen as a threat and were experts on the region and you want to go to square 1 and act like their gender must have meant something? It is mentioned Maya was extremely intelligent and the CIA sought her out early but her smarts got her to Pakistan than it being her choice. There are certain things she cannot do in the film compared to the men in the film but they are laid out pretty directly in that she cannot directly inflict the pain in the torture and interrogation scenes, she must be clothed head to toe, etc. But the scenes of work and the meetings show a pretty even-plain in gender, not so much in representing equality but that the meritocracy involved at the CIA is what gets you in those rooms. The film is not about feminism, even when the character Debbie openly considers Maya her role model, but it does show what it is like for a woman in the CIA and yes, she is trained to act a certain way not just because she is in CIA but that she is female. Again, people who want Bigelow and ZD30 to lay it down thick to play better to viewer literacy and certain points of view is really missing a very rich film.

    Bigelow’s made mostly male films since her debut The Loveless. She didn’t just wake up to do them thinking it will win her awards. She built up a reputation long before she got awards notice.

  42. @CMG

    I perhaps wasn’t clear. I don’t think ZD30 was a film about feminism. I was simply relaying what a lot of commentators and those find Bigelow some ultra feminist. I don’t see feminism in her films, not this one, and I don’t see her as a feminist but a filmmaker who happens to be a woman.

    As for wanting more focus on the choices for some of the analysts being women in the film, that in itself is it’s own story and likely doesn’t belong in this film. But the CIA started actively recruiting women long before the events in this film started. If you read about Jennifer Mattews, the agent Jennifer Ehle’s character was based on, she was recruited many years before that as part of an effort to expand their female presence. Many studies have led to intelligence agencies realizing women are more skilled at certain analytical activities, and that is part of what led to that.

    I know Bigelow makes “masculine” films. My only point was while she’s a fine filmmaker, her inclusion into the inner Oscar circle has more to do with the type of films she makes vs the fact that her films are better than a Jane Campion, who I still find a far superior filmmaker.

  43. Well I get what you are saying about the film’s story. But why compare Campion and Bigelow beyond the fact they are the same gender? Campion belongs to a group of filmmakers, some men and some women, and Bigelow belongs to another group of filmmakers, mostly men but there are women like her breaking out directing procedurals and prestige shows on TV that are action-based who I can easily see making features (and hope people like Michelle MacLaren can). They are of different styles, apples and oranges. If I wanted to make comparisons and who among her group are better than the other with Bigelow it would be Fincher, Soderbergh, Mann, and even Cameron in the conversation. The only ways they are alike is feminists yearning to cling to them as role models (look up Campion’s reaction to the backlash of lack of female directors at Cannes).

  44. Why would I compare Bigelow to those men when this is a topic about female directors. I simply stated an opinion as to why she’s embraced and some of the others and the films they make aren’t. Hollywood is controlled by white men, critics are manly male, so why is it so hard to accept the fact she’s been accepted into the club because she makes masculine films. I just don’t hold it out as some feminist accomplishment as many seem to. Sarah Polley went back to Canada to study filmmaking and has made her films there for exactly that reason.

  45. Bigelow was shunned and left Hollywood. The Hurt Locker was mostly financed out of her pocket and a few smart investors. Megan Ellison gave her carte blanche and money to make anything she wanted that otherwise would have gotten from other studios- and this was after she won those Oscars. She’s still on the fringes of the system. I think after her experiences with K:19 The Widowmaker she is never going to be within that much of the studio apparatus ever again- and that has little to do with gender and more on artistic freedom. Campion tried to do the dance and left too. They are still fighting against the expectations that Hollywood sees of them but it also has to do with creativity.

  46. Comment

  47. I realize Bigelow has worked for years and financed some of her earlier films. It doesn’t change the reason I believe her films are considered acceptable. I’m not a huge fan of hers, I did like The Hurt Locker, but I respect her accomplishments. But again I just don’t feel that female filmmakers in general are given the same level of respect. There was an entire article about recent Sundance written I can’t recall by who, that talked about why women can’t get backing and support today. Much of it has to do with the types of films getting made and how there is a belief that those films are not marketable.

    I think we are discussing at cross purposes at this point so I’ll just end here.

  48. How about considering, oh, I don’t know, whoever just happens to be the best? Why the fuck should being part of any minority matter? If you’re good at something, that’s all that should matter. More people need to recognize that, not something superficial, like having a different color of skin, or having a vagina. None of that should matter, and to perpetuate the idea that it does matter or that people need to single out these demographics is just reverse discrimination.

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