Hollywood, since its inception, has been based on two fundamental truths. 1) Women are to be watched, and 2) Men are to watch them. However that started, why it still exists makes no difference. While women flourish both behind and in front of the camera on television and straight-to-video releases, the dynamic in mainstream Hollywood for female filmmakers is not getting any better. It’s actually getting a lot worse. Meet the new hot piece of ass, same as the old hot piece of ass. Young actresses age out by 30. The focus continues to be on serving men and boys and the growing international box office that tells us only films about men matter and women matter only in terms of measuring them as the latest hot piece of ass.
Mainstream Hollywood has dropped women as a central figure unless that woman is either Jennifer Lawrence or Meryl Streep, able to draw in crowds on name alone — and even they have to fight for equal pay. So even though women’s power in Hollywood used to be in front of the camera, it no longer resides there. Women are now moving behind the camera and producing their own movies just to be able to work at all. Directing, for women, now has to be a viable career alternative if anything is to change. The Academy, with their membership expansion announcement yesterday, is forcing change on an industry that is unwilling to do it on its own. Since the Academy is an institution often blamed for the ills of the industry, the Academy has the right to make changes that will benefit its own success and reputation, even if it means adding directors who truly do not deserve to be there.
Know this: most men in Hollywood do not respect any women directors. Oh sure, they will often say that Kathryn Bigelow or Sofia Coppola are acceptable. That’s as far as it goes. No matter how many critics praise women, no matter how many advocates fight for women to be recognized, at the end of the day, none of the women are really thought of as “great” and none are admired or envied or highly sought after. Sexism plays a large role, too, of course. You can test this out by imagining female directors behind some films that are borderline successful or even really successful.
Imagine a female directed the following movies – be honest with yourself about your own feelings. Would they be as admired? Would they be as successful? Would The BFG get trashed were it directed by a woman (you know it would). Would The Shallows get trashed if it had been directed by a woman. Probably. On the flipside, probably a lot of women get a pass for having directed terrible films simply because they are women. That is also an inconvenient truth. Regardless, it doesn’t matter if they get a pass or not, the simple fact of the matter is that women have been shut out of the Best Director race for eighty eight years of History.
In adding so many women to the Academy’s directors branch yesterday, the AMPAS basically said, “we’re not waiting for culture to right the wrongs of the past. We’re not waiting for people or the industry to catch up. And we’re certainly not going to take the blame anymore for this disparity. We’re going to make changes now and we’re going to do that by adding a bunch of women to our roster to even out the score.” Is every director they added a master of her craft? No. Some of them are downright terrible and untested, in my opinion. Some of them have the singular qualification of being a woman and having made a film. But you know what? So what. After eighty years of 100% male domination, it’s time to force change so that the next time an Ava DuVernay or a Kathryn Bigelow makes a film that meets the standard for a Best Director nomination, those women will have some support in the directors branch. It might make no difference, it might make all of the difference. But it’s a good way to force change on an industry that simply will not make that change organically. If the Academy has to take the blame for that, then the Academy has the right to make the necessary changes to prevent history from repeating itself.
One of the problems with the Academy’s choices is that what you tend to see are “Oscar movies” handed to the voters on a silver platter. They are given movies that they like, as opposed to movies that are moving the needle outside of the Oscar bubble. They are getting their specialty meal served up to their liking at a dinner where more adventurous items on the menu are deemed too much for them to digest. They like the meat and potatoes, so they get the meat and potatoes. As a result, the Academy’s future looked grim if all they did was reward the same kinds of films over and over again. Here’s to hoping that the new blood might start to shift things in a different, more vibrant and vital direction.
Here are the women who have joined the director’s branch, and below, some infographics I made about women in the business before Selma was nominated for Best Picture. I do need to redo them to adjust a few numbers but the stats haven’t really changed all that much (that’s a sad commentary, in itself). There are still only four women who have ever been nominated for Best Director and only one to win.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Lesli Linka Glatter
Laura Amelia Guzmán
Ami Canaan Mann
Margarethe von Trotta