Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me, Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here — these are some of the highly-acclaimed films by directed women this year that the AFI chose to ignore. There is only one film, The Favourite, that is even co-written by a woman. There are barely any women behind the camera anywhere in any top-tier capacity. What to make of this?
First, we’re marching very clearly towards an obvious attempt by the AFI to show the Academy how they can have their popular film cake and eat their art house too. “Save the Oscars from themselves” or “Make the Oscars Relevant again!” Even with prestigious selections like BlackKklansman, Eighth Grade, and First Reformed, there is no doubt that there is a push towards films the public likes, or is destined to like, as is the case with Mary Poppins Returns.
It’s important to point out that the AFI did an impressive job this year in honoring the truly groundbreaking renaissance of black filmmakers, with three films directed by and starring African-American artists. They made their mark on history in that regard, which is a big deal, without a doubt.
Their history with women filmmakers has never been all that great, as it turns out. A couple of selections here or there, but with zero acknowledgment for women at the helm, in this of all years, there is good reason to wonder if something is wrong. Very very wrong. Perhaps if the AFI would consider expanding their jury a bit — not necessarily different judges, just more of them — then they might have made a better effort at embracing of American film talent across the spectrum. There are other ways to help guide the Oscars to greater relevance without creating a Popular Film category. Just saying.