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Congratulations to those Men

Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Fernado Meirelles (The Two Popes), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Lulu Wang (The Farewell) and Todd Phillips (Joker) [The Hollywood Reporter]

It is no secret that women are often excluded from the film industry and during this year’s nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards, women were once again shut out of the nominations. Issa Rae, who presented the list of nominees for best director, perfectly summarised the feelings of many about the snub; “Congratulations to those men,” she announced in a sarcastic tone. With only five women in the history of the Academy ever to be nominated, they were not only snubbed for Best Director but from nominations for Best Cinematography as well. Rachel Morrison (Mudbound) became the first woman to receive a nomination for best cinematography back in 2018, yet albeit, she was the last woman to receive one. 

There is no dispute that this year championed films about men by men in the award season. These films have furnished pertinent and prolific understandings of the male ego, male power and male errancy. 

The 2020 Academy Award nominees for Best Director were Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Todd Phillips (Joker), Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Bong Joon-Ho (Parasite). Whilst the similar image of white male domination was reflected in the nominations for best cinematography.

This male domination may suggest the fault of female directors and filmmakers in not gaining so many creative opportunities. This is far from the case as women helmed several highly acclaimed films over the past 12 months; from Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire to Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. The majority of the anger online is directed towards Greta Gerwig’s stolen nomination for best director. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women earned six Academy Award nominations, even gaining one for Gerwig in the best adapted screenplay category but has not been nominated for Best Director at the Globes, Baftas or Oscars. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is another film which generated vast criticism for its lack of nominations at the Oscars. Although The Farewell triumphed a nomination and win for Awkwafina in her performance for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture at the Golden Globes earlier this year, it gained no nominations at the Academy Awards. Why can this be? 

Many of this year’s big box office beloved female-directed films have dealt with relationships between women – which is worth considering when observing the fact that the Oscar nominated pictures deal with the male psyche. More often than not, they have been scripted in a domestic space such as between sisters (Little Women), granddaughters and grandmothers (The Farewell), and lovers (Portrait of a Lady on Fire). The men in these features are accessories to the storyline and most of the screen time resides to the ladies. As well if we consider that Kathryn Ann Bigelow remains the only woman to have ever won for Best Director for Hurt Locker, a war film with a primarily male cast, which burrows into the rooted nature of the male psyche and follows adroitly alongside the Oscar nominated pictures on this particular trend.  Although men can vote for female-directed films it is evident that historically, this is not the case.

Believing the film ‘wasn’t for them’, some male awards-season voters passed up screenings of Little Women starring Eliza Scanlen, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh (in order) [Image: Vogue]

It may be an unconscious bias towards male-directed films and male centered productions within the Academy or, more likely, an internalised prejudice, that has both male and females alike, scoffing at the notion of cinema’s portrayal of the female experience over or equal to that of male experiences. The question of ‘what makes a good movie’ will forever have industry critics, judges and us filmgoers querying our assumptions. If Sam Mendes can nab a nomination for Best Director why can’t Lulu Wang? If Rodrigo Prieto (The Irishman) can gain one for Best Cinematography why can’t Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)? 

Well it seems as if the Oscar’s have confirmed our suspicions of the past decade over this question. The answer being ‘a male movie’ wins.

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