Fun fact: there has been only one woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director. It was Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker back in 2009. Besides Bigelow, there have only been three other female directors ever even nominated. The Academy Awards have been happening since 1929. 1929. Only four women. Ever. Let that sink in.
As we have probably all heard by now, despite there being a ton of amazing work that was put out by women in the last year, the nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, etc. are void of women. It’s almost comical because of how unbelievable it is. Hannah Jewell wrote a hilarious Buzzfeed article called ‘This Is What The Oscar Nominations Look Like Without All The Men’ and ended it with a “totally unrelated fact:” Oscar voters are 96% white and 76% male with an average age of 63. This is what we are dealing with.
And please don’t even start telling me that it’s just because there just aren’t a lot of women who want to work in film or that they don’t do good enough work because I am about to SHUT YOU DOWN. This year, alone, there were plenty of women who have done incredible work. Even if you tried to argue that some of it isn’t quite up to Academy Award material, you can’t make the argument that it isn’t at least good enough for a nomination. What am I talking about exactly? I’m talking about Ava DuVernay’s Selma, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. I’m talking about author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. None of which were nominated for what they deserve.
The problem is, when I Google search “women oscars,” the first pages to come up, even from the official Oscar website, are mostly focused on women’s fashion. All the images that appear are pictures of actresses and female directors in People Magazine “who wore it best?” reader polls. Virtually none of them standing at the podium. None of them holding an award. But I don’t feel like I need to keep telling you about how the way we see women in film is fucked. There is evidence of it everywhere.
So instead, what I am going to do is take some time to honor some of my favorite women in film who have been killing it lately despite not being recognized by The Academy. These women are emerging and/or very influential directors, screenwriters and producers who are changing film and television as we know it. Please take some time to check out and support their work!
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Last year, Geeta and Ravi Patel’s Meet the Patels (2014) came to the 41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech and it blew my mind. It is a documentary directed by Geeta that follows her brother as he tries to navigate finding a wife through traditional Indian means for the first time. It was hilarious, insightful and pushed documentary boundaries in so many ways. Patel has also directed a film called Project Kashmir back in 2008 that follows two Americans whose friendship is tested as they investigate the war in Kashmir.
When it comes to her work in film, Cody is best known for her screenplay Juno (2007) starring Ellen Page as pregnant 16-year-old Juno who has to make a tough decision about her unborn child. Cody picked up an award for Best Original Screenplay for the film, making her one of only eight women to ever hold that title. Beyond Juno, Cody created the brilliant series United States of Tara starring Toni Collette that aired for three seasons from 2009 to 2011.
This year, I also finally saw Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2012) and it BLEW MY MIND. The documentary sorts through layers of memories and mystery from multiple different storyteller’s perspectives to find truth regarding some unknowns in her mother’s life–and it is beautiful. Polley has also worked as an actress in various other films including Go and Mr. Nobody as well as directing Take This Waltz (2011).
This year was a big year for Jill Soloway after her new series Transparent debuted on Amazon Prime. The show follows Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, a transgender mother who is dealing with coming out to her children while they all deal with their own personal unravelings. It has scored two Golden Globes and has gotten a ton of well-deserved praise for being such a progressive series, especially from the LGBT community. Soloway also worked as producer on United States of Tara with Diablo Cody as well as on Six Feet Under.
Gillian Robespierre isn’t a very well known name…yet. However, her debut film Obvious Child (2014) scored her and actress Jenny Slate multiple wins and nominations at various film festivals around the country. The film follows a twenty-something comedienne as she confronts the realities of independent womanhood for the first time after an unplanned pregnancy. It was a fresh and hilarious film that will surely help pave the path for Robespierre’s future work.
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We unfortunately can’t count on the demographics of The Academy to change very soon, and we can’t count on these women to be awarded the same way that their male counterparts are. Yet. But what we can do is buy their films. Women Make Movies is a great resource to keep up with what is going on with women in film. But otherwise, sit through the credits when you go see a movie–notice the names that appear. Think about the ways in which we are missing entire perspectives when we leave female filmmakers out of the theaters. Use your money and your voice to support great films that haven’t gotten a fair shot.