Yet again, there were no women nominated for Best Director at the Oscars.
Here’s a trivia question for you.
How many women’s names do you think have been read out as nominees in the Best Director category at the Oscars? Take a guess. In the last 90 years, how many female filmmakers have been recognised by the most prestigious, most respected awards ceremony in Hollywood?
Five. Just five women have been nominated in the Best Director category at the Oscars: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Bigelow is the only woman who has won the award.
At the Oscar nominations announcement on 22 January, not a single woman’s name was read out in the Best Director category. No Debra Granik for Leave No Trace. No Karyn Kusama for Destroyer. No Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here. No Josie Rourke for Mary Queen of Scots. No Chloe Zhao for The Riders. And no Marielle Heller for Can You Ever Forgive Me? even though that film scooped two nominations for its stellar performances by Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.
Reacting to his Best Supporting Actor nomination, Grant said: “my only real disappointment is that Marielle didn’t get nominated for her directing. These performances didn’t come from out of the sky, and what Marielle accomplished was quite astounding so her being left out was my only real caveat.”
Grant’s right, the lack of recognition for the work of a female filmmaker in a movie the Oscars so clearly liked is astonishing. Also astonishing is the fact that only four of this year’s 100 highest grossing movies were Ava DuVernay.)
DuVernay burst onto the scene in 2012 when her film Middle of Nowhere won her Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. Also making waves at Sundance in 2012 was Colin Trevorrow, whose movie Safety Not Guaranteed quickly became a cult favourite. Legend has it that Steven Spielberg saw an early screening and immediately tapped Trevorrow to be the director of the Jurassic World reboot, giving him a budget of $150 million (£115 million) to play with.
Speaking to Variety ahead of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Nisha Ganatra, the Golden Globe-winning director of Transparent, summed up why there aren’t enough female directors in Hollywood. Because there aren’t enough senior directors willing to serve as mentors and guarantors for young female filmmakers.
“Steven Spielberg saw himself in that director and hired him,” Ganatra said. “That didn’t happen for me. There was no Indian female Spielberg saying, ‘Here, plucky young one: Take care of my billion-dollar franchise.’”
Ganatra is the filmmaker behind Late Night, one of the most anticipated movies premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a woman poised for a Duvernay-style breakout moment. Late Night tells the story of a talk show host forced to increase the diversity of her writer’s room by hiring a woman, and the friendship that she makes with this new talent in the process. It stars Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, who also penned the script.
“So much of this movie is about being a fan and being on the outside of the entertainment business,” Kaling told Variety. “That story has been told many, many, many times by 52-year-old white men, and I love all those movies. And as a comedy nerd, I’ve always identified with them because it was the closest thing that I could identify with. There was no-one like me making those kind of films.”
She agrees with Ganatra, she added, that without mentors holding the door open for young women - and in particular, young women of colour - who want to work in the film industry, diversity is simply not going to happen.
“For many years, I thought that hard work was the only way you could succeed, but it’s simply not true,” Kaling told Variety. “Particularly if you’re a woman of colour, you need people to give you opportunities, because otherwise it won’t happen. Talent is an important part of success, but you also need mentors to find promise in people that don’t necessarily seem like they will fit in.”
So who is going to mentor female filmmakers? We’re hoping that 2019 is the year that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy names the first female director in a project from the growing Star Wars cinematic universe. Victoria Alonso, one of the most senior executives at Marvel, pushed hard for Black Panther and Captain Marvel, and we can’t wait to see her champion female directors for Marvel’s next wave of films.
Cindy Holland and Channing Dungey are bringing an incredibly diverse, incredibly exciting new wave of talent to Netflix’s original film and television, including massive deals with Marti Noxon and Shonda Rhimes.
In fact, if you want to be mentored specifically by Rhimes’ company Shondaland, you can. The Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator is offering a scholarship to one young female filmmaker to shadow a director through the whole process of making a television episode, from pre-production to post. The winning applicant will also be given $5,000 (£3,824) to cover travel and accomodation for the period, sometime between June 2019 and June 2020.
This is a fantastic opportunity for a young female filmmaker. Let’s hope it’s just the start.