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Netflix now has a category just for female directors

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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It’s the only section of the streaming service you could possibly need.     

Purely by accident, the last dozen or so things we’ve watched on Netflix have been made by female directors.

We say accident because until now the streaming platform hasn’t offered a section that groups these titles together, so we weren’t aware that we were doing it until after the fact. But taking a brief look over the offering in Netflix’s brand new female directors category today has made it abundantly clear: movies and television shows made by women are something special. 

Think of the wide variety of female-helmed projects on Netflix at the moment: the thriller Bird Box directed by Susanne Bier, the romantic comedies Dumplin’ directed by Anne Fletcher, Set It Up (Claire Scanlon), Like Father (Lauren Rogen) and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (Susan Johnson), the intimate drama Private Life, the comedy specials like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and Relatable from Ellen Degeneres, the documentaries Seeing Allred and Take Your Pills… All directed by women, all equally as compelling and bingeable. 

Nanette was co-directed by Madeleine Parry

This isn’t even digging into the reserves of female-directed films and television series on the platform that weren’t produced by Netflix, projects that run the gamut of Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday to Twilight and The Hurt Locker, the war thriller that won Kathryn Bigelow an Oscar, making her the first female director to win an Academy Award in the ceremony’s history. 

Netflix’s recognition of the importance of the work from female filmmakers couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Next week, the Oscars will announce their nominations for 2019, and every sign from this awards season points to another abysmal shutout of female directors.

There were no women nominated in the Best Director category at the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards or the BAFTAs, all this in a year with awards-worthy work done by female directors in a number of different films. Just think of Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me, a desperate and heartbreaking portrayal of two lonely people in New York or Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, or Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer. Or, or, or. 

There is some hope that there will be female filmmaker representation at the Oscars in the form of Free Solo, the documentary about free climbing co-directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and tipped to win its category. 

Historically, women have had more success directing documentaries than they have on narrative films. The largest percentage of female filmmakers work in the documentary category (30%), followed by comedy, drama and then sci-fi. Despite the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, action remains the genre most closed off to women, with just 13% female directors. 

Looking at 2018’s top 100 grossing films, women made up just 4% of directors and 3% of cinematographers. Rachel Morrison was the cinematographer on 2018’s highest grossing movie Black Panther, but you have to go all the way back to number 34 on that list to find a movie directed by a woman, A Wrinkle in Time helmed by Ava DuVernay.

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What DuVernay achieved with that movie, and what she continues to achieve with her ceiling-smashing career in Hollywood, is remarkable, but for real progress to be made in Hollywood she needs to not be alone. Awards ceremonies need to spotlight the work of female directors and even - remarkable, this - give them awards. Film festivals need to choose movies directed by women. Major studios need to hand the reins of both blockbusters and small indie movies alike to women. More women working begets more women working.

Categories like the female director one on Netflix might seem like a small thing, but there’s a strength in numbers. There’s a real power in seeing all the many and varied work being done by female filmmakers in the past year, and seeing a lot of it in one place.

Which one are you going to watch next? 

Images: Netflix

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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