In a year when 10.6% of the top 100 highest-grossing films of the year were directed by women -- a record level, according to a study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative -- absolutely none of them were recognized by the Academy during the Oscars nominations on Jan. 13. Oscar contenders like Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), and Greta Gerwig (Little Women) were locked out of the Best Director race entirely. In their stead stand four men channeling Jed Bush ("Please clap") and one utterly deserving Bong Joon Ho.
Reading through the other Best Director nominations -- Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Todd Phillips (The Joker), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and Sam Mendes (1917) -- exposes one truth quickly. The Academy will nominate a truly original narrative once in a while, but in reality, they'd rather just see the same four movies by the same four people over and over again. The Academy! They're just like us and our obsession with the MCU! But really, this is an especially bitter pill to swallow in a year of truly inventive and original work from women.
Hustlers, a true-life story about a group of dancers who began scamming wealthy finance bros, was Lorene Scafaria's ode to the depth and complexity of female friendship, even in the midst of betrayal. Greta Gerwig's Little Women, an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's history-making novel about the domestic lives and dreams of the March sisters, is one of the best book-to-screen adaptations of the decade -- powerful and confident enough to make each sister a protagonist. Lulu Wang's The Farewell, based on a true lie about a grandmother's cancer diagnosis, was undoubtedly the most original narrative of the year. A complex exploration of diaspora culture, the obligations of family, and finding hope where there is none, The Farewell deserved to shine in nearly every major category. Wang told a story that American audiences had never seen, but was rooted in a wholly American perspective. Just, you know, not one the Academy could understand.
Contrast those individual achievements with the sameness of some of those who were nominated. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was, like Hustlers, also a narrative about a pair of friends-gone-wrong and offered up an alt-history look at Hollywood in the '60s and the Sharon Tate murder in Tarantino's slick and unique style -- but we've kinda seen this trick before with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, which were each highly decorated. Meanwhile, Sam Mendes's 1917, a visually stunning pic about a familial bond in wartime, might be breathtaking, but it's also part of a long lineage of war epics which get nominated for Oscars. You say "war movie," we say "instant Oscar." Martin Scorsese also hit us with another white man in charge of a crime family, a movie he's already been nominated for three times -- Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed -- and won once. (The less said about Todd Phillip's Joker, the better. That's not a comment on the quality of the movie, but rather the sheer exhaustion of watching the same tepid role being rebooted into grittier and gritter versions of itself until we're not sure whether we're watching a beloved DC character or deep-fried meme.) It's not that these men aren't deserving of some recognition, it's that they're serving up so much of the same entree we've dined on again and again, and the Academy is still eating it up.
These three women, and their entire creative class -- Marielle Heller and Alma Har'el were also incredibly strong contenders this year -- deserve better. Only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director in history of the Oscars: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird). Bigelow is the only one who took home the Oscar -- and notably did so for a war movie. The best auteurs of this generation are slipping by while Hollywood pays homage to same male directors and narratives they've honored for decades. The only silver lining? In 20 years, no one will be able to remember the 2019 Oscar winner for Best Director (unless Bong Joon Ho wins for Parasite), but people will still be talking about The Farewell.
The 92nd Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 9 at 8/7c on ABC.
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