January 23, 2020

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Oscars show women little respect

Gerwig directorial snub highlights continued lack of diversity

Opinion

It turns out you can direct one of the most critically and commercially successful movies of 2019 and still not get an Academy Award nomination for — checks notes — directing.

Greta Gerwig helmed the gorgeous, innovative 2019 adaptation of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s perennial coming-of-age classic about the March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — growing up in Civil War-era Massachusetts.

Her film earned six Oscar nods this week, including for best picture, best actress (Saoirse Ronan, for her turn as the headstrong Jo), best supporting actress (Florence Pugh, who played ambitious Amy), best original score (Alexandre Desplat) and best costume design (Jacqueline Durran). Gerwig herself got a well-deserved nomination for best adapted screenplay; she brought new life and timeliness to a 151-year-old story. Gerwig also pulled off the impossible: she wrote an Amy March redemption song.

Greta Gerwig was shut out of the directing category, which, as usual, is completely populated by men. (Celeste Sloman / Washington Post files)

Greta Gerwig was shut out of the directing category, which, as usual, is completely populated by men. (Celeste Sloman / Washington Post files)

And yet, the filmmaker was shut out of the directing category, which, as usual, is completely populated by men. "Congratulations to those men," comedian Issa Rae deadpanned after reading out the names of Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino and Bong Joon-ho.

In 2018, Gerwig defied the odds and earned the distinction of becoming the fifth woman ever nominated for best director, for her 2017 film Lady Bird. She followed Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993) and Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976). Only Bigelow has ever taken home an Oscar.

That’s five women in 92 years.

In addition, a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Inititative found 10.6 per cent of the 100 top-grossing films in 2019 were directed by women — a record. Compare that to 2018 — a paltry 4.8 per cent.

Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell, was also shut out of the directing category. (Jordan Strauss / Invision files)

Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell, was also shut out of the directing category. (Jordan Strauss / Invision files)

Gerwig was not the only major snub. Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell, was also shut out of the directing category. Jennifer Lopez was not acknowledged for her fiery performance as an entrepreneurial stripper in Hustlers. Awkwafina, who recently became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe Award for best actress in a comedy or musical for her performance in The Farewell, was notably absent from the Best Actress category, as was Lupita Nyong’o, who starred in the Jordan Peele-directed horror movie Us.

And that’s just a handful. Apparently, members of the Academy didn’t get out much in 2019.

I shudder to think what would happen if the Oscars ever did away with gendered acting categories. Would women be nominated for anything ever again?

In addition to being very male, this year’s Oscar nominations are also very white. Apparently little was learned from the #OscarsSoWhite campaign of five years ago. Bong’s history-making nomination, at least, represents a significant break from the unbearable whiteness of the Oscars; that his film, Parasite, also landed a best picture nomination is a big deal, considering it is a South Korean film with English subtitles.

But that’s one director, of one film.

There’s a scene in Gerwig’s Little Women in which Jo bristles when Professor Bhaer (Louis Garrel) tells her he doesn’t like her sensational stories of murder and mystery — the very stories she’s been able to sell to newspapers with success. Later, when she writes a manuscript based on her life with her sisters, she worries it’s too boring. Her publisher’s daughters, however, vehemently disagree.

This year’s slate of Oscar nominations are Jo March’s fear realized: that tales about the lives of women are too domestic, too boring or too niche to be recognized.

Stories about the lives of (white) men, meanwhile, dominate the major categories. Men at war (1917). Men in organized crime (The Irishman). Brooding men (Joker). Aging men (Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood). Those films, those stories, are recognized as being "for everyone," while Little Women — a story about ambition, family and duty — is recognized as being "for women."

I shudder to think what would happen if the Oscars ever did away with gendered acting categories. Would women be nominated for anything ever again?

It’s telling that Bigelow, the only woman to ever win a best director Oscar, did so for a movie about the Iraq War, starring mostly men.

When we’re exposed to stories from a more diverse cross-section of filmmakers, writers and directors, we’re all richer for it. And it’s not like women and people of colour are not out there making important, entertaining, life-altering films. They are. And they deserve to be celebrated for it.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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