It’s the start of a new year and Hollywood’s award season is in full swing. Unfortunately, the recent Golden Globes and SAG’s line-up of best director nominees have sparked one big question: Where are all the female directors? After a year of exceptional filmmaking by women, the snubs have shown us just how far we still have to go.
“What happened is that we don’t vote by gender; we vote by film and accomplishment” is the disappointing and defensive response of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the voting body behind the Golden Globes, from its president, Lorenzo Soria. The statement undermines the astonishing year that women behind the camera have had—one in which numerous female-directed films achieved both critical acclaim and box office success.
Luckily, women directors prove that quality is more important than quantity, producing masterpieces of cinema at par with the works of their male peers. Before the Oscars nominees are announced, here’s a list of celebrated female-directed films on track for the awards race:
Greta Gerwig: Director of Little Women
According to awards analysts, if there’s any female director to bet on to be included in the Oscar race, it’s Greta Gerwig. Hot off the success of her critically-acclaimed directorial debut, Lady Bird, the writer/ director proves she’s no one-hit-wonder with her take on Little Women—the classic coming-of-age story of the March sisters.
Critics praise Gerwig’s evident love and faithfulness to the source material while also showing her writing and directorial prowess, excavating the novel’s deeper themes, inventively reshuffling its narrative structure, masterfully drawing out top-notch performances from her amazing ensemble of actors, and breathing refreshing modernity to the American classic. At present, the film—from its actor performances, screenplay, musical score, production, to costume design—has garnered over a hundred nominations from critics circles, film festivals and award-giving bodies.
Lulu Wang: Director of The Farewell
Another writer/director contender is Lulu Wang, the visionary behind the poignant, indie dramedy, The Farewell. A semi-autobiography that is “based on a true lie”, the film centers on Billi, a Chinese-American who grapples with her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis and her family’s decision to keep the family matriarch in the dark.
The film stars Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen who turn in award-winning performances through Wang’s charming screenplay. It’s all a game of expert subtlety as Wang manages an impressive balancing act—weaving together humor and heartbreak, self-identity and family, and overall creating a film that’s culturally specific yet universally relatable. The film has also garnered multiple nominations and has been included in the American Film Institute’s Movies of the Year and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the Golden Globes.
Celine Sciamma: Director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire
While many know of the Male Gaze, critics are praising writer/director Celine Sciamma as a master of the Female Gaze. The film’s story, the winning screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, revolves around the friendship turned forbidden romance between Marianne and Héloïse, after Marianne is commissioned to paint a portrait of Héloïse in secret to be given to the latter’s prospective husband. Much like her protagonist, Marianne, the writer/director proves her brilliant artistry in the way she and her cinematographer, Claire Mathon, paint this visually stunning film with her unique eye – interweaving the importance of the artistic gaze in the plot itself as Marianne studies her enigmatic subject with scrutiny.
A well-written and a well-acted piece that is equal parts magnetic, sensual, mysterious, and intense, film enthusiasts have cited how it takes on a Hitchcock-esque quality. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is also a contender for Best Foreign Language Picture for this year’s Golden Globes.
Lorene Scafaria: Director of Hustlers
Lorene Scafaria is a bad-ass writer/director with a bad-ass ensemble of sirens with her crime comedy and drama, Hustlers—a true story of New York City strippers who seduce and swindle Wall Street men until things spiral out of control. Set in neon-lit bars and strip clubs, the film’s style is just as flashy and electric.
A credit to her intelligent writing, Scafaria never falls into the trap of creating the one-dimensional characters that we often see in these roles. Instead, she explores the complexity of these imperfect women and the camaraderie formed between, being sympathetic without denying their flaws and crimes. The show-stealer is Jenifer Lopez as she brings her innate swagger in a career-best performance that has already raked in nominations for the film.
Olivia Wilde: Director of Booksmart
Olivia Wilde took audiences on a fun, free-wheeling ride with her directorial debut, Booksmart. After overachieving Amy and Molly realize that they did high school all wrong, their final night before graduation becomes takes on them on a drive that’s meant to make up for the lost time. Taking us through hilarious detours and turns, the film captures tumultuous teenhood and is matched with swift editing and quick-witted, fast-paced dialogue.
With a winning formula of stellar young talents and an amazing group of screenwriters, the result is a funny, fresh, and feminist coming-of-age comedy that goes against that usual teen archetypes to show these flawed young women and unique female friendships. Wilde’s style and voice are apparent throughout as well as her knack for visual indulgence sprinkled here and there, winning her the Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award at the Hollywood Film Awards.
Marielle Heller: Director of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Marielle Heller shines the spotlight on American icon Mr. Rogers, host of the children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. A deviation from the usual biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood focuses on the host’s profound impact in the lives of his viewers as it zooms in on Lloyd Vogel, a cynical investigative journalist assigned to interview the childhood hero and tries to expose the man behind the TV persona, leading to his own unraveling.
According to reviews, under Heller’s direction, the film is slow and soft without ever being dull and sappy. Opting to frame the film like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Heller leaves audiences with the same warm feelings the series evokes and similar to Vogel’s arc, cynics of the film are left disarmed and converted. A beloved actor himself, Tom Hanks proves to be the perfect match for the endearing host and his wonderful performance has garnered nomination after nomination from several major awards.
Melina Matsoukas: Director of Queen and Slim
In her first feature which won her the Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review, Melina Matsoukas immediately shows her slightly surrealist style with vibrant imagery and juxtaposition of disparate scenes, making Queen and Slim something of a dreamy, visual poem.
The plot follows an African-American couple on an awkward first date who become vigilantes at large when an unexpected traffic stop takes a wrong turn. While its characters may be on the run, the film takes its time with its camera lingering on stunning scenes between the two actors during stolen moments of calm. Matsoukas keeps her characters archetypal, not even revealing their names until the end of the film or much about their lives before the unfortunate events, but some critics believe this works in her favor and leaves a greater emotional impact as they become representations of the hopes and fears of their oppressed community.
Alma Har’el: Director of Honey Boy
Honey Boy, the raw, bold, and gut-wrenching autobiography written by Shia LeBeouf, is handled with care and insight by Alma Har’el as she beautifully structures it into a perfect blend of fact and fiction. The film weaves between the two timelines of Otis, one is set in his life as a child star spent with his toxic and demeaning father, the other as he becomes a rising young actor wrestling with the trauma of his boyhood. With astonishing performances across the board from LaBeouf playing his own father, Noah Jupe as 12-year-old Otis and Lucas Hedges playing the 22-year-old, the film is utterly heartbreaking. Through the superb performances by its cast and Har’el’s direction which is visually and emotionally striking, Honey Boy went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and has gone on to collect even more accolades and nominations.
The list could go on and on with other acclaimed directors like Chinonye Chukwu for Clemency, Kasi Lemmons for Harriet, Matti Diop for Atlantics and in the realm of animated films there’s also Frozen II co-director, Jennifer Lee and Abominable director, Jill Culton. Awards snub aside, 2019 has proven to be a banner year for women in the directorial chair and we can only be more excited for what 2020 can hold.
Which of these films have you watched or are most excited to see? Sound off in the comments!