© Georgiana E. Presecky (3/1/18) FF2 Media
When phrases like “99.9 percent of the time” or “9 times out of 10″ are used, they’re usually considered exaggerations. An expression; even a cliche. But in the case of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its blatant recognition of only male directors, it’s more than just an idiom.
Five of the 445 people nominated for best director in the 90-year history of the awards are women. That’s approximately .01 percent, but “9.98876 times out of 10” just doesn’t sound as catchy. The only exceptions have been Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow (the group’s only winner – giving her another .01 percent statistic to add to the list) and this year’s nominee, Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig.
Some would argue that it’s the lack of opportunities for women to direct that leads to less recognition for their work, and that notion has some merit — according to the Center of the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual Celluloid Ceiling Report, women only accounted for 18 percent of the directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on 2017’s top 250 films at the domestic box office.
But many organizations are trying to bring awareness to gender imparity – now more than ever. It’s been a banner year for women’s voices in film, starting with the sexual harassment reckoning that began in Hollywood and trickled down into countless other industries. More proof: Barbara Ann O’Leary’s Directed By Women database has compiled a growing list of more than 11,000 working female directors. The organization Women In Film started a #52FilmsByWomen campaign to encourage movie lovers to spend more time watching female-driven projects. #FemaleFilmmakerFriday was trending in February, fueled by the idea that “you can’t become what you can’t see” – a frequently-used caption beneath photos of women directors doing their jobs. Many film festivals this year saw increases in the number of women-led films being screened in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, Austin, Park City, London and Tel Aviv. Barnard College’s Athena Film Festival just celebrated its eighth year honoring female-driven and female-helmed stories.
FF2 has been fighting for women in film since 2002, covering and reviewing every release of a film by a female writer/director in support of the cause and employing more than 20 female critics in order to combat Rotten Tomatoes’ imbalanced gender bias. In partnership with WomenArts – and this year, the Statera Foundation – the celebration of the 11th International SWAN Day is March 31, “an international holiday designed to showcase the power and diversity of women’s creativity.”
And while Gerwig’s nomination is tangible progress – she’s the first woman in eight years to even be considered for the statue – it’s been frequently downplayed on social media, often supported by the fact that “we need to do better” and “one isn’t enough.” Even Lady Bird has been scrutinized for being overrated, despite being arguably the least premise-y film nominated for Best Picture. It’s what Time Magazine’s deputy culture editor Eliza Berman called in a March cover story on Gerwig, “one of few Best Picture nominees to take a teenage girl’s interior life seriously.” It gives teenagers credit; it tells a seemingly small story with nuanced themes about relationships and religion and hometowns; it’s about humanity. “No explosions or weighty historical crises here,” Berman wrote. “And it’s hitting its peak at a moment when teens, at gun-control rallies and voter-registration drives, are proving themselves to be concerned with much more than the worlds inside their smartphones.”
Gerwig acknowledges what a moment it is for women in film, telling Variety last month: “Between Patty Jenkins and Sofia Coppola and Maggie Betts and Kathryn Bigelow and Angelina Jolie — the number of women who are making really interesting films and the desire to shine a spotlight on them and us and women producers and directors and filmmakers and executives, that’s the thing I’m heartened by.” She also told Time she looks forward to the day when “it doesn’t mean anything,” the day Berman says “we won’t need to count every woman’s accomplishment as evidence.”
Berman also writes that Gerwig stands for “the future of storytelling — of the not-so-radical notion that we may, perhaps even soon, get to stop qualifying director with female.” So, yes. We do need to do better. One isn’t enough. But this year, one is sadly so much better than the goose eggs that have been lining up next to gold male statues for decades. And success can’t always be measured in awards — see: festivals, Internet campaigns and an overall spirit of progress above (plus a recently-diversified voting body in the Academy). But it’s a start.
And no matter who wins Best Director or Best Picture, or if Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are overlooked for their acting nominations, Lady Bird has a record-breaking 99 percent fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Now that’s a 99 percent we can get behind.