Opinion: How underrepresented directors have been historically overlooked, and why it should change

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Historically, women in the cinema are known for their supporting acting abilities–so much so, in fact, it seems award voting panels have forgotten about the women behind the camera of some of the most critically-acclaimed films. Because of this lack of recognition, it is equally important to recognize the problems with underrepresentation of certain minority groups in film and exactly how these problems can be solved.

The last female director to win a Golden Globe was Barbra Streisand in 1984 for her self-starring film “Yentl.” While the win was something to be celebrated back in the ‘80s, it has become something of a fantasy for those of us in 2018. The Golden Globes aren’t the sole carrier of this decades-long problem–in fact, since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, only four female directors have been nominated for the Best Director award. The most well-known of these women are Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the critically-acclaimed film “Lost in Translation,” and Kathryn Bigelow, director of “The Hurt Locker.” Bigelow is consequently the first and only woman to date to win the award.

What is most fascinating about these award snubs are the success of the actual films. To put it in perspective, at the 2017 Golden Globes, Greta Gerwig’s film “Lady Bird” was nominated for Best Screenplay, as well as Best Picture, Musical or Comedy; Gerwig, however, failed to be nominated for Best Director, despite the film’s national success. At the same time, male director Ridley Scott, director of 2017’s “All the Money in the World,” was nominated for the category, while the film he directed was considered for no other awards; the film remains significantly less successful than “Lady Bird.” While at surface level this seems like a possible coincidence, it seems to be the reality of being a female director in Hollywood.

Moreover, it’s important to recognize why issues such as this, regarding female Hollywood directors, matter. Strong female characters (and the directors behind them) are holding their own as far as nominations go in voting panels–yet, somehow, the creators have become less recognized. The importance of recognizing female directors as competent as their male counterparts is crucial to the fight for women’s rights and also for the fight for great cinema.

Only four black directors have ever been nominated for the Best Director category at the Academy Awards, and none of them has won. 2017’s “Get Out” was a groundbreaking piece of racial dialogue in the form of a horror film, creating discourse about race in America in the current century. The film was considered for Best Picture at the 2017 Golden Globes, but was featured in the Musical or Comedy category, rather than the Drama counterpart. This unintentional slander of the film’s premise is exactly what current discourse about race needs to address–“Get Out” was written as a horror first, the comedy was simply along for the ride. The fact that society considers a film about racial isolation in a family setting a comedy is more than a film plot point; it’s the reality of how we are living in this century.

Often, arguments such as “slavery ended centuries ago” is used as leverage to undermine the current racial tensions in the United States. It is for these excuses than run rampant in conversations between friends and politicians that polarization remains so high, and black directors are left as the solely undermined in the category for years. Films such as “Fences” and “12 Years a Slave,” which were critically acclaimed, tell important (and previously silenced) stories about race in a manner meant to unsettle–if nothing else, for the purpose of creating understanding in members of the audience.

While cinema seems like a miniscule feature of an overarching picture, it remains one of the most loved and respected pieces of our society’s puzzle; for this reason, it makes change possible. By discrediting the hard work, dedication and discourse-opening film styles created by black directors, we further generate a gap, or rift, between races and inhibit future progress in social movements.

Once we stop isolating underrepresented groups into separate voting committees for recognition, we can evaluate cinema on a singular level, one that is human. Without opening discourse and creating education and understanding about directors from various backgrounds, the future of social progress will never do just that–progress. Cinema may not be on every individual’s priority list of places to seek justice. But for those that it is, it is imperative that voting committees and privileged filmmakers come together to honor those with the same impressive caliber of work, but a lesser (and wrongly so) platform on which to be recognized in the medium of film.


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