Do the Oscars Have a “Female Director” Problem This Year?

Gender

Do the Oscars Have a “Female Director” Problem This Year?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

T

he Oscars have historically served as the platform for various political protests and provocations. Two days from now, chances are good that someone will speak about the Me Too movement at this year’s host-less ceremony. But given the Academy’s self-portrait of all things righteous, its blatant disregard for the brilliant films helmed by female directors becomes all the more baffling – the Best Director Category, like Natalie Portman put it at the Golden Globes last year, boasts of “all-male nominees”; no female-directed film is up for Best Picture either. It’s especially strange given the quality and depth of cinema women have helmed over the last 91 years of the Academy’s existence and yet only five female directors have managed a nomination in the Best Director category through the years.

2018 witnessed a plethora of incredible perspectives from four female directors that were deserving of a nomination: Debra Granik’s ode to father-daughter relationships in Leave No Trace was tender and wrenching in equal measure and came layered with a commentary on isolation in today’s hyper-connected world. Marielle Heller’s tragicomedy Can You Ever Forgive Me? brings to screen the real life story of Lee Israel, a broke writer who chooses to forge literary letters to pay rent and ends up befriending an atypical accomplice. Heller forces the audience to dig deep into the psyche of a textbook unlikeable character, producing one of those rare films shouldered by a middle-aged female protagonist, who is more preoccupied with her work than her appearance. In Netflix’s underrated Private Life, Tamara Jenkins’ deftly traces the banality of a middle-aged couple’s pursuit of parenthood, that is as richly detailed as it is a harsh commentary on the business of making babies. And Lynne Ramsay, a provocateur like no other, explored the dark psychological side of a depressed murderer in You Were Never Really Here.

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