It’s awards season in Hollywood and beyond. It’s just a shame no women directed any films this year. There are no women nominated for, let alone winning any awards for directing. Not at the Oscars, not at the Baftas, not at the Golden Globes. So that must mean they didn’t direct anything. That’s the only possible explanation. You’re not telling me that not one project directed by a woman failed to make it to the high standards set by the old white guys on judging panels.
I call bullshit on that.
At the 2018 Golden Globes award ceremony, Natalie Portman called out this disparity in the film industry by announcing the nominees as the “all male nominees” too much awkward shuffling in seats. Last Sunday at the Bafta awards, Rebel Wilson used her platform to remind people of the continued snubbing of top female directors. Again, people shuffled awkwardly at the truth.
But we need to continue pushing people shuffle awkwardly. This leads to recognising the lack of representation and moving to remedy the situation. A solution cannot be found overnight or in a blog post.
The solution is created by recognising the work women do and by recognising the work women CAN do and so employing them in equal measures alongside men in every role: as costume designers, set carpenters, cinematographers, writers, stunt coordinators, riggers, composers and most significantly, as directors.
There are women directors working throughout the film industry albeit the numbers are still lagging woefully behind the men. And, the movies that they do produce are certainly award-worthy, despite the lack of nominations.
Therefore, we are taking it upon ourselves to nominate five films from the last year to recognise the under appreciated skill of the female film directors at their helm. Even if they don’t win a token award, these are films you should search out and spend your time and money watching. More people watching female directed films leads to more money being made by female directed films which leads to more industry investment in further female directed films. Money shouldn’t matter, but it does. Money makes things happen, and your viewing time and your word of mouth can generate money.
Sometime in the future we might see equal representation. Representation matters. If more young women see female film directors working in the industry, more young women will believe they can do the same. Success breeds success. Spread the word, watch the women and prove that we can compete on equal footing.
1) Little Women – Dir. Greta Gerwig
According to most people who know about these sorts of things, this is the big one. This is the one that stands shoulder to shoulder with the other films nominated for directing. Greta Gerwig has the dubious honour of being only one of five women ever nominated for an Oscar for Directing (for Ladybird in 2018). In the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow are the only other top female directors to have ever been nominated for this accolade. You’re telling me that that is representative?
Little Women has been nominated for Best Picture, Saoirse Ronan for Best Actress, Florence Pugh for Best Supporting Actress and three other awards. But all of that happened without someone to oversee it, bring it together and to ‘direct’ it? It seems farcical. Gerwig creates a film of beauty and of women who believe in themselves and their ambitions for their lives. The issue seems to be that she didn’t use flashy gimmicks or explosions. The film tells a story, skipping through time to enrich the narrative and it never feels forced. If the greatest directors are those who allow the story to sweep you along without you realising, Greta Gerwig was criminally overlooked.
Watch it on general release in cinemas.
2) Queen & Slim – Dir. Melina Matsoukas
Matsoukas makes her feature film debut with this tale of a Thelma & Louise situation for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. We find our title characters on a pretty awful Tinder date in the opening moments (writer Lena Waithe creates amazingly realistic characters and dialogue) and things go from bad to worse when their car is pulled over by an over-zealous white policeman. The tension in this scene is terrifying and highlights the deplorably existent fear of the shocking potential in any interaction with the police. After an inevitable shooting, our anti-heroes are left with no choice but to run. The film follows their journey to freedom.
Jodie Turner-Smith is mesmerising, and Daniel Kaluuya continues his run of bringing complex characters to the screen. You can’t take your eyes off them and their rocky relationship. Melina Matsoukas has cut her teeth directing music videos and it shows. She teams just the right type of music for all moments. She frames every scene to highlight the most beguiling colour schemes and paints true beauty where it has no right to exist; a riverside industrial estate has never looked so wonderful. Queen & Slim is a modern love story that just so happens to address one of the most poignant issues in society right now.
Watch it on general release in cinemas.
3) Atlantics – Dir. Mati Diop
What starts out as a gritty drama mixed with an intimate love story develops into something less straightforward. Atlantics provides a social commentary on the migrant crisis, looking at specific lives affected and focuses on the point of view of Ada, a young woman in Dakar. French director Mati Diop makes her feature film debut with this beautiful study of the pull of young love. She creates an atmosphere of tension from the outset. One early scene between the young sweethearts places the viewer as voyeur, literally looking over their shoulder. But Souleiman is wrenched from Ada as he is left with no choice than to join some of his friends in “going to sea” to find a future, an act as futile as harnessing the Atlantic Ocean itself.
The Atlantic becomes a looming omnipresence as Dior’s lingering, grainy vistas becoming claustrophobic and the sound-drowning quality of the accompanying soundtrack. The tension is ramped up as the story becomes a mystery and a story of justice. Diop made history by becoming the first black woman to direct a film nominated for the prestigious Palme D’Or at Cannes. Despite missing out on that prize, she did win the Grand Prix at the festival.
Watch it on Netflix now.
4) Booksmart – Dir. Olivia Wilde
Guess what? Women can be funny! And in the case of Booksmart, very funny. Most of the films nominated for awards are serious and ‘issue-heavy’. Booksmart may not set out to change the world, but don’t let the word ‘comedy’ fool you. This film is just as important as the others. In many ways, comedy is more difficult than ‘serious’ films. Crying comes easy, but laughter has to be engineered. Wilde is smart enough to make her film look easy. What she’s produced is a slick but sincere story of burgeoning adulthood and honest friendship that will leave with you face-ache.
Booksmart is a smart, witty, belly-laughing joy of a film. The main characters (female) are strong and relatable and the writers (four females) craft such authentic dialogue that you just want to hang out with our heroes to throw compliments back and forth. With Olivia Wilde another woman making her directorial debut, the future looks strong.
Watch it on Amazon Prime or Apple TV now.
5) Captain Marvel – Dirs. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
We had to wait for 11 years and 21 films, but in 2019 we finally got a female-driven Marvel superhero movie. It’s just another comic book movie you might think, but it’s more than that. This is mainstream baby. This is where the big bucks are made. And as we said before, money matters. Captain Marvel was the first female-led superhero movie to take more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. This will leave a lasting mark in the years to come in terms of legacy and pushing female protagonists and female directors to their equal place in the media spotlight.
But the film is more than just a vehicle for change. Captain Marvel is a fun, rocket of a film that doesn’t pause for breath. Brie Larson is as strong and capable as any other superhero whilst exuding effortless cool and strength of heart. Boden mixes the sci-fi parts with the nostalgic trips through the 90s with ease, using a formidable soundtrack to ramp up the exhilaration.
In terms of all these female film directors being overlooked maybe we should take a note out of this heroine’s book and insist that, “I have nothing to prove to you.” Maybe awards aren’t needed when we all know the films are this great and bring joy, excitement, escapism and hope to so many people who watch them. The key thing is just that: audiences watching women creating influential art. And with more women film directors in the driving seat of many of 2020's most anticipated films, there should be more viewing opportunities. This is what will make further leaps towards equality.
Higher, further, faster baby.
Watch it on Amazon Prime or Apple TV now.
Current Affairs Editor, Katie Isham
Katie Isham is a writer, teacher, drummer and mild adventurer. She loves cakes, dogs and her own company, especially when near the sea. Whenever she needs to escape from reality, she tries to ride her bike or listen to Springsteen. She is powered by sarcasm and a need to smash the demon lizard patriarchy. Katie believes kindness is a superpower.
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