Banging the drum for women

Posted by · 6:06 pm · August 24th, 2009

Andrea ArnoldI’ve already mooted the possibility of 2009 being a history-making year for female filmmakers at the Oscars. Whether or not awards season plays along in a few months’ time, however, there’s no denying it’s been a banner year for women behind the camera — both in terms of quantity (for starters, Cannes had more female-helmed films in competition than ever before) and quality (my three favorite films of the year so far all fall under the category).

The media is clearly sensing the trend, too. In a handy roundup, The Auteurs points to an unusual confluence of assorted female-focused coverage this last weekend alone, from The Observer’s excellent interview with Andrea Arnold, director of the terrific Brit drama “Fish Tank,” to a New York Times piece in which Michael Cieply digs into the numbers supporting the truth that Hollywood is still very much a man’s world:

What the count shows is that Hollywood directors are pretty much what they have always been: a small brotherhood of highly skilled craftsmen — more than 90 percent this year are men — who could hit or miss with any given film, but who tend to have solid experience.

If figures like this keep doing the media rounds as we head into awards season (and if titles like “The Hurt Locker” and “An Education” maintain their critical buzz) it’s easy to imagine the plight of female filmmakers emerging as a kind of cause célèbre that eventually penetrates the Academy’s consciousness — similarly to how a certain alchemy of events and discussions led to 2001 becoming the year of African-American actors.

Such movements can’t exactly be planned — the arrival of three black actors in Academy-friendly star turns in one year was as coincidental as the prevalence of quality female-helmed projects this year. (Nor are they necessarily particularly indicative of industry change: 1972 saw a similar purple patch for African-Americans at the Oscars happened in 1972, to little lasting effect. So even if the projected bounty for female filmmakers at this year’s awards pans out, that needn’t mean that 90 percent statistic is coming down any time soon.)

The Academy doesn’t like being told what to vote for, or for what reason. (We only need to visit the still-touchy year of “Crash” versus “Brokeback Mountain” to see that.) But they’re not wilfully uncooperative, either: if the media maintain this level of coverage enough for it to become an issue, and the Academy happens to like the female-directed films at the center of the discussion, then voters should be happy to oblige with a bit of history.

→ 13 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

13 responses so far

  • 1 8-24-2009 at 7:16 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I would LOVE to see a woman finally win the Academy Award for Best Director this year.

    I actually dispute your claim that “the Academy doesn’t like being told what to vote for,” precisely because of the Crash/Brokeback controversy. Have you noticed that after that year, the Oscar winners have become extremely easy to predict? Even beginners (like myself) in the Oscar race got the vast majority of categories correct. I think the reason why is because they were so humiliated that the so-called “progressive” members of that voting body that George Clooney loved to brag about went against popular opinion and were suspected of homophobia that they’ve been careful not to rock the boat again. Maybe I’m reaching, but the Oscars have been very predictable since 2006.

  • 2 8-24-2009 at 7:23 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’ll be happy if a woman wins who actually deserves to win. Otherwise I don’t care. If a man deserves to win, give it to him. If a woman deserves to win, give it to her. Gender doesn’t matter here or anywhere. And the truth is, I haven’t seen a single female-helmed film I would give the Director award to. Just how it pans out.

  • 3 8-24-2009 at 7:38 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’ve seen one: Lost in Translation, though I know many would disagree with me.

  • 4 8-24-2009 at 7:49 pm

    James D. said...

    Yes, Coppola did deserve a Best Director win. But that is a whole other story.

  • 5 8-24-2009 at 8:27 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Yes, that one is probably closest for me. But I still give it to Jackson.

  • 6 8-25-2009 at 1:51 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Hamer: I wouldn’t say they’ve become any easier than usual to predict since 2005. After all, the “Crash” upset was followed the very next year by the most open Best Picture race in recent years, one many pundits called incorrectly (though I always thought “The Departed” was the obvious winner myself).

    The truth is that the Oscars have always been predictable more often than not. Just in the years I’ve been following the race, we’ve seen crushingly inevitable major hauls for “Dances With Wolves,” “Schindler’s List,” “Forrest Gump,” “The English Patient,” “Titanic,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” etc. Anyone who tells you those weren’t set in stone before the ceremony is applying revisionist history — or simply wasn’t around.

    By the way, I’d have given Campion the award in 1993 — though I have no problem with the “Schindler’s List” sweep. Great year.

  • 7 8-25-2009 at 2:02 am

    maurier said...

    Me too, I’d have given the Oscar to Campion for The Piano, probably one of the best films directed by a woman, along with Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent. But I keep an eye on Andrea Arnold, her Red Road was really well done.

  • 8 8-25-2009 at 7:23 am

    Andrew said...

    Here’s hoping that Kathryn Bigelow wins the Oscar this year. A woman directing a male-dominated action-war film? Amazing.

    And here’s hoping that “Amelia” falls flat on it’s face. I like Mira Nair, I really do, but this looks like the worst case of Oscar bait since “The Reader”. That, and I simply can’t stand Hilary Swank.

    Come on Bigelow and Campion! Woooo!

  • 9 8-25-2009 at 11:23 am

    Ronn Burner said...

    I agree with Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” being worthy but overcoming Peter Jackson’s behemoth vision was a battle she had no chance of winning. In fact, “Lost in Translation” is one of my favorite films of the past 10 years.

  • 10 8-25-2009 at 2:07 pm

    rosengje said...

    While I would never complain about Spielberg winning for “Schindler’s List,” I personally would have given it to Jane Campion in 1993.

  • 11 8-25-2009 at 2:07 pm

    rosengje said...

    And I see Guy already made that same point. Apologies.

  • 12 8-25-2009 at 2:09 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I hate “The Piano.” So not a chance in hell. ;)

  • 13 8-25-2009 at 2:24 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Rosengje: No need to apologise — we’re all speaking for ourselves, after all.