Friday, October 24, 2014

Female Directors and the Academy Awards

Kathryn Bigelow clutching her Best Director Oscar
In the 86-year history of the Academy Awards, only one woman has won an Oscar for best director. And only four women have been nominated for the coveted award. Is the situation for female directors improving, or is it stuck in a holding pattern?

At the 2010 Academy Awards, filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first woman to win a best-director Oscar for her film The Hurt Locker (2009). Bigelow's win was a big breakthrough for women in a male-dominated industry. One of the most significant aspects about her win is that it no doubt inspired many young women and girls to consider film directing as a career, which will help further increase the number of female filmmakers in the future.

And another important thing about Bigelow's Oscar win is that she earned it for directing a war thriller that focuses on an elite bomb squad unit, the type of film usually reserved for male directors. With the huge success of The Hurt Locker, Bigelow proved that a woman can direct an absorbing and entertaining film in a genre that appeals to a large male demographic, which might make it easier for other female directors to be considered for such projects in the future.

However, there is currently still a big discrepancy between the number of female directors and their male counterparts in the film industry. And since Bigelow’s win in 2010, no female filmmaker has even been nominated in the best-director category by the Academy. Hopefully this will soon change as more great films helmed by female directors receive wider recognition.

Bigelow has been directing films for 36 years now. Some of her most her most well-known films include Blue Steel, Near Dark and Point Break. She also directed three episodes of the acclaimed television crime series Homicide: Life on the Street. Her most recent directorial outing was the award-winning action thriller Zero Dark Thirty (2012), which is about the decade-long hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001.

Women Who Were Nominated for Best Director

In addition to Bigelow, the three other women who were nominated for best-director Oscars are Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Lina Wertmüller. Campion received a best-director Oscar nomination for her 1993 film The Piano. The film is a neo-Gothic romance drama set in1850s New Zealand. It’s about a mute Scotswoman who travels to the New Zealand bush with her young daughter and prized piano for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner and then has a torrid affair with a scruffy plantation worker.

The film is very densely layered and singularly unconventional, not the usual type of film that receives an Oscar nomination. The film earned Campion an Oscar for best original screenplay at the 1994 Academy Awards as well as a best actress win for Holly Hunter and an Oscar for an 11-year-old Anna Paquin for best supporting actress.

Campion is one of New Zealand's most successful international filmmakers. Her first feature film was Sweetie (1989), which she both directed and cowrote. The film garnered the director some international awards, including the Independent Spirit Award for best foreign film. Some of Campion’s other notable films include Holy Smoke, In the Cut and Bright Star.

Filmmaker Lina Wertmüller Landed A Best Director Oscar Nomination For Seven Beauties

Italian film writer and director Lina Wertmüller's Seven Beauties (aka Pasqualino Settebellezze) earned her an Oscar nomination for best director at the1977 Academy Awards. This marked the first time that the Academy nominated a woman in the best-director category. Seven Beauties opened in France and Italy in 1975 and hit U.S. theaters in 1976.

The comedy drama is about a deserter from the Italian army during World War II who winds up a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. The prisoner uses his wiles to survive in this bleak, spirit-crushing environment. Wertmüller also wrote the film's excellent screenplay, which landed her another Oscar nomination. In addition, the film pulled down a best-actor nomination for Giancarlo Giannini and one for best foreign language film. Some of Wertmüller's other notable films include Camorra (A Story of Streets, Women and Crime), Swept Away and A Night Full of Rain.

Sofia Coppola Steps Out of Dad's Shadow With Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola, daughter of legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola, established herself as a talented filmmaker in her own right with her feature film Lost in Translation (2003). The film earned her a nomination for best director at the 2004 Academy Awards and an Oscar win for best original screenplay. The film also grabbed a best-actor nomination for Bill Murray and one for best picture. The film is about two lonely people who cross paths in a Tokyo hotel, one a jaded, middle-aged American movie star, the other the young neglected wife of a self-absorbed photographer. The two find that they are kindred spirits and develop a unique and close friendship.

Lost in Translation created quite a buzz upon its release and received much critical acclaim and picked up a slew of awards. What's especially impressive is that it was only Coppola's second feature film in the director’s chair. Coppola's first feature film as a director was The Virgin Suicides (1999). The other films that she has directed are Marie Antoinette, Somewhere and The Bling Ring, which opened in movie theaters last year.

The Situation Has Improved Slightly For Female Directors But Still Has A Long Ways To Go

It seems that female filmmakers are finally starting to be recognized for their talent, and their numbers do appear to be increasing a bit. Quite a few are making a name for themselves in the independent film arena. Hopefully those numbers will continue to grow, and more female directors’ works will be widely recognized and celebrated.

And in addition to needing more recognition for female filmmakers, it's equally important for the Academy to recognize the works of gifted filmmakers of all races, cultures and nationalities from across the globe, as each group brings their own unique perspective to films and can share their individual experiences and stories. And this can only further enrich the medium.

The Hurt Locker at Amazon

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