Once Again, Female Directors Are Largely Shut Out of the Awards Race

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Greta Gerwig is the only female director to score a Critics’ Choice Award nomination, while the Globes list features no women at all.

With the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nominations now out, awards season is officially on the horizon, kicking off in earnest with the Globes ceremony on January 5. Every year, these nominee announcements are followed by a slew of articles and tweets about the biggest surprises and snubs of the season but one thing that sadly remains consistent is the lack of female representation.

In a moment forever immortalized in GIF form, at the 2018 Golden Globes presenter Natalie Portman called out the fact that not a single female director had been nominated in the Best Director category, a trend that continued in 2019 and, as has now been revealed, in 2020 as well.

This year’s Best Director nominees at the Globes are Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood), Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Sam Mendes (1917) and Todd Phillips (Joker). Over at the Critics’ Choice Awards, it’s pretty much the same story aside for the fact that Greta Gerwig managed to sneak in to the category for Little Women. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles and Toronto Film Critics Associations have already announced their winners for the year. Between the three of them, Martin Scorsese, Noah Baumbach and Bong Joon Ho took home all the big awards (and runners-up positions) in the Director, Film and Screenplay categories.

Earlier this year year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was slammed on social media for a year of Oscar nominations in which women seldom appeared outside of the acting categories. Today, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which awards the Golden Globes, is being called out on Twitter for its own gender disparity. Honey Boy director Alma Har’el, whose film was critically acclaimed but did not earn her a directing nod, tweeted: “Good morning to everyone that’s writing me about the #goldenglobes I feel you but know this. I was on the inside for the first time this year. These are not our people and they do not represent us. Do not look for justice in the awards system. We are building a new world.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, women have only been nominated at the Globes for Best Director seven times in its 75-year history and there has only been one winner: Barbra Streisand for Yentl. The next big awards announcement will come later this week, when the Screen Actors Guild Award nominees are revealed on December 11. Let’s see how some of the year’s strongest female directors fare then, but in the meantime read on for our roundup of some of the most praise-worthy films directed by women this year.

The Farewell, Lulu Wang
One of the most moving films of 2019, The Farewell tells a heartfelt story of familial love, compassion, cultural traditions and the conflicting emotions of the immigrant experience. Awkwafina, the film’s lead actress, has been nominated for both a Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award, with the film (which is in English and Mandarin) also earning a Best Foreign Language nomination from the HFPA. The American-Canadian Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), which awards the Critics’ Choice Awards, recognized Awkwafina’s co-star Zhao Shuzhen (who plays her grandmother) for her work as supporting actress, and also nominated the film in the Best Screenplay and Comedy categories. Its writer/director Lulu Wang, however, didn’t score a Director nomination from either organization.

The Souvenir, Joanna Hogg
This semi-autobiographical film by British filmmaker Joanna Hogg stars not one but two Swintons: Tilda Swinton as well as her daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, in her first feature role. The film, for which a sequel is already in the works, follows an aspiring female filmmaker navigating a toxic and destructive relationship with a manipulative older man. The coming-of-age story holds a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earned rave reviews from critics upon its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria
Telling a complex story about capitalism, ambition, crime and female empowerment, this film festival hit was inspired by a New York magazine article by journalist Jessica Pressler. Directed by Lorene Scafaria, the film stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu as its two leads, along with a stellar supporting cast that includes Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart and Julia Stiles. Scoring just one nomination from the HFPA and BFCA (for Lopez’s supporting role), the film has been largely shut out of the awards race despite love from both critics and the box office.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Marielle Heller
One of the most egregious snubs of last year’s awards season was Marielle Heller’s exclusion from the race as the director of the acerbic Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant, who both scored acting nominations in every major awards show. This year, history seems likely to repeat itself, since she failed to get a nomination from either the HFPA or the BFCA for her slow-burn adaptation of an Esquire article about Fred Rogers by journalist Tom Junod.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma
One of the breakout hits of the year, this French historical drama took home the Best Screenplay and Queen Palm awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Telling the story of a young 18th century painter who falls in love with the subject of one of her portraits, a woman soon to be married, the film is “a ravishing romance that doubles as a lament for the inner lives of centuries of women muted by a world ordered by men,” according to Vanity Fair. The film earned a Best Foreign Language Film nomination from both the HFPA and BFCA but nothing for its director and screenwriter, Céline Sciamma.

Honey Boy, Alma Har’el
Based on actor Shia LeBoeuf’s complicated relationship with his father, the film stars LaBeouf (who wrote the screenplay) alongside Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe and FKA Twigs. It marks Israeli director Alma Har’el’s feature film debut, having previously worked with LaBeouf on a 2012 music video and a 2016 documentary film. Telling a fictionalized tale of LaBeouf’s battle with addiction and rehab, as well as the PTSD he experienced as the result of growing up with an emotionally abusive parent, the film is a raw and vulnerable depiction of childhood trauma.

Antigone, Sophie Deraspe
Canada’s official entry for the 2020 Oscars’ Best International Feature category, Antigone is a modern-day adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy. Directed by critically acclaimed Québécois writer-director Sophie Deraspe, the film tells the story about an immigrant family in Montreal whose lives are turned upside down by tragedy. At the heart of it all is a young woman—played by a staggering Nahema Ricci in her feature film debut—whose loyalty to her family leads her down a path of recklessness and sacrifice.

Booksmart, Olivia Wilde
A story about two studious best friends intent on having a wild night out before high school graduation, Booksmart resonated with female audiences both old and young for its confident and empathetic portrayal of female friendships, young love and teenage angst. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, the film earned effusive praise at Sundance, where it premiered, and continued to pick up steam as it landed in theatres across the world. Beanie Feldstein, one of the film’s stars, scored a Golden Globe nomination, and the film itself nabbed a Best Comedy nod from the BFCA.

Queen & Slim, Melina Matsoukas
Written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas, a Grammy winner who has directed music videos for Rihanna and Beyonce, Queen & Slim tells a poignant tale of police brutality, systemic injustice and black love. Starring Oscar-nominee Daniel Kaluuya and relative newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith, the film follows a young black couple whose lives are turned upside down when their first date ends in a tragic altercation with police.

Atlantics, Mati Diop
This supernatural romantic drama earned French-Senegalese director Mati Diop the distinction of being the first black female director to be in the running for the Cannes Film Festival’s highest prize, the Palme d’Or. The film, which is now on Netflix, went on to earn a Grand Prix at the festival and universal acclaim. Set in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, Atlantics offers “a feminist take on the African immigrant narrative,” according to IndieWire.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeather
This film, which premiered at TIFF, was recently picked up for distribution by Ava DuVernay’s production company, Array, and is now available to stream on Netflix. Inspired by a true story, the film highlights the breadth and scope of the female Indigenous experience in Canada. Following two women of different Indigenous backgrounds as they reveal parts of their life to each other over the course of one emotionally turbulent day in Vancouver, the film is a meditation on female solidarity, Indigenous trauma and domestic violence.

Clemency, Chinonye Chukwu
For her searing prison drama, Nigerian-American filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu became the first black woman to win the Sundance festival’s biggest prize, the Grand Jury Prize. Starring Alfre Woodard as a Death Row prison warden struggling with the emotional demands and moral complexities of her job, Clemency serves as “a damning indictment of a barbaric and unjust system,” according to a Guardian review.

Harriet, Kasi Lemmons
In the first and only biopic ever made on American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo delivers a powerful performance as the titular character who risks her life to get slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The film earned both Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations for Erivo and “Stand Up,” an original song from the film’s soundtrack that Erivo co-wrote with Joshua Campbell.

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