Wednesday, December 11, 2019

In Laman's Terms: Award Season Continues To Fail Non-White Male Filmmakers...Now What?

An image from Little Women, a movie not worthy of awards because it stars fleshed-out women rather than a dude in clown makeup dancing down a staircase.
In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

There have only ever been five women nominated for the Oscar for Best Director.

Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow and Greta Gerwig are the only ones to break into the category. Looking over to the Best Picture Oscar category, only fourteen movies directed by women have been nominated for Best Picture in the 91-year-history of the Academy Awards. Of those fourteen movies, only one (Selma) has been helmed by a woman of color. Clearly, this stunningly low level of recognition for women is not representative of actual Hollywood, where women have been directed films since Alice Guy-Blanche was helming motion pictures in the earliest days of Hollywood.

But award ceremonies like the Academy Awards have constantly awarded films about dudes made by dudes and in the process have instilled a narrowly-defined vision of what it means to be an "award season movie". Films made by women aren't just fighting societally ingrained sexism, they're also facing an uphill climb against voters who have been subliminally told that movies dealing with themes or imagery traditionally thought of as feminine are inherently inferior. This problem is only compounded for films hailing from women of color filmmakers. Distinct perspectives that make these features rich as pieces of art are also, infuriatingly, what dooms them in award season.

For the last few years, people have been championing for a greater level of diversity in terms of what films get award season recognition. Hashtags like #Oscarssowhite have emerged from the general populace to emphasize the problem the Academy Awards have with recognizing performers of color. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman's famous "Best Male Director" line when introducing the Best Director category at last years Golden Globes saw a famous individual bringing attention to the lack of recognition for women directors during award ceremonies. With major award ceremonies like the Golden Globes or SAG Awards announcing their newest crops of nominees this week, we can now see that these ceremonies have responded to these calls to action by...doing nothing.

The SAG award nominations announced today did not include any women-directed movies in their Best Ensemble category (their equivalent to Best Picture in terms of being the biggest award of the ceremony). They did at least recognize non-white filmmakers by including Jojo Rabbit and Parasite in their Best Ensemble line-up, but the shocking lack of recognition for Greta Gerwig's Little Women and Alma Har'el's Honey Boy among the Best Ensemble nominations reinforced what a struggle women-directed cinema faces in award season. The newest Golden Globes nominations announced on Monday was an even bigger microcosm of this persistent struggle for marginalized filmmakers to get their works recognized.

There were no women-directed movies to be found among the ten Best Picture nomination spread across two categories. To boot, the fact that only five performers of color were nominated across the thirty possible movie acting Golden Globe nomination slots, as well as the exclusion of When They See Us from the Best Miniseries category, reinforced the problems the Golden Globes have with recognizing artists of color. Yes, the Golden Globes are a ridiculous ceremony that once nominated The Tourist for Best Picture, but they still have a lot of sway in the film industry and set a lot of precedents for what gets nominated and what gets excluded from award season.

To see a slew of Golden Globe nominations that so heavily excluded voices that weren't cishet white dudes was truly discouraging, especially in the wake of activism in recent years encouraging award ceremonies like the Golden Globes to do better in this regard. In the wake of these nominations, Alma Har'el took to Twitter to create a thread responding to the exclusion of women filmmakers from the Golden Globes. She took time to say that "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 award system." before going on to name-drop a slew of women filmmakers and noting how their films resonating with audiences was the real award here.

This excellent thread really sums things up better than I ever could. Award ceremonies like the Golden Globes that respond to their troubling nomination patterns by going on the defense rather than by promising to do better clearly do not deserve our time and attention. Let's use our energy instead to minimize the importance of award ceremonies in the public discourse (why is the Golden Globes seen as so important when it nominated Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland for Best Picture?!?) about cinema and shift the focus over to championing great pieces of cinema from marginalized voices. Nia DaCosta's Little Woods, Chinonye's Chukwu's Clemency, Greta Gerwig's Little Women (just to name a few) are the kind of 2019 films that will live on with people long after arcane institutions like the Golden Globes are left in the past. It's persistently discouraging to see these exclusionary nominations that hold far too much sway over the film industry. But as Alma Har'el so eloquently said, let us not look for salvation in institutions that are clearly not interested in some of the most exciting filmmaking voices of the modern era. Let the filmmakers whose works are solely ignored because of their gender, sexuality and/or skin color know that their art has far more value than the people voting for award ceremonies like the Golden Globes could ever comprehend.

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