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Film & TV

2018 in Film: A Year of Female Directorial Ubiquity… and Ignorance

Female directors have thrived on all platforms during 2018, but they still lack the recognition that they richly deserve as the Golden Globes so painfully highlighted

The Oscar-winning director of Bird Box, Susanne Bier

2018 has been a stellar year for female filmmaking. Amidst the deafening roar of Time’s Up and #MeToo, the toxic male grip on Hollywood has loosened and thus, bold, creative women are emerging from the shadows with fresh ideas and concepts.

We have been treated to a bevy of cinematic gold from all corners of the globe and in terms of palpable recognition, it started well with Greta Gerwig being nominated for best director at the Academy Awards. It’s also a sad reality; Gerwig is just the fifth woman to ever be nominated for best director at the Oscars. “That’s one hand!” she famously told USA Today. One female director for every finger.

But it could’ve been the start of something more. 2018 provided the perfect backdrop to recognise the finest female directors, and the perfect time to celebrate the promising female talents floating around the margins. And for any voracious film lover, they’re easy enough to find. Hell, even if you’re armed with the basics – a Netflix subscription – solid female directors are easy to access. In fact, Netflix must be commended for the variety of their female-led projects this year. Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life offers a moving and funny tale about a couple struggling to have a child whilst Susan Johnson executed a superb coming-of-age romcom with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. And who can forget one of the year’s most divisive and most popular films in Susanne Bier’s Bird Box. You’d be hard pushed to find a modern film that has produced this many memes.

Elsewhere in mainstream cinema, there has been Kay Cannon’s Blockers, starring Leslie Mann and John Cena, and Desiree Akhavan’s well-received coming-of-age drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which follows a high school girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she’s shipped off to a conversion therapy centre. Furthermore, films like Cameron Post, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, and Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher have tackled complex cultural and human themes.

“But for those truly devoted to film, and the diversity that needs to be at its core, we turn away because awards season slips into familiar narratives its unwilling to break away from.”

And it’s looking at these fabrics of our society through a different perspective that expands and improves film’s ability to conjure and comment on these complicated human ideas. But whereas the likes of Ready Player One and A Star Is Born put great emphasis on Steven Spielberg and Bradley Cooper directing respectively, few people realise that a female director helmed Bird Box, Netflix’s biggest hit to date and even worse, that the likes of Revenge and The Kindergarten Teacher even exist.

So as we go full circle and awards season hits full stride once more, we urge Hollywood to look further and consider more. At the Golden Globes we saw minority-led films celebrated, with the likes of Black Klansman, Black Panther, and Crazy, Rich Asians all nominated. But once again, the best director category failed to recognise any women. The likes of Richard E. Grant and Nicole Kidman gained nominations for Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Destroyer respectively, but their directors were ignored. There was also the terrific You Were Never Really Here which won best actor for Joaquin Phoenix and best screenplay for its director Lynne Ramsay at Cannes. Despite universal acclaim, it was completely snubbed.

There was some joy in the best foreign language film category with Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum nominated but it still doesn’t do enough for the severe lack of recognition for female filmmaking. The ratings for awards season ceremonies like the Golden Globes and the Oscars declines year on year and one can argue that this is mainly down to a lack of popular film acknowledgement.

But for those truly devoted to film, and the diversity that needs to be at its core, we turn away because awards season slips into familiar narratives its unwilling to break away from. Many nominees every year will follow a tested algorithm of themes and tropes, whereas those offering new stories from marginal people in different cultures continue to be ignored. For film to continue being original and outgrowing its perimeters, we need to award those changing the perspective. Hopefully the Academy Awards will learn from the shortcomings of this year’s Golden Globes.

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