It’s time female filmmakers get the recognition they deserve

Shruti Patankar, Contributing Writer

The only woman to ever win Best Director at the Oscars in the 92 years of its existence is Kathryn Bigelow for the 2009 movie The Hurt Locker. In the history of the prestigious award show, only 5 women have ever been nominated for Best Director. If we look at this year’s awards, only 30% of all nominees were female. The numbers don’t lie. 

The truth is, we are used to seeing these numbers. Every year, we see the smallest steps towards equality in Hollywood, and we congratulate the Academy on slightly more representation for half of America. Some of us shake our heads at the angry men and women that demand more from the Academy, confused by their rage and passion for something that seems so surface level. 

The same bewilderment was directed at Natalie Portman, a Best Actress winner for Black Swan and best known for playing Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequels and the titular role in Jackie. At the 2020 Oscars Awards, Portman wore a cape embroidered with the names of eight female directors she believed should have been recognized by the Academy. People across America debated over her controversial actions; after all, change was happening, wasn’t it? What was the need for Portman to so dramatically take the limelight away from deserving male nominees? Most of all, as an actress who has worked with primarily male directors, shouldn’t Portman be making significant changes to her own movie choices instead of taking inflammatory decisions and disrespecting a revered platform? 

What we must realize, as a society strongly influenced by film, is that Portman’s cape was an absolutely necessary step. It brought media and audience attention to a minimized, often understated feature of Hollywood that affects every aspect of American society. As a celebrated actress like Natalie Portman generated controversy and public awareness due to her outfit, she started a much-needed conversation about the overall representation of women in film and television.  

Without financially supporting and validating female filmmakers and technical staff in film and television, we are lacking the understanding of a crucial perspective.

When women authentically tell stories about their experiences, they allow women in the audience to feel like they belong. This does not occur simply through a female main character; female directors introduce their interpretation of the world to a story, be it a rom-com or a war film. They allow others in the audience to gain a viewpoint into a foreign experience, enriching their perception of others. Without supporting female filmmakers, we are losing out on the stories they carry with them. Stories about inequality, abuse, and issues of safety create an environment where audiences can discuss themes they previously would not have considered. By opening up topics to further understanding and discussion, films have a reach beyond two hours at the theater; they’re vehicles for change. 

The Academy, however, proves a major obstacle to the recognition of talented female directors and the resulting enrichment. According to Time magazine, only around 32% of the Academy’s voting members are women. Without female representation in the organization responsible for evaluation, how can we expect female-led films to be fairly judged? One may say that male members are willing to vote for examples of well-made films, but the truth is that these voting members are simply not viewing these films. According to the same Time magazine article, out of all of the voting members that attended screenings of Little Women, 33% were male. The lack of attendance ruined Little Women’s chances before official voting even began, taking away the credit a well-made film deserved. While the film’s story was woman-centric, it is fair to argue that voting members of the Academy should be required to watch all potential nominees. 

Secondly, the archaic rules behind the Academy’s nomination are an obstacle to giving female directors a fair chance. The requirements for being nominated include having directed at least two films, with the last film directed having been released in the last ten years. However, the Academy fails to acknowledge that many female directors are faced with familial responsibilities during their careers, requiring them to cut back on directorial work and often work as producers or writers. 

Women also face much more difficulty getting their film ideas approved by a producer to be made, largely due to lack of commercial success and industry acknowledgement for women-centric films. This creates a vicious cycle where women are not recognized for their films and are restricted from making more films specific to their experiences. It is a surprise that some women are even able to make the film they want to in this industry. 

Natalie Portman was not being dramatic when she wore that cape. She was calling out the industry she works in for its double standards. She was calling out the Academy’s unfair rules and misplaced tendency to nominate male directors in a time where female filmmakers are making exceptional, boundary pushing art. She was expressing her desire to see and participate in more female-led directions, and she was completely valid in doing so. Natalie Portman is tired of Hollywood’s reluctance to appreciate female filmmakers, and we should be too.