In 2020, some of the most successful and high-profile films of the year, including “Birds of Prey” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” were helmed by women. In the middle of COVID-19, a record number of women were thriving, from Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma” to Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Radha Blank’s savvy and poignant “The 40-Year-Old Version” is one of the few projects that doesn’t have a Black woman as a sidekick, sex object, or punchline of a joke, but as a smart, creative, sensual force who is middle-aged and unapologetic while embarking upon a pivot into second chapter career. As a first-time writer, director, and star, Blank could be a contender for a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 2021 Academy Awards; right behind her is Channing Godfrey Peoples’ marvelous “Miss Juneteenth,” delivering the possibilities of what the Black American dream looks like for a single mother (Peoples also directs an upcoming episode of Nat Geo’s “Genius: Aretha,” starring Cynthia Erivo). Gina Prince-Bythewood hopped into the action genre and elevated it with “The Old Guard.” Stella Meghie showed the soft, complexities of romance with sensitivity through the lens of “Love Jones” realness with “The Photograph.” “Farewell Amor,” from Ekwa Msangi, takes her African upbringing and gives it a voice and life through a marriage faced with infidelity, growth and unconditional love. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Why are these women consistently being dissed and dismissed in the film industry? Is it the blatant double standard that permeates across all lanes of entertainment? Or are the rules and restrictions placed upon minimally diverse voting bodies for the guilds, film critics organizations, AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) to blame? Yes, it’s all of that. According to a report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, women made up 10.6% of the directors of the top 100 grossing movies from 2019 and the highest since the institute began tracking the data in 2007.
This year’s Oscars could be historic. For the first time in the over 90-year history of the Academy, we could witness, at the very least, three nominees who defy the gender norm of the film industry: Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”). On the heels of #OscarsSoWhite and #TimesUp, the Academy has attempted to diversify its ranks, with more than 2,000 new members since 2017—32% of its members were women, up from 25% in 2015 and 16% were people of color, up from 8% in 2015. So why aren’t more women getting nominated in the directing category?
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