“I think everybody’s angry and quite rightly so. I can’t believe it’s happened again, but I don’t really know how to solve it. I don’t know what the answer is, other than we’re talking about it.” Florence Pugh, who played Amy in “Little Women,” made this comment in response to what many perceive as Greta Gerwig’s snub after the Oscar nominations on January 13. Greta Gerwig was the director of “Little Women,” and it came as a surprise to many that she was not nominated for one of the five Best Director positions. While fans are celebrating the fact that this was the first time a South Korean has been nominated for Best Director (Bong Joon-ho for “Parasite”), many also felt that the exclusion of Gerwig from the list revealed a broader underrecognition of female directors. Since the first Best Director Oscars nominations were made in 1927, only five women have ever been nominated, and out of them only one has won Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow won the award in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker”).
Despite the gender disparity in the directing field (women make up only approximately 11% of top film directors), female directors continue to bring ideas to the table. Hope student Madison Meeron (’21) is currently studying theater with plans to be a director. She says that her grandma was a “huge inspiration” for her to pursue a career in theater. Meeron describes that, “When I was little I was obsessed with ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ My grandma and I would act out the movie in its entirety… Creating and reenacting stories with my grandma made me realize the importance of storytelling from a young age. I think she’s part of the reason I’ve developed a love for theatre, acting, and directing.” With regards to the 2020 Oscars nominations, Meeron says, “I was not happy to see that all of the Oscars nominees were… men. I think that film has consistently been a male dominated industry; however, it doesn’t need to be.” Meeron is not alone in feeling that women are being overlooked. Saoirse Ronan, who starred as Jo in “Little Women,” said in a statement that “I’m really happy that the Academy recognized [Gerwig] for Adapted Screenplay and Picture, and I feel like if you’ve been nominated for Best Picture, you have essentially been nominated for Best Director. But to me, Greta, since she started, has made two perfect films, and I hope when she makes her next perfect movie, she gets recognized for everything, because I think she’s one of the most important filmmakers of our time.”
Despite setbacks, there are signs that progress is being made, even if that progress is slow. In 2019, 10.6% of the 100 highest-grossing films of the year were directed by women. This was a record high and a noticeable increase from 4.5% in 2018. Twenty percent of Netflix movies that year were directed by women, as were thirty-one percent of episodic television programs over the last two years. Five of the biggest titles scheduled to be released next year are also helmed by women: “Mulan,” “Black Widow,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Birds of Prey,” and “Eternals.” However, for many, these steps are still too small. Celebrity Emma Watson stated in “The Guardian” in 2014 that, “I have experienced sexism in that I have been directed by male directors 17 times and only twice by women.” Meeron says, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see a day when all of the directorial nominees were women?” Nearly 77% of the group that votes for Oscars is male, which has raised concern that voters will choose the kinds of movies men are more likely to produce. This was especially a concern with “Little Women,” which tended to attract a more female audience. Producer Amy Pascal commented that “I don’t think it’s anything like a malicious rejection,” but that “I don’t think that [men] came to the screenings in droves, let me put it that way.”
Meeron’s passion for directing is evident. She says, “Watching your ideas mesh with the ideas of actors and designers to create one cohesive piece is beautiful!” The prospect of future obstacles does not slow down her pursuit of her dreams. Regarding her future career path, she says, “I definitely think I will face problems in this industry as a woman. Entering an industry dominated by men can be intimidating; however, directing is storytelling. Stories from female perspectives are equally important to stories told from male perspectives. Humans want to see parts of themselves in the movies and theatrical productions they see. Allowing the discrimination against women to deter me from directing would be a great disservice to all women. Women deserve to tell their stories and see themselves in film, television and theatre.”