Spielberg. Tarantino. Boyle. Nolan. What do some of the biggest household names in cinema have in common? They are all male. It’s a sad fact that even in 2013, women are underrepresented and often underappreciated in the entertainment industry. Distinguished actresses like Meryl Streep and Maggie Smith may have racked up multiple Best Actress Oscars and countless nominations, but women behind the camera are still often denied recognition.
However, the recent success of Zero Dark Thirty and 2009’s The Hurt Locker has garnered Kathryn Bigelow much praise. Although this media attention is largely still eclipsed by that heaped on Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron, the 2010 Academy Awards saw Bigelow beat Cameron’s efforts on Avatar to win Best Director for The Hurt Locker.
Bigelow remains the only woman to ever win an Oscar for directing, but last week another woman who has made a remarkable contribution to film was finally formally recognised. Manhattan’s Tribeca Film Festival announced a new $25,000 prize in honour of screenwriter and director Nora Ephron, who sadly passed away last June. Each year the ‘Nora’ will be awarded to a film premiering at the festival, written or directed by a woman. This new award recognises both Ephron’s achievements including rom-com classics When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, whilst also paving the way for needed increase in the recognition of female talent.
Although the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay was Muriel Box in 1946 (an accolade she shared with her husband Sydney), only six women have been awarded the prize since. Ephron was nominated three times, for Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993), but missed out each time. It would be an overstatement to suggest this is due to sheer sexism, but the statistics continue to dishearten in an age of supposed ever-increasing gender equality. As those at Tribeca realise, women who write and direct well should be celebrated. The 2007 Best Original Screenplay Oscar was awarded to Diablo Cody, whose debut Juno was blacklisted before being made into the film we know and love by Jason Reitman. Reitman and Cody teamed up again for 2007’s less successful Young Adult. Cody has recently collaborated on the screenplay for Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead remake, although she is unfairly and unfortunately not credited.
Not only do talented women working in film and television deserve more recognition, they also deserve acknowledgement of the right kind. HBO’s Girls has proved a successful platform for thrusting creator and star Lena Dunham’s name into the spotlight, but critiques of her nude appearances demonstrate a disappointing media fixation with women’s bodies, rather than their creative talents.
But it’s not all bad news. In 1991 Callie Khouri won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Thelma & Louise, a wild tale in which housewife (Geena Davis) and waitress (Susan Sarandon) escape their small lives for the freedom of the open road. The misogyny they encounter along the way provokes a necessary assertiveness which eventually escalates drastically into a worrying conjecture on the potential consequences of oppression. Khouri has also received praise for her current project, abc’s Nashville, which features a strong female lead in Connie Britton’s portrayal of country singer and mother Rayna Jaymes.
For feminists it’s an inconvenient truth that there are fewer women than men working in film and TV. While change is likely to be a slow and frustrating process, critics and awarding bodies should feel a duty to give warranted recognition along the way.
PHOTO/Katherine Elizabeth Snyder, Max Wastler