The 91st annual Academy Awards were this Sunday, and while there were some great takeaways (looking at you Spike Lee, Regina King and Alfonso Cuaron), there were also decisions that left audiences walking away with a bad taste in their mouth.
In a highly contested award season — complete with controversial nominations and back-and-forth proclamations about what would be aired in the televised event — one of the loudest complaints, since the nominations were released in Jan. 22, has been the lack of female directors nominated in this year’s “Best Director” category.
Female directors have always struggled to receive recognition from the Academy. In the past, only five have been able to include their names on the Best Director shortlist, including Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Champion (“The Piano”), Sophia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) and the only winner of the award, Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”).
This year, films the Academy would normally gravitate toward, such as “On the Basis of Sex” (dir. Mimi Leder), “Mary Queen of Scots” (dir. Josie Rourke) and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (dir. Marielle Heller), were ignored in the Best Director category.
Last year, many notable feature-length films and documentaries directed and written by women over a diverse range of subjects and mediums garnered more positive ratings than some of the Academy’s nominees. In the spirit of what the Academy Awards missed out on, they are compiled here for your streaming pleasure.
“Private Life,” directed and written by Tamara Jenkins, is a stunningly intimate look into the fertility struggles between Kathryn Hahn’s character Rachel and Paul Giamatti’s character Richard in New York City. Jenkins utilizes humor and drama to create a captivating insight on one marriage and the strength of their makeshift family.
“Kindergarten Teacher,” directed and written by Sara Colangelo, brilliantly showcases Maggie Gyllenhaal’s talent as she portrays a Staten Island kindergarten teacher, Lisa, who becomes obsessed with her student, who shows a natural affinity for poetry. Based on the 2014 Israeli film of the same name, Colangelo traces Lisa’s descent at a thrilling pace.
“Shirkers,” directed and written by Sandi Tan, follows Tan as she attempts to retrace the path of “Shirkers.” A young Tan and her friends originally set out to shoot on the first road movie in Singapore in 1992, eventually losing all of their footage to their older American teacher, Georges, who ran away with the 16mm film. “Shirkers” weaves a beautiful tale on the power of film and creativity to both inspire and destroy.
“You Were Never Really Here,” directed and written by Lynn Ramsey, follows Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe, a Gulf War veteran with PTSD and a hired gun, as he attempts to find the kidnapped daughter of a politician, navigating a world of sex trafficking and his own personal quest for revenge. The sharp direction and editing is what makes this film stand out in a lean one hour and 35 minutes of little dialogue and heavy action.
“Skate Kitchen,” directed and written by Crystal Moselle, follows Long Island teenage skater Camille as she befriends a group of New York City female skateboarders, chronicling the ups and downs of female friendships and the strength of a girl gang. The background of a hot New York summer becomes another character in Moselle’s memorably endearing film in a year of multiple skateboard oriented films.
Out of the 250 top grossing films of 2018, only eight percent were women, according to the Center of the Study of Women in Television and Film. By supporting more female directors in the independent film industry, where they thrive, change can be made in the decisions of major studio heads. For those wishing to support more female directors going into 2019, there are more films currently available on streaming platforms. By supporting measures like those initiated by Regina King to lift women in the film industry, we might just be able to make 2019 the year of female directors.
More female-directed films of 2018 and where to stream them… “Happy As Lazzaro” dir. Alice Rohrwacher (available on Netflix), “The Rider” dir. Chloe Zhao (available with a Starz subscription), “Madeline’s Madeline” dir. Josephine Decker (available on Kanopy), “Miseducation of Cameron Post” dir. Desiree Akhavan (available on Kanopy), “Leave No Trace” dir. Debra Granik (available on Amazon Prime), “The Tale” dir. Jennifer Fox (available with a HBO subscription), “Night Comes On” dir. Jordana Spiro (available on Kanopy).