In 2020, some of the most successful and high profile films of the year including “Birds of Prey” and “Wonder Woman 1984” were directed by women. In the midst of COVID-19, a record number of women were thriving, from Wilde’s “Emma” of Autumn to Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”. Radha Blank’s “The 40-Year-Old Version” is one of the few projects that does not have a black woman as a sidekick, sex object or punchline of a joke, but as an intelligent, creative and sensual force that is middle-aged and unapologetic while embarking on a pivotal career in Chapter Two. As a first-time writer, director, and star, Blank could be nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 2021 Oscars; right behind her is Channing Godfrey Peoples ‘marvelous “Miss Juneteenth”, offering the possibilities of what black Americans’ dream looks like for a single mother (Peoples is also directing an upcoming episode of Nat Geo’s “Genius: Aretha”, with Cynthia Erivo). Gina Prince-Bythewood jumped into the action genre and raised it with “The Old Guard”. Stella Meghie showed the sweetness and complexity of romance with sensitivity through the lens of the reality of “Love Jones” with “The Photograph”. “Farewell Amor”, by Ekwa Msangi, takes her African education and gives her a voice and a life through a marriage confronted with infidelity, growth and unconditional love. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Why are these women constantly frowned upon and dismissed in the film industry? Is it the blatant double standard that permeates all avenues of entertainment? Or are the rules and restrictions placed on undiversified voting bodies to blame for guilds, film critic organizations, AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association)? Yes, it is all that. According to a report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, women made up 10.6% of directors of 2019’s 100 Top-grossing Movies, and the highest since the institute began tracking data in 2007.
This year’s Oscars could be historic. For the first time in over 90 years of the Academy’s history, we were able to witness, at the very least, three nominees who challenge the genre standard of the film industry: Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), Regina King (“One Night in Miami”) and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”). In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and #TimesUp, the Academy has attempted to diversify its ranks, with over 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 there more women nominated in the achievement category?