Last year at the Golden Globes, both Natalie Portman and Barbra Streisand called out the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on its own broadcast for failure to nominate a single female director that year. You'd think the HFPA and Hollywood at large would have gotten the message, but one year later things have somehow gotten worse.
Not only do the Best Director nominations not include a single woman, but none of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture in either the Drama or Musical/Comedy categories was helmed by a woman. That's a step back from last year, when Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird was not only nominated for, but won, the Musical/Comedy category. This year, the only film directed by a woman with direct recognition was Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's Capernaum, which will compete in the Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language category (where Angelina Jolie's First They Killed My Father was nominated last year).
Quite tellingly, it was the Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama category where female-directed films got any other sort of recognition at all. Nicole Kidman is nominated for Karyn Kusama's Destroyer, while Melissa McCarthy was nominated for Marielle Heller's Can You Ever Forgive Me? Otherwise, it was dust (at least Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Killing Eve and Amy Sherman-Palladino's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel got major recognition in the television categories, but that's a different ball game completely).
Of course, the Golden Globes don't exist in a vacuum. It can only nominate films that are actually made, after all, and the movie industry continues to drag its feet when it comes to giving female director more opportunities. Of course, there were some high-profile films directed by women that had some buzz, but when they actually screened for critics, the buzz died down ( Josie Rourke's Mary Queen of Scots and Mimi Leder's Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex). One could also make an argument that Kay Cannon's Blockers, one of the best-received pure mainstream comedies of the year, could have found a home in the Comedy or Musical category in a less competitive year (films like Spy and Trainwreck have been nominated before). There is also grumbling that while McCarthy's acting is the main attraction of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the film and director Heller are more than worthy of their own nominations.
But perhaps it's the major awardless fate of a quartet of films from female auteurs that wowed critics and are destined for numerous year-end lists, that truly illustrates the award show industrial complex's problem with female directors.
If you're the kind of person who follows Oscar buzz and gossip religiously, you've no doubt seen Lynne Ramsay's name being touted as a dark horse contender for Best Director all year, but always with a few caveats. Her latest film You Were Never Really Here (her first in seven years), which finds Joaquin Phoenix as a depressed hit man who only takes jobs offing pedophiles and other assorted sexual abusers, was deemed a little too dark and violent for American awards taste (funny, though, that the Globes recognized Barry, a television show with a similar premise and loads of violence). There's also the matter of the fact that an unfinished cut of the film premiered at Cannes all the way back in 2017, and the final film got a French release later that year before landing in America here in April.
Chloe Zhao's The Rider has found its way into the top 10 best-reviewed films of the year, according to Metacritic, but was written off, awards-wise, as more of a promising debut than a major contender (and its April release didn't help).
Leave No Trace, Debra Granik's first narrative film in eight years, amazed critics as well, but its low-key June release didn't place it as a major contender either.
Private Life”, Tamara Jenkins's first film in 11 years (are you sensing a theme here?), got an October release, but, alas, that was on Netflix.
There are plenty of singular, serious female directors making films, but not only do they have trouble making those films, but when they do get released, they're not done so without the typical release strategy and Oscar buzz marketing game afforded to many of their male contemporaries.
Awards show nomination may be the end signifier, but it's not just the voting bodies that need to be taking to task. It's financiers, distributors and the awards circuit punditry class that needs to do some serious thinking as well.