After Golden Globes' Snub of Female Filmmakers, Will Oscars Follow Suit?

Golden Globes- Female Snubs_Comp - Getty - H 2019
Getty Images

As the HFPA excludes women in directing and screenplay categories (and best picture is dominated by macho stories), experts question what needs to change in Hollywood to truly impact the awards landscape.

Two years ago, Golden Globes presenter Natalie Portman took a jab on live TV at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — and by extension the whole of Hollywood — when she announced, "Here are the all-male nominees" for director.

The actress-filmmaker might not want to be onstage Jan. 5 when the next Golden Globes best director winner takes the podium. In a year with a significant number of women drawing acclaim for their movies, not one received a nom from the HFPA.

Among those excluded were Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers) and Alma Har'el (Honey Boy), who, after the nominees were unveiled Dec. 9, tweeted: "They vote by comfort and star fucking. They don't care about women or new voices. Period."

Stacy Smith, the director of USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, blames institutional bias for eliminating these and other contenders such as Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim) and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), even though the latter, like Wang, saw her picture nominated for foreign-language film.

"Research indicates that when you have a male-driven view of leadership, females are not considered," says Smith, despite the fact that among the 87 HFPA members, 48 are women. "We've seen cultural institutions [like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Grammys' Recording Academy] lift the hood and recognize their own bias. But my sneaking suspicion is that the HFPA has not done so, and they still have a tilted view of the directing process."

The question now is: Will the movie Academy be the same?

Five women have been nominated for the directing Oscar, two of them in the past decade: Kathryn Bigelow for 2009's The Hurt Locker and Gerwig for 2017's Lady Bird. That's one fewer than the HFPA since 2009. While the Globes excluded Gerwig, it recognized Bigelow twice (for Locker and 2012's Zero Dark Thirty), and Ava DuVernay for 2014's Selma.

Only two women have won either award: Barbra Streisand took home the Globe for 1983's Yentl (she wasn't nominated for an Oscar) and Bigelow received the Oscar for Locker, while losing the Globe to James Cameron for Avatar.

The overwhelming absence of women from both awards is unlikely to change when the Oscar noms are unveiled Jan. 13.

Here's why:

First, while the Academy has taken strides to improve gender parity, only the 526 active members of the directors branch pick directing nominees, and that group skews heavily male: Only 20 percent are women, per the Academy.

Second, over the past decade, the Oscars and the Globes have been in sync 66 percent of the time when it comes to their directing nominees — though that gap has grown of late and only three nominees were recognized by both organizations in 2018 and only two in 2017. A case in point: Gerwig notably was absent from the Globes directing list for Lady Bird, but she subsequently landed an Oscar nom that year.

Third, other litmus-test groups like the critics so far have favored male-directed films, leaving a pool of frontrunners (including Globe nominees Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Martin Scorsese for The Irishman, Sam Mendes for 1917, Todd Phillips for Joker and Bong Joon Ho for Parasite) that not only are all men, but also have largely made male-centric films.

Will this change soon? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Leading educational bodies such as the American Film Institute and the USC School of Cinematic Arts now graduate as many female as male directors, and sometimes more. And the DGA in November said that 31 percent of the 2018-19 TV season's episodes were directed by women.

Better still, says Smith, there's been a sudden and sizable increase in women directing major feature films. "This will probably be the year that we see the most significant uptick across the top 100 films at the box office," she notes. "Typically, it's about 4 percent; this year, 12 to 14 percent will have a female director." And more are coming — 2020 will see Cathy Yan's DC film Birds of Prey and Chloé Zhao's Marvel movie The Eternals.

None of this is happening in time to give Portman and others a reason to let the Academy and the HFPA off the hook, but it does indicate that change is coming — if at a slower pace than any of these awards acknowledge.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.