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Manohla Dargis Thrusts Ava DuVernay into the Best Director Race

Manohla Dargis Thrusts Ava DuVernay into the Best Director Race

In this Sunday’s NY Times Arts & Leisure section, one of the Grey Lady’s chief film critics, Manohla Dargis, forcefully made the case for Selma director Ava DuVernay to get recognized in the Oscars’ best-director race.

This is a big deal because no woman of color has ever been nominated for best director, and only four women in the history of the awards have ever been nominated in that category. Let’s remember that only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has won, for The Hurt Locker in 2009.

Dargis writes:

“Four years ago, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award as best director; Ms. DuVernay has a shot to become the second.”

But she goes further, chiding the industry once again for its institutional sexism in the directing arena, as well as what ends up on screen. But she goes further, chiding the industry once again for its institutional sexism in the directing arena, as well as what ends up on screen. (Case in point: see the critics across the country anointing Boyhood and not taking any films with women as leads seriously.)

Dargis continues:

“Like many, I had hoped Ms. Bigelow’s Oscar for ‘The Hurt Locker’ would be transformative, and that soon female directors would be accepted as equal to men, and, crucially, hired as equals. But that hasn’t happened. In 2009, when ‘The Hurt Locker’ was released, women made up 7 percent of the directors on the top 250 domestic grossing films, according to an annual report by the researcher Martha M. Lauzen. As of early December, by my count, only 19 women — 7.6 percent — were directors on the top 250 grossing features released this year. ‘Selma’ may increase that percentage, as might another big-studio release, Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken,’ about the Olympic runner and war prisoner Louis Zamperini.
It will take more than these two filmmakers to disrupt the industry’s sexism, which has long shut women out from directing movies and, increasingly, shuts them out on screen, too. Notably, Ms. DuVernay and Ms. Jolie, having made movies about women, have now made the leap to bigger stakes with stories centered on men. I hope their movies burn up the box office, but I also hope they return to movies about women. We need those stories, and these days, female directors are often the only ones interested in them. Gender equality is an undeniable imperative. But it’s also essential to the future of the movies: This American art became great with stories about men and women, not just a superhero and some token chick.”

My hope is that studio folks will see the success of Ms. DuVernay and that it will open up their minds to the potential of women directors. Just a couple of years ago, DuVernay won the Best Director award at Sundance, but no one in the business took her seriously or gave her opportunities. She was seen as a woman who made small stories about women of color. But now, hopefully, everything is different, at least for her. DuVernay can figure out what she wants to do next. I hope, as Ms. Dargis does, that Ms. DuVernay will use the clout that she has earned to continue to tell the stories of women, specifically women of color, because they are important and so obviously missing in our film world.

I also hope that women directors feel very hopeful after reading this piece. They are many women out there who have made a movie for $200,000 who would give anything for a $20 million budget. It’s not that all women want to make superhero or action flicks with $100 million budgets (though there are many who do). It’s just that women want the opportunities routinely afforded to men. They want to tell stories, they want to be trusted, and most of all, they want equal opportunities.

We thank Ms. Dargis for being such an eloquent and persistent voice on this issue, and we look forward to the second and third installments of the Times’ three-part series on women directors and their struggle for equality.

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