In her Forbes column this week, Melissa Silverstein raises the topic of the 2015 Oscar race, mentioning the fact that there are two highly legitimate female directors who could be in contention – Angelina Jolie with “Unbroken”, and Ava DuVernay with “Selma”. As Silverstein notes, both films have the kind of weighty subject matter the Academy loves (a World War II hero and Martin Luther King, respectively) and sight unseen, their award prospects seem good.
By coincidence, the films are also both set to be released on Christmas Day. To me, this seems particularly significant – not because of the date itself, but the fact both films are being released on the same day. While some might think this puts them in competition, the release slate is crowded enough at this time of year for that not to be a problem. On the contrary, it means that hopefully neither woman will end up being the lonely flag bearer for all female filmmakers.
This can be a problem. Because there are fewer women directors, they are put more harshly in the spotlight each time they do release a film. Haifa al-Mansour may have simply telling a personal story in “Wadjda”, but she was seen to be speaking for women across the Arab world. The fact that she and her film filled such a role admirably is beside the point. Women directors need the space to be storytellers, not representatives of a movement, at least not unless they choose.
Which is not to say they can’t be both. Ava DuVernay is proudly vocal about representing female directors of color, while Jolie is famed for her support of women’s rights more generally. It will be no surprise if they decide to speak up about their gender when they come to release their films, in a way that not all women choose to (most famously Kathryn Bigelow).
But what is important is that this will be their choice. And that hopefully, by being on the scene at exactly the same time, neither director will feel like they are speaking for all women directors at every turn. Instead, they can be seen as filmmakers first, each with a story they are burning to tell. And if Oscar nominations and groundbreaking moments follow, it will be a lovely bonus.