The nail-biting Oscar race for Best Adapted Screenplay came to an end tonight at the 92nd Academy Awards with writer-director Taika Waititi winning the prize for “Jojo Rabbit” over fellow writer-director Greta Gerwig’s work on “Little Women.” The Best Adapted Screenplay race was one of the closest races of the 2020 Oscars. Gerwig was an early frontrunner for the prize after winning the Critic’s Choice Award and the USC Scripter award, but Waititi emerged as a strong frontrunner after winning prizes from the Writer’s Guild of America and the BAFTA awards. Waititi won the Oscar over Gerwig in the end, marking another snub for Gerwig after the Academy shut her out of the Best Director race.
While Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” divided critics, he did succeed in infusing Christine Leunens’ novel “Caging Skies” with his own idiosyncratic comedic voice and eye-popping visual style. Waititi made Leunens’ novel feel like it was an original creation, a great achievement for any adapted screenplay. Waititi’s win is also a historic moment for the Oscars: He’s the first indigenous writer-director to win an Oscar. Waititi has broken through an Oscars glass ceiling and that alone is worthy of praise.
Waititi’s history-making win is great news for the Oscars, but when it comes to the power of adaptations it was Gerwig that most dazzled out of this year’s nominees. Both Greta and Taika succeeded in bringing their personal voices to pre-existing texts, but Greta pushed the boundaries of adaptations further by restructuring the sacred text that is Louisa May Alcott’s iconic novel. There have been countless film and television adaptations of “Little Women” over the years (which is one reason the film might have lost the Oscar as voters didn’t see a reason for yet another adaptation to exist), but Gerwig made “Little Women” feel refreshing and original by taking Alcott’s linear narrative and reorganizing it into two timelines being told simultaneously.
Some “Little Women” detractors argued Gerwig couldn’t control this gamble and the film was confusing to follow, but many critics praised Gerwig for finding a new way of telling the story and making it all the more involving and emotionally resonant. Gerwig’s ambitious adaptation allowed even the most die-hard “Little Women” fan to be surprised and feel like they were engaging with the text for the first time. As far as adaptations and the Oscars go, Gerwig’s “Little Women” script is the kind of retelling that demands a win. “Jojo Rabbit” is lovely adaptation, but it lacks the ambitious punch Gerwig pulls off in “Little Women.”
Alas, Gerwig will have to keep waiting to win her first Oscar. Gerwig earned nominations at the 2018 Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for “Lady Bird,” making her just the fifth woman in history to compete for the Best Director Oscar. Gerwig lost both prizes. The Academy infamously snubbed Gerwig and other women filmmakers in this year’s Best Director race, leading to widespread industry backlash.
Gerwig’s “Little Women” star Saoirse Ronan earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the film, while co-star Florence Pugh landed her first Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actress race. “Little Women” also earned noms for Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Picture. Despite all of these nominations, Gerwig still found herself without a Best Director nomination. Ronan told Deadline last month that the Academy’s failure to nominate Gerwig for Best Director left her “scratching her head a bit.”
“I’m really happy that the Academy recognized [Gerwig] for Adapted Screenplay and Picture, and I feel like if you’ve been nominated for Best Picture, you have essentially been nominated for Best Director,” Ronan said. “But to me, Greta, since she started, has made two perfect films, and I hope when she makes her next perfect movie, she gets recognized for everything, because I think she’s one of the most important filmmakers of our time.”
Pugh was more blunt, calling Gerwig’s snub “a big blow, especially because she created a film that is so her and so unique and it’s just come out of her, and it’s been a story she’s wanted to do for so long. I think everybody’s angry and quite rightly so. I can’t believe it’s happened again, but I don’t really know how to solve it. I don’t know what the answer is, other than we’re talking about it. I think the most important thing is Greta made a film about women and their relationship with money, and their relationship with men in a man’s working world. And it’s just highlighting the point. It’s just completely underlining how important this film is.”
Sony Pictures opened “Little Women” in theaters on Christmas Day and it has since gone on to earn over $100 million at the box office. The film cost $40 million to produce, making “Little Women” a big hit for the studio. Sony also had success with Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in 2019. That film also earned Best Picture and screenwriting Oscar nominations.
Gerwig has yet to announce a follow-up directorial project to “Little Women.” The writer-director is currently developing a Barbie original movie with producer-star Margot Robbie. Gerwig is writing the script for the Barbie film with her partner Noah Baumbach, who was also Oscar nominated for screenwriting this year. Baumbach competed for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar with his “Marriage Story” script.
The post has been updated to reflect the historical significant of Waititi’s Oscar win.