Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Thought: These three movies up for Oscars are really diverse. They show the kind of shift we’re looking for

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This year, three movies made by women directors got nominated for the Best Picture category at the Oscars. This is a big deal because it hasn’t happened before. It shows that things are improving, but it also highlights that there’s still a long way to go.

A study found that in 2007, only 2.7% of the most popular 1,700 movies were directed by women. In 2023, this number increased to just 12%, which is not great.

The first time a movie directed by a woman got a Best Picture nomination was in 1986. Since then, only 21 movies directed by women have been nominated. Even though the Oscars started including 10 movies in the Best Picture category in 2009, there have been only a few times (in 2009, 2010, 2020, and 2021) when two movies directed by women were nominated.

In 2016, the Academy tried to address the issue by aiming to have more women and people of color in its ranks. It claimed to have met its goal by 2020, but recent reports show that the number of women in the Academy increased by just one percent to 34%. On the other hand, the representation of people of color dropped to 18%.

Considering this background, it’s not a coincidence that the three movies directed by women focus on the challenges of telling women’s stories in a world where male power and narratives dominate. These films question traditional male ideas and genres, illustrating why we need more movies directed by women and more nominations for them.

Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall” tells the story of a German writer named Sandra, accused of killing her husband Samuel. The prosecutors claim that Samuel was upset about Sandra’s relationships with women and her success as a writer. They say Sandra pushed Samuel out of a window after an argument.

According to the prosecution, Sandra is portrayed as a dangerous woman who ruins the lives of men – a seductive, ambitious, and overly smart femme fatale. They compare her to characters in movies like Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944) and David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014), where women’s intelligence and violence are linked.

Triet doesn’t completely reject this story – we’re never sure if Sandra is guilty or not. The film suggests an alternative view that Sandra might be innocent, facing persecution because of the assumption that clever and creative women threaten men, a common theme in noir. The audience is left to decide if those old, misogynistic tales are true, implying that women creators bring only death, or if other narratives are possible.

In Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” the focus shifts from noir to romance, challenging a genre often dominated by male directors. The main character, Nora Moon, meets her true love, Hae Sung, in middle school in South Korea. However, Nora’s family moves to the US, and their romance doesn’t unfold as expected. Instead, over the next two decades, Nora becomes a playwright and marries fellow writer Arthur.

The movie is about feeling sad about the past, especially Nora being far from South Korea and her old life. It also shows how her love story with Hae Sung gets messed up. But it’s also about celebrating Nora’s strong will. She decides to follow her dreams and have a career on her own terms, not just letting her love story control everything. Arthur is a good guy who loves Nora, and even Hae Sung agrees that he loves her for who she is.

In “Past Lives,” the movie talks about regretting missed opportunities in life. But it also says that women, especially those who create things, can have more than one chance at life and love. Nora, like Song, changes the love story to make her own unique tale. It’s tough not letting love be the only thing in life, but it brings joy and maybe a different kind of love.

Triet changes the way we see dark movies, Song changes how we see love stories, and Gerwig changes the big, popular movie franchises. In “Barbie,” a doll created by a big company has to figure out how to be herself and defy the people who want to control her. This is like Gerwig, who makes her own movie and her own version of Barbie using materials from big toy and movie companies run mostly by men.

The movie goes between Barbie’s world and the real world. It shows a world where women rule, and then it sets up a world where men lead, only to overthrow it later. The story is like a funny and different version of those fast and action-packed superhero movies, but this time, it’s with fancy clothes and shoes.

The film industry has mostly been shaped by men, who had the connections and money to create big movies. Triet, Song, and Gerwig are addressing and challenging these male-dominated ideas in their work. However, this doesn’t mean female directors are less interesting than male ones. In fact, films like “Past Lives,” “Anatomy of a Fall,” and “Barbie” offer a fresh take compared to the usual male-driven Oscar contenders.

Throughout history, the film industry has limited opportunities for women creators, which is unfair and harms artistic expression. Triet, Song, and Gerwig show that female directors can bring new perspectives to old genres and stories. Only having 3 out of 10 best picture nominations for women-directed films is not enough. Movies like Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up” or Nida Manzoor’s “Polite Society” should be recognized.

Hopefully, in the next decade, we’ll see more nominations for movies directed by women, aiming for half or even all of them. It’s time for the Academy to acknowledge the talent and creativity of women directors. They deserve better, and so does the film industry.

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