The Female Director Problem

When I finished Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour long Netflix mob-flick The Irishman, I felt unfulfilled. I asked my father what he’d thought of it – he’s a sucker for man-made movies with huge budgets and lots of flashy violence – and he felt similarly underwhelmed. It did not hit the way Goodfellas did, or even the more recent and admittedly excellent (but extortionate) The Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, on this note of disappointment, we knew it would get nominations left right and centre, with a coveted Best Picture Oscar nomination being a sure thing. Big budget, male-directed (and often male-led) films are so synonymous with film awards that we do not even question it anymore. 

With the Oscars coming up, there is a caveat now when we watch films made by men to assess them with scrutiny like critics or members of the academy would. This, of course, is not to suggest that men should no longer win awards for directing, screenwriting, or playing a lead role, but there is still not much space left for reconciliation with female film bodies, which orbit at the edges of these masculine machines. Female film directors oftentimes work twice as hard, yet receive only slivers of the budget, buzz or acclaim. Take 2019’s Booksmart for example, the queered, female coming-of-age comedy directed by Olivia Wilde. This film was shown in Glasgow’s Film Theatre for free, and it was a delight. With a $6 million budget, it is positively dwarfed by movies like The Irishman, or Sam Mendes’ 1917, which had budgets of $159 million and $100 million respectively. Even Greta Gerwig’s Oscar nominated Best Picture adaptation of Little Women – with its impressive cast of contemporary actors like Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Timothée Chalamet and also Hollywood legends such Meryl Streep and Laura Dern – had a budget of just $40million. 

The question of quality is not the issue here- all of the aforementioned directors and films deserve acclaim in their own right. But we must reject the dampening of female vision within one of the largest institution’s in the world tailored to suit men; Hollywood. It is not enough to sprinkle in a few extra female leads, or a couple more lady-directors and call it a day. The Oscars, the SAG awards and the Golden Globes all need an overhaul, and film studios need a serious prompt from consumers (yes, this means all of us) to provide even, level foundations for women, non-binary individuals and men to create the films they are capable of. There’s certainly enough money there to do so. 

[Ellie Brady – she/her – @ellie_brady]

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