Two years ago, at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, Natalie Portman incisively chastised the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for its exclusion of women in the Best Director category with her snarky presentation of the award. “And here are the all-male nominees,” she said by way of introduction, eliciting a surprised chuckle from co-presenter Ron Howard.
The GIF of that fateful moment is unfortunately making the rounds again today in the wake of the announcement of the eyebrow-raising 2020 Golden Globes nominations, announced on Monday morning. As always, there were plenty of snubs and surprises. But the absence of women in both the Best Director and Best Screenplay categories in particular has prompted an uproarious response.
Female directors and writers were responsible for some of the most refreshing, well-received awards contenders this year, including Lorene Scafaria’s energetic, J. Lo-led crime film Hustlers, Lulu Wang’s comedy-drama The Farewell, and Marielle Heller’s feel-good charmer A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Less likely to make waves among the old-school awards establishment, but still absolutely noteworthy are Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Mati Diop’s Atlantics. All of this is to say it has been an undeniably stellar year for female filmmakers.
Perhaps the most unexpected omission from the Director category is Greta Gerwig, whose highly anticipated adaptation of Little Women is expected to debut to warm reviews on Christmas day. Though this will be the 15th (!!!) onscreen adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel, Gerwig wholly justifies her version of this story about sisterhood. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet and scene-stealing up-and-comer Florence Pugh, it’s as though the movie were dream-cast by Film Twitter. Gerwig, meanwhile, who proved her worth as a filmmaker back in 2017 with Lady Bird, stays true to the timeless source material while adding a necessarily self-aware twist to the novel’s original ending.
Yet, in spite of early buzz, Little Women only earned nominations in two categories—Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama for Saoirse Ronan and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat. The snub mirrors the 2018 Globes when Gerwig was overlooked for her work on Lady Bird, though the critically-adored film itself took home the trophy for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. (She did score a Best Director nod at the Academy Awards that year, so there is still hope for Little Women love at the Oscars.)
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times expressing gratitude for her nomination, Saoirse Ronan voiced her support for Gerwig, her close friend and collaborator. “I am eternally grateful to Greta Gerwig for her guidance and partnership,” Ronan said, “and for her fierce perseverance that brought this incredible cast together and created an environment for us to become a real family and tell this very special story.” Then, possibly leveling a subtle dig at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for neglecting to recognize the skilled direction behind her powerhouse performance as feminist hero Jo March, she added, “My performance in this film belongs to Greta as much as it does myself and I share this recognition completely with her.”
Other prominent players in Hollywood have joined the conversation. Beanie Feldstein lamented to Variety that there was not “more room” for Gerwig to be acknowledged. Feldstein worked with Gerwig in Lady Bird and was nominated for the Best Actress, Musical or Comedy Golden Globe for her hilarious turn in Booksmart over the summer. Parasite filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho told Variety, “So many female filmmakers produced such great work this year,” and specifically singled out Lulu Wang.
The most outspoken voice throughout the controversy, though, has been Alma Har’el, the ambitious Israeli-American director of Honey Boy, another critical favorite. The devastating drama is based on notorious Hollywood actor Shia LaBeouf’s abusive relationship with his father and his later struggles with PTSD resulting from the pressures of childhood stardom. In her review for The Daily Beast, Natalia Winkelman described the film as “expertly directed by Alma Har’el.”
“We need a boycott and we need to get all of these awards shows to have a category for women directors like they do for women actresses. These people only value men.”
— ‘Honey Boy’ director Alma Har’el
Har’el was quick to issue a series of unifying messages on Twitter on Monday, highlighting the accomplishments of her female colleagues and encouraging people not to look to the historically biased awards system for validation. Retweeting the aforementioned Natalie Portman GIF, she wrote, “I was on the inside for the first time this year. These are not our people and they do not represent us.” She concluded the tweet with a rallying cry: “We are building a new world.” In another tweet, she listed Gerwig, Scafaria, Heller, and Wang, among others, as artists who “made films this year that reached people and touched them.”
“Keep fighting for more women & POC behind the camera by supporting their films,” Har’el continued, before insinuating that the awards system is corrupt. “Don’t make your end game the political money that trades hands in the form of movie campaigns for people who can’t see us and recognize us.”
The President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Lorenzo Soria, responded to the backlash by defending the all-male slate. “What happened is that we don’t vote by gender,” Soria told Variety. “We vote by film and accomplishment.” In a since-deleted tweet, Har’el called Soria on his bullshit. “Oh please,” she wrote. “If you only saw how these people get pampered with gifts, private concerts, and events over four months. They vote by comfort and star fucking. They don’t care about women or new voices. Period.”
Only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director in the 77-year history of the Golden Globes, as highlighted by the New York bureau chief at Variety, Ramin Setoodeh. Comprising the discouragingly brief list are Barbra Streisand (Yentl, The Prince of Tides), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), and Ava DuVernay (Selma). Of those five, only Streisand has won the award.
It is bafflingly naive, if unsurprising, that people are still making the argument that such a homogenous list of nominees could possibly be an accident, the result of an unbiased evaluation of the year’s best films. To debunk that argument, one needs only to compare the widely tepid reviews of Todd Phillips’ Joker to the glowing ones of The Farewell and Honey Boy. Or Booksmart and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
However, putting aside the dicey business of trying to define which movies are objectively better than others, the bias that plagues the awards system ultimately starts at the production level with the dearth of opportunities for women behind the camera. Above all, the glaring, gendered inequality of this year’s Golden Globes nominations, and Soria’s ignorant explanation, reinforce the message that Hollywood simply does not care about women’s stories.
So, what is the solution? Har’el seems to have a few ideas. “We need a boycott and we need to get all of these awards shows to have a category for women directors like they do for women actresses,” she tweeted on Monday evening. “These people only value men.”