Movie Making Madams Part Six: Women and the Academy Awards

28 Dec

For the most part, women’s domination over the early years of cinema was swiftly withdrawn and today their male counterparts dwarf the number of female directors, though slowly it is increasing. Even nowadays it is easier to find women making films in the independent or avant-garde film industries.

In recent years a number of female directors have risen to prominence in the mainstream Hollywood industry by coming onto the radar of the powerhouse that is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with runs a small annual shindig known as the Oscars. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation won her critical acclaim worldwide. It tells the story of two transient people (Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson) in Tokyo who form an unlikely connection.  It was only Coppola’s second feature film and explored themes of isolation and loneliness and ended up being nominated for four academy awards: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Coppola won for Best Original Screenplay. Most notably though Coppola was only the third woman to be nominated for Best Director (In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became only the fourth woman to be nominated).

In 1976, Italian auteur Lina Wurtmuller became the first woman nominated for the award with Seven Beauties. The controversial film tackled the subject of survival of all costs set against the backdrop of World War Two.

Wurtmuller didn’t win but the film won Best Foreign Picture and was notable for it’s graphic portrayal of Nazi Concentration camps.  There wasn’t another nomination for a female director until Jane Campion was nominated for her 1993 film The Piano.

Another film made outside the United States, The Piano is the story of a mute woman who travels with her daughter and beloved piano to New Zealand for an arranged marriage. To say the film was a success was an understatement. With a budget of $7million and made $40 at the box office and was nominated for awards worldwide. Campion lost Best Director and Spielberg’s Schindler’s List beat the film to Best Picture. Campion did win for Best Screenplay and an AFI award for Best Director. At the Cannes film festival the film won the Palme d’Or, one of the most prestigious awards in the film industry.

Coppola was nominated in 2003 and it was another seven years before Jane Campion was nominated for her intense war drama, The Hurt Locker. It follows a team of bomb disposal experts in Iraq and highlighted the traumatic nature of war.

This series has only covered a fraction of the worldwide movie industry, focussing predominantly on Hollywood. Though there are still far less women making films than men, if you look at foreign and independent cinema there are slightly more women filmmakers than at first look.  The films in today’s article are all a departure from the norm with themes and approaches that mark them out, precisely why they were recognised by the academy.  There are too many filmmakers to be adequately covered over six articles and I sincerely hope there are even more in the future.

About the writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

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