The Cannes Film Festival begins May 15 and is considered by many to be the kickoff to awards season in Hollywood. Of the twenty one films being screened in competition this year only one is directed by a woman. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s A Castle in Italy is the sole female director to make the cut, a trend with which Hollywood seems content.
While Sundance provided us some glimmer of hope — half of the films competing in the U.S. dramatic category this year were directed by women — it doesn’t provide us with a realistic indicator of where the awards season will take us, at least in terms of narrative film. For every Beasts of the Southern Wild there are countless others whose Sundance buzz is all but dead come February. Cannes, on the other hand, has long been the place for early awards season favourites to make their international debut. Amour and Tree of Life are just the most recent Palm d’Or winners who had a good showing with Academy. Sadly, Cannes has never had a history of showcasing female directors and 2013 looks to be no different. I would like to say I’m surprised but history has taught us that female filmmakers are not provided the chance to engage mainstream audiences.
Female directed fare has only made up 4.4% of the top 100 films from 2002-2012 — an abysmal figure. The picture only gets bleaker when taking the major Hollywood awards shows into account. In its eighty five year history, the Oscars have only nominated four female directors, Kathryn Bigelow being the only one to actually take home the prize. Her 2010 win seemed to many to be a turning point, a foot in the door for more women to follow in her footsteps. Unfortunately she couldn’t even follow in her own footsteps, being famously snubbed this past year for her work on Zero Dark Thirty.
And those who think gender had little to do with her exclusion are turning a blind eye to an ongoing problem. Many a critic would agree that David O Russell’s inclusion in the Best Director category came at the expense of Bigelow (and yes I know Ben Affleck was snubbed too, but that is a topic for a different day). The word on the 2014 ceremony isn’t looking much better. Academy favorites, the Coen Brothers have a film — Inside Llewyn Davis — which is already garnering awards show type attention; previous winners Alexander Payne and Roman Polanski both have films premiering that are also buzzing in industry circles. And these are just the films screening in competition at Cannes. It doesn’t take into account expected contenders like George Clooney’s Monuments Men or Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. There seems to be little room for women to make their mark.
Excuses for this travesty include women’s lack of interest in directing, filmmaking in general, or their lack of drive to make it to the top. This is not only sexist, it’s also untrue. Look at Sundance, not only were half of the 2013 selections female directed, from 2002 to 2012 Sundance films were almost 30 per cent female made (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors). It’s not that women don’t want to make films; they are simply being relegated to the sidelines. The lack of support from the major studios looks to have little to do with the wealth of female talent and more to do with Hollywood attitudes toward women in film. There is an inherent lack of trust in the ability of women to churn out a film to any type of success whether it be box prowess or awards praise. Unfortunately, without the Hollywood marketing machine behind them, female directors can’t hope to make a dent in awards season. Thus the thought that women filmmakers don’t win Oscars becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I know that it’s a little early to be writing off 2013 as just more of the same but it’s only with scrutiny that we can begin to address the problem. Perhaps with enough uproar other major film festivals and awards predictors will take a cue from Sundance. The Toronto International Film Festival is usually where the heavy favorites begin their awards push, so let’s hope they set the example and include a more inclusive competition slate. Otherwise we may have to wait another 85 years to hear a woman’s name called for that all too coveted prize.