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A-List: Female Film Directors

By Josh Spiegel

October 22, 2009

Future Academy Award winner Sean Penn, everyone!

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If the people of the world are equal, shouldn't it extend to most jobs they hold? I suppose even in the 21st century, it's a bit naïve to hope such things would happen. Take, for example, movies. Movies can have diverse topics, diverse actors, diverse plots, but by and large, the name of the director who can claim to be an auteur will be a male one. Most of the movies you see, with few exceptions, are directed by men, even if it's not about a male-centric topic. Granted, more and more movies are getting helmed by women (a recent example is the romantic comedy The Proposal, directed by Anne Fletcher), but the statistics are what they are, and they don't reflect well on modern Hollywood.

Here's a question: how many women have won an Academy Award for Best Director? If the number you're thinking reminds you of, say, a goose-egg, you're right; the answer is 0. In fact, only three women have ever been nominated for the Oscar: Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, and Sofia Coppola. Hopefully (I wish it was a lock, but nothing awards-related is), there will be a fourth nominee this year, despite the fact that her film isn't exactly considered a female-friendly story. Of course, it shouldn't be as shocking a number as it is, when we take into account the absolute shock Hollywood executives seemed to have when movies like Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! did well last year; who'da thunk that women go to movies? What a surprise!




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The number of female directors isn't exactly dwindling, to be sure, but there aren't nearly as many as there should be. Luckily enough, there are some great female directors whose filmographies are as unique as varied as they are. A prime example is Mira Nair, the Indian-born director of such films as Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair, whose newest film opens this week: it's Amelia, the biography of the famed aviator Amelia Earhart, played in the film by Hilary Swank. This may be Nair's best chance at mainstream success, despite having worked with actors such as Reese Witherspoon and Denzel Washington in the past. Nair aside, this A-List focuses on five women whose directing careers are noteworthy and, hopefully, not finished.

Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow is a director whose work hasn't been as frequent as it could be, but that's hopefully changing after her indie success of 2009, The Hurt Locker, the first movie about the Iraq war that doesn't seem to shoving any kind of treacly message down the collective throats of the audience. This tense action film might get Bigelow a spot on the Best Director nomination list, if only because Hollywood has been trying so hard for what seems like a long time to make a war movie that actually works. True, the movie never hit any mainstream success, but that's what happens when the studio opens your movie wide against Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a behemoth in every sense of the word (with the exception of anything having to do with quality). Still, Bigelow's slick directing style along with the fact that the majority of her films, including Strange Days, K-19: The Widowmaker, and the cult classic Point Break, are geared towards men, not women.


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