Greta Gerwig showed tremendous class and restraint, thanking the Oscars for her screenplay nomination and other Academy love, but her co-workers are speaking out about their leader not being nominated for best director in what many, including me, think is far and away the best movie of the year.
One of the engines driving “Little Women,“ aside from intertwining tales of how families can branch and grow while remaining tightly rooted, is about how women have been financially anchored to men, how they were forced to view marriage as an economic transaction.
Meryl Streep, as Aunt March, advises her nieces to marry well, warning that a woman alone can’t survive. But you’re not wed, one notes. She says (paraphrasing) “Pfft. I’m rich.“
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Gerwig notes how the legend and she talked, writing a speech that wound up thoroughly explicating Amy’s pursuit of a proper match.
“Meryl said, the thing you have to make the audience understand is it’s not just that women couldn’t vote, which they couldn’t. And it’s not just that they couldn’t have jobs, which they couldn’t. ... You could not own anything if you were married, every single thing you owned was your husband’s, including your children. So you could leave a bad marriage, but you would leave with nothing, not even your children. ... And so I just essentially took that almost verbatim and gave it to Florence (Pugh, who’s nominated for best supporting actress, playing Amy).”
Directing her own screenplay, channeling Louisa May Alcott, Gerwig underlines how society so often devalues, underestimates and discourages independent women.
Ironic. Of the five women -- yes, five, in more than 90 years -- who’ve been nominated for best director, Gerwig was no. 5, for her also-wonderful 2017 “Lady Bird.”
A McSweeney’s post, which like about 1/20th of its content is funny, noted there are more flicks about a sentient VW Bug named Herbie than women nominated for best director Oscars.
But for 2020, the frat-bro comedy guy landed in the, well, I guess you can’t really call it a pantheon, while Gerwig’s multi-Oscar-nominated movie magically directed itself.
In past years, more naive me believed that, after risible messes such as the Golden Globes and so-called People’s Choice -- the actual people’s picks generate box office bank; awards are intended for merit, not popularity, which earns its own reward -- the Oscars clean things up with more sensible picks.
Older, semi-wiser me knows that’s bunk.
It’s not a popularity question. Women-led films, topped by blockbusters such as “Captain Marvel,” “Frozen II,” “Hustlers” and “Little Women,” which all passed $100 million at the box office, earned $1.7 billion in 2019. And that’s with just 15 percent of major releases directed by women, 19 of 125. A tiny figure, yes, though not as small as the four women directors in 2018, or the nine in 2017.
Look at this range: From "Little Women" to "Queen and Slim" to "Captain Marvel" to "The Souvenir" to "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" to "The Farewell" to "Hustlers" to "For Sama."
In this year of stellar and successful work by women, two directing slots went to worthy nominees: Sam Mendes for his harrowing and stark “1917,” and Bong Joon Ho for his acclaimed “Parasite,” which will show in Tuscaloosa Tuesday, at the Bama Art House series.
A third went to a master, Martin Scorcese, though it’s for yet another Mafia tale with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, so couldn’t the Academy just name Marty Lord Director Emeritus and give the gangster-stroking a rest already?
Then two of the five nominations went to the grotesque Quentin Tarantino, and the "Joker“ bro, who thought it a hilarious idea to hand a pedophile a baby to carry throughout the first "Hangover“ movie, likely the most awful hit comedy of all time, including everything by Adam Sandler and cronies.
On Twitter, the Volatile Mermaid noted: “A movie about a white guy who starts murdering people because he got rejected by women and picked on was nominated for the most Oscars and I’m like, isn’t that just the plot of the news?”
Given that women-led movies made bucks, and won critical love, there's clearly bias at play. In case anyone’s just catching up to auteur theory, the director of a movie is responsible for everything, excluding possibly raising money, so when an actor or sound or appearance is nominated, that’s directly due to a director’s choice.
Part of the issue is that all Academy voters weigh in on best picture, while in other categories, members of a discipline vote: writers for writers, actors for actors, directors for directors. And women only make up a small fraction of directors, but, bear with me now, couldn’t a male director vote for someone who, hold on to your homburgs here, is not male, if said non-male did exceptional work?
Marielle Heller made honest note-perfect magic out of what could have been a treacly Mr. Rogers flick in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” In co-directing and co-writing “Captain Marvel,” Anne Boden crafted not just a satisfying hero-origin flick, but one with wit, heart, and solid, substantial roles for -- shocker! -- more than one actress.
Gerwig did something I wouldn’t have thought possible: Made me truly love “Little Women.” That’s not a knock on the dozens of previous incarnations; it’s just that the material’s rightfully been aimed at younger women, a market that does not include me. But Gerwig’s spark and ingenuity found the universality, the threads that connect the March sisters to all life, not just each other. She made this 19th century tale, filmed and staged and beloved for generations, seem as if it were just today bursting to life.
For other women in 2019 film excellence, see Claire Denis' "High Life," CÚline Sciamma's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," Lulu Wang's "The Farewell," Kasi Lemmons' "Harriet," and Lorene Scafaria's "Hustlers.“
Folks who describe themselves as burned-out former film fans often decry lack of novelty. Take a look above, and give the movies, especially by innovative women filmmakers, a chance.
Reach Mark Hughes Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 722-0201.