In this guest column, Honey Boy filmmaker Alma Har’el, whose December tweet about Golden Globes nominations went viral, addresses the lack of women in Best Director races — and suggests an unorthodox solution.
Everyone has a part of themselves that remains unknown by others. A part of us that can only be communicated by art or — in my case — filmmaking. It’s the reason some of us feel forever misunderstood until we find our voice. We don’t make films for awards. We make them to communicate, entertain each other, and expand consciousness.
Yet, this year I found myself needing to understand why awards end up taking such a big part of our lives.
For an indie filmmaker who works on a film for one to three years — and especially for women — playing the awards game often means a gamble on your whole livelihood. These are five to six months of unpaid labor. That said, winning an award can trigger a bonus that is usually a part of the filmmaker’s initial contract and is often bigger than everything they earned making that film.
How much money your film can “raise” for an awards campaign, and how many hands you are willing to shake while wearing clothes you can’t afford, are often connected to the results at awards shows. We all feel morally compromised, but we have to campaign. What other choices do we have? If we don’t have awards, people may not discover lesser-known independent films.
We are told again and again that it’s essential to our success in the long term that we play along… But it didn’t used to be like this.
It all started with Harvey Weinstein, who took 1998’s Shakespeare in Love to voters with the same importance of a political campaign. “We’re living Harvey’s legacy,” one woman whispered in my ear at a lavish awards party.
Buying voters with private dinners, private jets, and private concerts is now a legitimate part of the awards campaign’s currency.
At an awards meeting recently, a fellow female filmmaker friend was told that, out of your typical five directing award nominations, there may be only one spot for a woman or person of color. And that nomination will most likely go to the film that performed best at the box office “because then they can’t dismiss it.”
Who are THEY? And how can we stop waiting for THEM to see us? To include us?
Many women filmmakers prefer not to be referred to by their gender. Gender non-binary filmmakers aren’t even part of the conversation (besides the occasional Ricky Gervais joke).
Certain honors like the Spirits, the Hollywood Critics Awards, and the DGAs — which added the Outstanding Achievement in First-Time Feature Film category in 2015 — are trying to effect change by creating new categories that bring more inclusivity by default.
I wasn’t the only woman on the Director’s Guild of America’s First-Feature list, and was joined by two women I’ve long admired, Mati Diop (Atlantics) and Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim). Both women of color and important voices. However, nominees for the main Best Director category were all male. Same as the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and now the Oscars.
Why is suggesting separating the directing category to male and female frowned-upon, while Best Actor and Best Actress is agreeable? Are we so naive to assume we would celebrate actresses as much as we do today if acting categories weren’t separate?
The status quo will always protect itself by getting women and underrepresented filmmakers to play a game they can’t win. By making us believe that anything other than breaking into the white boys’ club is failure. It is up to us to feel differently and build a new world that celebrates us.