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They can do it! Women at the Academy Awards

by Victor Rodriguez / Columnist • November 29, 2012

As the Academy Awards close in, a new generation of filmmakers await the results. This year marks a special moment in the history of cinema and Hollywood, as the industry welcomes a record 71 pictures submitted in the category for Best Foreign Language Film. And 11 of the 71 movies submitted were directed by women in countries as varied as Armenia, Australia, and Japan. This could be a step towards increased diversity of producers in a medium that’s long been associated with men. 

Since there are 71 films in consideration, what is it that distinguishes each production from the standard Hollywood fare that we are used to?

First, we must look at the most recent case of a successful female director at the Academy Awards. In 2008, Kathryn Bigelow directed The Hurt Locker, which took home awards for both Best Picture and Best Director. What distinguishes The Hurt Locker is the portrayal of its characters, the men. Jeremy Renner’s character, Sgt. James, is by no means the American icon of an exemplary man who fights for his country. Bigelow is able to balance the character by showing him as a hero at his work but a disaster in his personal life, commenting on the relationship between masculinity and the craving for violence. James turns out to be a man who prefers risking his own life to save those of others over spending time with his own son. 

Broken families was one of the more popular topics to explore from the feminine perspective this year, as three of the 11 films featured the subject matter. Aida Begic, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, shows the political climate of a war-ridden country through the portrayal of a family in the film Children of Sarajevo. Cate Shortland, from Australia, focused her film around a girl left in charge of her entire family after the arrest of her Nazi parents. 

Other female directors talk about the conventions of marriage, war in Palestine, sex workers, and social inequality. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Several comedies have also made their way to the Academy. Rusudan Chkonia, from Georgia, made a movie about 10 women in unfortunate economic circumstances who compete in a beauty contest for a prize. Michelle Chong, from Singapore, submitted a film about a Malaysian woman who goes to Singapore to become an actress.

Bigelow was the first female director to win the Academy Award for Best Director. It took 82 years for that to happen. But this current generation of women, particularly foreign filmmakers, are making sure Hollywood stands up and notices them: it won’t be another 82 years before a woman wins Best Picture again.

The emergence of women as directors in this season of the Academy Awards marks a rise in subject matter that is often overlooked. This is good for the industry not only because it leads to greater variety in cinematic topics, but because it opens movies up to a larger audience. By bringing gender equality closer and closer to a reality in this medium, filmmaking is sure to progress as an art form.