Coming out of last week’s announcement of the Oscar nominations, there was probably no bigger shock than Kathryn Bigelow not receiving a nod for Best Director. Riding a wave of accolades for her film Zero Dark Thirty and her directing, she seemed poised to have her second chance at a golden statue. Instead she found herself excluded and we’re left wondering for the millionth time what exactly the Academy has against female directors.
Since the inception of the Academy Awards over 400 Best Director nominations have been given out. Only four have gone to women. Only one woman has won. It took 80 years for that to happen. It’s a pretty shameful track record. All the more so considering the Academy has had numerous opportunities over the years to acknowledge the excellent work of highly talented female directors and hasn’t. That gave us a thought: what would past Oscar years look like if they had?
So, let’s imagine we have the power to travel back in time and change Academy Awards history by influencing its members away from their predictably biased tastes and toward a more progressive inclusion of women filmmakers. What follows is a revisionist history of several Oscar years where we list those we would un-nominate in favor of female directors (and their films) we felt were more worthy of a Best Director nomination.
The 2000 Academy Awards
WHO WAS NOMINATED:
Sam Mendes, American Beauty (winner)
Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich
Lasse Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules
Michael Mann, The Insider
M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense
REPLACE: M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense
WITH: Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry
WHY: Given the downward trajectory of Shyamalan’s career since his breakout in 1999 with The Sixth Sense it’s hard to believe once upon a time he was nominated for Best Director. But as his ghost story reminds us, he was a good one once. Still, his nomination was typical Academy: an uninspired and safe choice of a movie that was very successful. Shyamalan may have directed a movie that was immensely popular and entertaining, but with Boys Don’t Cry Kimberly Peirce directed one that was important. The film could have easily been a saccharine Lifetime movie. Instead in Peirce’s hands it became a thoughtful, powerful film that avoids sensationalizing. It’s a poignant account of those who struggle to be their true selves in everyday worlds where that self is hatefully, ignorantly misunderstood and rejected. It’s a call for acceptance and tolerance made all the more resonant with Peirce’s nuanced directing. M. Night Shyamalan’s work on The Sixth Sense is undoubtedly good, but it doesn’t compare to the importance of Peirce’s.