Why Natalie Portman Was Right to Call Out the Golden Globes’ Lack of Female Director Nominees

Natalie Portman presents an award at the Golden Globes

Natalie Portman sent a message at the Golden Globes. | Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

At this year’s Golden Globes, Natalie Portman called out the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for not nominating any women for Best Director.

Portman received some criticism for this. But she was completely right that women being snubbed in the Best Director category at awards shows is an issue, one that was especially egregious this year. Here’s why Portman was totally correct to throw shade at the Golden Globes.

Portman pointed out that all five of the Best Director nominees were men

First, in case you missed it, here’s what happened: Natalie Portman and Ron Howard were the presenters for the category of Best Director at the Golden Globes. Presumably, Portman was just supposed to say, “Here are the nominees” before reading the names. But instead, she said, “Here are the all-male nominees.”

Just by throwing in two words, Portman was pointing out how ridiculous it is that at this ceremony that had such a focus on inclusivity and on the struggles of women in 2017, all the Best Director nominees were men.

The nominees for Best Director this year were Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Martin McDonagh, and Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro ended up winning the award for directing The Shape of Water.

Greta Gerwig didn’t earn a nomination for Lady Bird

Actor/director Greta Gerwig attends the Official Viewing and After Party of The Golden Globe Awards bosted by The Hollywoo

Greta Gerwig | Greg Doherty/Getty Images

So was Portman right to be upset about the directors being five men this year? She was — if only because Greta Gerwig was not nominated in that category. Gerwig directed Lady Bird, one of the best-reviewed films of 2017. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story that she also wrote and that has her personality all over it.

The movie is among the most impressive accomplishments of the year, and for some time, it had a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Months ago, some critics considered Gerwig to be the frontrunner to win Best Director. So the fact that she didn’t even earn a nomination shocked many.

Of the five nominees, the person who could probably be bumped off in favor of Gerwig is Ridley Scott. Scott directed All the Money in the World, and his nomination largely felt like recognition of the fact that it was difficult for him to rush and replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer at the last minute, rather than recognition of his achievement in directing being among the greatest of 2017.

Awards shows also have a tendency to nominate a person because they are an icon who deserves recognition in general, whether or not their work that year was actually among the best.

Lady Bird won Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, despite its director being snubbed

Saoirse Ronan sits on a plaid couch

Lady Bird | A24

It would be one thing if the Hollywood Foreign Press Association just wasn’t particularly receptive to Lady Bird. If so, it would make some amount of sense for Gerwig to not be nominated. But that’s not the case. In fact, Lady Bird actually won the award for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy.

Admittedly, it’s not always the case that the movie that wins Best Picture — Musical or Comedy has its director nominated. Most recently, in 2013, Les Misérables won Best Picture — Musical or Comedy, but Tom Hooper was not nominated for Best Director.

But usually, when that happens, the movie in question isn’t really considered to be one of the main frontrunners for Best Picture. Lady Bird is, which makes the snubbing of its director even more stunning.

Plenty of female directors made great films this year

Patty Jenkins in June 2017

Patty Jenkins | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Gerwig wasn’t even the only female director who could have been nominated at the Golden Globes this year. Another possibility was Patty Jenkins. Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, and although superhero films rarely receive recognition at awards shows, Jenkins’ film was so groundbreaking and widely praised that it was not out of the question for her to be nominated.

There was also Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the 2017 film Detroit. Bigelow probably should have already won the award in 2009 for The Hurt Locker, instead of James Cameron for Avatar, so it would have been nice to at least see Bigelow nominated at this year’s Golden Globes. For whatever reason, though, her movie was never really a part of the awards race. In addition, Dee Rees could have been nominated for her work on Mudbound, a movie that received two nominations.

It’s an unfortunate fact that there are far fewer films directed by women than there are films directed by men. In 2016, only 7% of the top 250 grossing movies of the year were directed by women. But between Lady BirdWonder WomanDetroit, and Mudbound alone, 2017 was an usually good year for female directors. This still wasn’t enough to prevent all of the Best Director nominees from being men.

A woman has been up for Best Director seven times

Ava Duvernay holds up her hands

Ava Duvernay | Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The Golden Globes began in 1944, but in its history, a woman has only earned a nomination in the Best Director category seven times. For two of those times, the same person got nominated again, meaning there are only five women who have ever been nominated in this category compared to literally hundreds of men.

In 1983, Barbra Streisand garnered a nomination for directing Yentl. She returned to the category again in 1991 for The Prince of Tides. In 1993, Jane Campion earned a nomination for The Piano. Sofia Coppola was nominated for Lost in Translation in 2003.  In 2009, Bigelow got nominated for The Hurt Locker. Bigelow nabbed a second nomination for Zero Dark Thirty in 2012. And in 2014, Ava Duvernay was nominated for Selma. That’s it; those are all the female directors who have ever been nominated.

This isn’t to say that movies directed by women are not generally awards contenders. They often are, yet the women responsible don’t get recognition. Case in point: In 2003, Monster was one of the best movies of the year, and Charlize Theron won Best Actress, yet Jenkins didn’t get a nomination for Best Director. In 2010, The Kids Are All Right earned nominations for several awards and even won Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, but director Lisa Cholodenko didn’t.

Going back further, in 1989, Big was nominated for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy and Tom Hanks won for it, but its director, Penny Marshall, received no such recognition.

Only one woman has ever won the award, and that was 34 years ago

Barbra Streisand | Paul Bergen/AFP/Getty Images

In the rare case that a woman does get nominated in the Best Director category, she almost never wins. At the Golden Globes, this has only happened a single time. In 1983, Barbra Streisand won for directing Yentl, becoming the first woman to ever do so. 34 years later, she is still the only woman to ever win the award.

Streisand presented at this year’s Golden Globes, and she commented on this fact, saying it’s remarkable that no other woman has won the award since she did. “We need more women directors and more women to be nominated for best director,” she said. “There are so many films out there that are so good directed by women.”

Later, on Twitter, Streisand said that she would have liked to see Jenkins be nominated for Wonder Woman, especially since it showed how well female-directed films can perform at the box office.

Even fewer female directors have earned nominated for Oscars

Director Kathryn Bigelow speaks onstage

Kathryn Bigelow | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for ABA

If you thought the Golden Globes were terrible at recognizing female directors, it’s even worse at the Oscars.

At the Academy Awards, a woman has only earned a nomination for Best Director four times in history: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Bigelow won in 2009, making her the first and still the only woman to ever win Best Director at the Oscars.

The Oscar nominations for this year have yet to be released. So there’s still time for the Academy to right the Golden Globes’ wrong and recognize Greta Gerwig as one of the best directors of 2017.

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