Four decades after Lina Wertmuller became the first woman nominated for an Oscar in directing, female filmmakers continue to push through the celluloid ceiling, accounting for one in five of all directors in 2020.
Lina Wertmuller, the first woman nominated for an Oscar in directing, has died at age 93 in Italy.
Wertmueller died surrounded by her family, the LaPresse news agency reported on Thursday.
The provocative Italian director won a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2019, the same year she got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini honored her legacy in a statement on Thursday that said her “class and unmistakable style” left its mark on the world of cinema.
Rome’s city hall announced it would host a wake for the prominent filmmaker on Friday in one of its main reception halls.
Her bold films took unapologetic swings at capitalism, often filled with anti-establishment messages and sharp social commentary. Wertmueller herself described them as “Marxist comedies.”
They “chime with the sense of rebellion” dealing with social issues such as gender disparities, the Guardian said in its obituary of Wertmueller.
“I refuse to make films without social themes,” she was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.
Wertmueller won best director at the Locarno Film Festival with her directorial debut “The Basilisks” in 1963. She also won several awards including Best Director from the New York Film Critics Circle for “Swept Away” in 1975.
But it was Wertmueller’s film “Seven Beauties” that earned her an Oscar nomination for directing in 1977. Ultimately, the Academy Award went to John G. Avildsen for “Rocky.”
In fact, in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, only two women have ever won the coveted award.
Gender disparity in directing
Over three decades after Wertmueller’s nomination, director Kathyrn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” in 2010.
Another decade later, Chloe Zhao became the second woman to win best director in 2021 - a year that saw a record two women nominated for the title.
Aside from Wertmueller, Bigelow and Zhago, only four other women have even been nominated: Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Greta Gerwig, and Emerald Fennell.
In 2020, just over 20 percent of directors were female, compared to almost 79 percent of men, according to Statistica.
While this may seem like a shocking difference, it’s actually over five percent higher than the number of female directors in 2019 and the highest percentage ever recorded.
So why the clear disparity between the amount of male and female directors in the film world and the recognitions handed out to them?
Women and Hollywood, an initiative that educates and advocates for gender diversity and inclusion in the film industry, told TRT World the disparity is because women have not had the same opportunities and access that men have had.
“There was an ongoing belief that women could not direct certain kinds of movies and that content by and about women was not universal,” said founder Melissa Silverstein.
“The industry also values men and white male content above all else. All those factors have been a part of why we have seen so few women at the top of the industry.”
Silverstein started Women and Hollywood over 14 years ago to draw attention to the lack of women directors in the industry, and “keep the conversation going on a daily basis.”
“We make sure that people understand that this is a year-round conversation. One of our really important goals is to elevate and amplify women's voices on an ongoing basis. That is why we do interviews with women directors at festivals,” she added.
Currently there are a number of film festivals dedicated to women filmmakers from The Female Filmmakers Festival Berlin to China Women’s Film Festival.
Streaming services and their rise in popularity have created an opportunity for female filmmakers to bypass traditional distributors and have their work seen by international audiences.
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A report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that from 2020 to 2021, female filmmakers were more likely to work on streaming programs than broadcast networks.
Women constituted 30 percent of film creators, 31 percent of directors, and 24 percent of editors on streaming programs, compared to 22 percent of creators, 19 percent of directors, and 15 percent of editors on broadcast network programs, it said.
New initiatives such as the Female Film Club, founded during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, are also giving women directors a space online to connect and promote their work.
The organisation currently has members from over 35 countries around the world and across different roles within the industry: directors, producers, writers and actors.
“When you ask most people who might not be in the industry to name a female director, they find it difficult, whereas they would always know the name of a male director,” co-founders Nicole Lieberman and Liza van der Smissen told TRT World.
“It is important that we start promoting and knowing the wonderful films female filmmakers are making. First we should all watch their films, then shout about them and finally speak to the names of the brilliant directors, producers, writers and actors who made them,” they added.
In addition, the report found that programs with women creators employed higher percentages of female crew members compared to programs with male creators.
“The key is to hire women and to believe that women and content about women is worthy of the same budget and attention as men and male content,” said Women and Hollywood’s Silverstein.
“Success breeds success.”
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