Editorial: Is This Male Director Good or Have Men in My Life Just Convinced Me to Put Up with Mediocrity?

By Morgan Roberts

Every year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) hosts the Golden Globes.  The Golden Globes are used as a predictor for Oscar nominations. As always, there are only so many slots for each category.  Not every actor, filmmaker, or movie can be nominated. But the Golden Globes typically proves to be pretty white and male dominated.  This year, five male filmmakers were nominated for Best Director. Bong Joon-Ho, who directed “Parasite” (2019), is the only non-white person nominated.  The other nominees, Sam Mendes, Todd Phillips, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino are all white dudes. And, in my frank and honest and personal opinion, it is comprised of mediocre white film bros. Sue me. (Actually, please don’t. I have lots of student loans.)

I get it, Tarantino, Scorsese, and the likes were revolutionary.  “Were” being the operative word. When you have been making films the same way for multiple decades, there is nothing extraordinary or exemplary about it anymore.  Scorsese is known for his mobster, male-driven films. But “The Irishman” (2019) is another example of his inadaptability. People have called out the fact that Academy Award winning actress Anna Paquin has seven lines in the entire three hour, twenty-nine minute film.

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This is not the first time that Scorsese has reduced extremely talented actresses to life-sized dolls or whispers of a person. “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) gave Margot Robbie the sexy lamppost role. “Shutter Island” (2010) had Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Michelle Williams and their talents are lost in unremarkable roles.  Vera Farmiga got almost nothing to do in “The Departed” (2006). Literally, she was given less to do than Mark Wahlberg. Mark Wahlberg!

People have called out the fact that Academy Award winning actress Anna Paquin has seven lines in the entire three hour, twenty-nine minute film. This is not the first time that Scorsese has reduced extremely talented actresses to life-sized dolls or whispers of a person.

Scorsese is not the only culprit.  Tarantino has literally been making the same films since the 90s, he just adds more variations of the “f-word” in his films.  Steven Spielberg is another filmmaker whose revolutionary cinema train has lost its steam. In 2017, Spielberg directed “The Post”, his knock-off version of “Spotlight” (2015).  He attempted to do another epic war film in 2011 with “War Horse” and the film was so underwhelming that I could not stay awake. I had the opportunity to stare at Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch and neither of them nor their cheekbones could keep me awake.

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There were other films in there, but at this point, Spielberg is tacking his name onto every other movie as producer, it has lost its weight. (Seriously, he produces everything; let’s not forget that Spielberg co-produced, and co-directed, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983) where John Landis straight-up killed three people.)

If the stakes were as high for men as they are for women, it would not be a wild accomplishment for a woman to be nominated for certain filmmaking categories.  It would be the norm.

Throughout my almost three decades of life, I have seen a number of movies.  And I have been told what’s art and what isn’t. I have been told that Stanley Kubrick is a filmmaking God.  I have been told I “over-react” when another talented woman gets to just be a sex object onscreen. That it is not about having lines but just being grateful that a woman is employed in a movie.  It has me wondering if any of these revered films are actually any good or if I have just allowed the men in my life to dictate my film preferences.

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I am not saying that men cannot make good films anymore. Paul Feig has mastered letting women be kooky, tempestuous, loud, crude, hilarious, and take up space with films like “Bridesmaids” (2011), “A Simple Favor” (2018), and his latest “Last Christmas” (2019).  Guillermo del Toro gives actors (of any gender) strong material to work with. His film, “The Shape of Water” (2017), won Best Picture; a film with a female lead over 30 – over 40! – with a disability falling in love in a classic sci-fi film ode.  Jordan Peele gave Lupita N’yongo the chance to give another acting tour-de-force in “Us” (2019). Christopher Nolan’s 2017 epic “Dunkirk” was a feat in cinema and there were zero female roles.

There were so many films directed by women throughout this decade – check out In Their Own League’s Top 50 countdown! – but this year, in particular, had some truly phenomenal work by women in film.  

I get that there is a prestige that comes with liking Kubrick type filmmakers.  But I am not convinced that their movies are better or even the best representations of cinematic art.  This is evident every year but this one in particular when a number of female filmmakers were overlooked for proper recognition.  I am a straight, cisgender, white woman and it still feels few and far between where I am finding representations of myself. I cannot imagine what it is like for LGBT+ audiences or people of color endure, and how they even like going to the movies, because we are requiring hoops for them to appear onscreen as non-stereotypical caricatures.

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Instead of Todd Phillips, what if we had nominated Greta Gerwig for “Little Women” (2019), a film that my 61-year-old father wants to see because “it just looks so good.”  Instead of Scorsese, maybe we should have considered Lulu Wang for her semi-autobiographical triumph “The Farewell” (2019). And what about swapping out Tarantino for Olivia Wilde who shot the hell out of “Booksmart” (2019) and gave it an amazing soundtrack.  There were so many films directed by women throughout this decade – check out In Their Own League’s Top 50 countdown! – but this year, in particular, had some truly phenomenal work by women in film.

So, excuse me if I am all “bah-humbug” about the men in film right now.  It would be easier if the standards were similar. If the stakes were as high for men as they are for women, it would not be a wild accomplishment for a woman to be nominated for certain filmmaking categories.  It would be the norm.

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