A Look at Best Director Films by Women

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Being nominated for Best Director is one of the most prestigious honours the Academy Awards has to offer. It’s the ultimate form of respect for a director’s hard work and achievements. Among the chosen are some of the greatest directors of all time, but only four women have been nominated since the Academy’s introduction in 1929. They are Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow. Out of this list, only Bigelow has won the award for The Hurt Locker in 2009.

Lina Wertmüller

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Credit: The Muse

An Italian director born on August 14 1928, Wertmüller was nominated for Seven Beauties in 1976.

The film follows the story of Pasqualino Frauso (Giancarlo Giannini) as he goes AWOL from the Italian army, during World War II, only to be captured by Germans and thrown into a prison camp.

The movie was the tenth written and directed by Wertmüller, but is her most well-known. Her films are noted for their arthouse-style and focus on political and social issues. Some of her other celebrated works include The Seduction of Mini (1972) and Swept Away (1974). Wertmüller had a number of positions in the Italian film industry – puppeteer, actress and stage manager – before she made her directing debut, The Lizards, in 1962. She learnt of her Oscar nomination while on the set of her first English-speaking film, A Night in the Rain. Unfortunately, Wertmüller’s career petered out after her Seven Beauties fame.

It was also the first foreign film nominated for consecutive Academy Awards. It lost Best Director to Rocky.

It would be another seventeen years before a woman was nominated for Best Director.

Jane Campion

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Credit: Festival Cannes

New Zealand-born director, Jane Campion, began to make an impact early on in her career. She was a household name in her native country when The Piano started to gain international recognition.

The Piano is a drama, set in the mid-nineteenth century, about a mute piano player, Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), and her daughter Flora, played by Anna Paquin.

Campion was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on the 30th of April, 1954, to artistic parents. She showed a creative side from a young age, but went to university to study anthropology. Campion quickly changed to a film-based degree.

She has directed The Portrait of a Lady (1996) and Bright Star (2009), among others. Campion’s films are famous for their strong female ensemble casts and feminist undertones.

Though Campion didn’t win Best Director, she did receive the award for Best Original Screenplay. Steven Spielberg won with Schindler’s List. However, The Piano did win the Golden Palm at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the highest prize awarded at the French festival. Campion is the only female filmmaker in history, so far, to do this.

Sofia Coppola

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Credit: Film Society Lincoln Center

Born on May 14th, 1971, Sofia Coppola is the daughter of legendary Hollywood director Frances Ford Coppola, who is best known for The Godfather trilogy.

Being her father’s daughter, film has always been in Coppola’s life. She played Mary Corleone in The Godfather: Part III (1990) and Saché in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). Critics labelled her Godfather performance as wooden, but Coppola knew her future lay on the other side of the camera. She has directed movies such as The Virgin Suicides (1999), Marie Antoinette (2006), Somewhere (2010) and The Bling Ring (2013).

In 2003, Coppola’s work on Lost in Translation was nominated for Best Director. Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, it follows the adventures of Bob Harris and Charlotte – a washed up movie star and a photographer’s neglected wife – as the two form an unlikely friendship in Tokyo, Japan.

Coppola lost to Peter Jackson, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but left the Academy Awards with Best Original Screenplay.

Coppola received the Best Director award, for her current film, The Beguiled, at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Kathryn Bigelow

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Kathryn Bigelow is synonymous with action films. Her credits include Blue Steel (1989), Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995) and K-19: The Widow Maker (2002).

Bigelow was born on November 27, 1951, in San Carlos, California. She was inspired by her father’s cartoon drawings as a child and went to university with the intention of studying painting. She graduated from Columbia University in 1979 with a Master’s Degree in film theory and criticism.

The Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner, as a bomb squad Sargent in the American military, and won six Academy Awards in 2009. The film won Best Picture and Bigelow became the only woman to win the Best Director award. She dedicated it to American soldiers fighting overseas.

Upon winning the award, her ex-husband, James Cameron (director of two Terminator films, Aliens and Titanic), was one of the first to congratulate her. He too was in the running for Best Director with Avatar.

Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow’s follow up film, was nominated for five awards at the 2013 Academy Awards. It only won Best Sound Editing.

No other women have been nominated for Best Director since Bigelow’s win. Hollywood statistics have shown that opportunities for women to direct films has increased since 1980, but it is still a male dominated industry. Out of a study of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2016, only 7% were directed by women. That’s 2% down from the previous year. Big budget films can be directed by women, and perform beyond expectations, as Patty Jenkins proved with Wonder Woman. Other notable American female directors include: Penny Marshall (Big), Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact) and Vicky Jenson (Shrek).

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Credit: The New York Times

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on June 16th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

A Conversation with Lina Wertmüller On Her Legacy & Being the First Woman Nominated for a Best Director Oscar (http://themuse.jezebel.com/a-conversation-with-lina-wertmuller-on-her-legacy-bei-1794383646)

Biography: Jane Campion – Film Director (http://www.theheroinecollective.com/jane-campion/)

Encyclopaedia Britannica – Lina Wertmüller (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lina-Wertmuller)

Has a Woman Ever Won an Oscar for Best Director? (https://www.thoughtco.com/best-director-oscar-for-a-woman-4109468)

Jane Campion Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/jane-campion-9236601)

Jane Campion Director (https://www.nzonscreen.com/person/jane-campion/biography)

Kathryn Bigelow Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/kathryn-bigelow-546542)

Kathryn Bigelow makes history as first woman to win best director Oscar (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/mar/08/kathryn-bigelow-oscars-best-director)

Oscars: No Women Nominated for Best Director — Again (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/oscars-no-women-nominated-best-director-again-967284)

Ranked: The Best Women Film Directors (and Their Films) (http://www.metacritic.com/feature/best-women-film-directors-and-movies)

Sofia Coppola Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/sofia-coppola-10434307)

Sofia Coppola emerges from her father’s shadow with Cannes triumph for The Beguiled (http://theconversation.com/sofia-coppola-emerges-from-her-fathers-shadow-with-cannes-triumph-for-the-beguiled-78696)

Sofia Coppola is the second woman to win best director at Cannes in 71 years (https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/29/15708830/sofia-coppola-best-director-cannes-film-festival-the-beguiled)

The Hawksian Woman Archetype

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Credit: Envisioning the American Dream

In film theory, the Hawksian woman archetype describes the female lead characters in movies directed by Howard Hawks. An archetype is a character model, or pattern, that is common in storytelling. Hawks made a number of films during Hollywood’s Golden Age that featured female characters with very similar traits. The Hawksian woman archetype stepped outside the Hollywood norm – his female characters were not reduced to being damsels in distress or sexualised objects – and instead had spunk, charisma, wit, intelligence and were cool under pressure. They knew exactly what they wanted and were not afraid to go after it, but, most importantly, had the respect of their male counterparts and were considered “one of the gang” among them.

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Credit: Typology Central

Film critic Naomi Wise (1945-2011) first coined the term Hawksian woman in 1971. Howard Hawks, himself, was born on May 30th, 1896. He made his way to Hollywood in the 1920s where he landed a position at the Mary Pickford company. Hawks moved around, doing odd jobs in the industry, while building a reputation. His directorial debut was The Road to Glory in 1926. He had a consistent career with movies in the comedy, drama, film noir and western genres, many of which are now considered masterpieces of American cinema, such as A Girl in Every Port (1928), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Red River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959). He also directed the original Scarface in 1932. It was considered the most violent film made up until that point and was at the centre of a censorship battle. It led to tougher rating restrictions on cinema under the Motion Picture Production Code. Hawks did not consider himself a feminist, but explained in interviews that, in film and life, lively women were more interesting.

Hawksian women were known for their strong and tough-talking personalities, with semi-masculine qualities. Especially for love interests, men were slightly feminised too. Wise points out that a typical Howard Hawks film would have a male character suffering from an emotional dilemma and it would be the woman who helps resolve it. Humphrey Bogart’s character, Harry Morgan, in To Have and Have Not (1944), notes “a man alone ain’t got no chance”. With Morgan in an emotional upheaval, it was Marie (Lauren Bacall) who assists and guides him through the ordeal. Some actresses featured in Hawksian roles include Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Joanne Dru and Marilyn Monroe. Hawks had a clause built into their contracts where actresses could only appear in movies twice a year. This was to keep their exposure fresh and to leave the audience wanting more.

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Unarguably the most iconic Hawksian woman was Lauren Bacall. She was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16th, 1924. Bacall was first noticed by Hawks’s wife, Nancy, on the cover of a glamour magazine. After bringing Bacall’s picture to the attention of her husband, Hawks organised a screen test for her and was impressed. He hired a speech coach, had her name changed to Lauren Bacall and brought her out to Hollywood. Bacall was always uncomfortable with her screen name as she felt it dishonoured her Jewish heritage. Bacall’s two big Hawksian roles were Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not and Vivian Sternwood Rutledge in The Big Sleep (1946). Both films starred Humphrey Bogart as the male lead. Twenty-five years older than Bacall, the two began a romantic relationship that led to marriage. Their personal lives were covered extensively by the media of the day. Bacall was with Bogart at the time of his death in 1957.

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Credit: Here’s Looking Like You, Kid

Popularity of the Hawksian woman archetype began to slow down by the early 1950s. World War II had ended and soldiers had returned home. Women’s roles in society had become restricted to the household as wives and mothers. Hollywood, and the entertainment industry alike, began to substitute strong heroines for devoted house wives and stay-at-home mothers. Notable examples of the new perfect housewife archetype can be seen in TV shows like I Love Lucy (1951-1957) and Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963).

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Film critic Naomi Wise described the Hawksian woman as “some of the most honest portrayals of women” (p. 118) Hollywood cinema has to offer. Howard Hawks directed forty-five films in his career. Only fifteen of them featured the archetype. He passed away in 1977 at the age of eighty-one. Lauren Bacall continued to act up until her death in 2014. She was eighty-eight. Hawks’s influence can be felt in modern films and television series. The Hawksian woman legacy lives on.

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Credit: NewStatesman

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on May 16th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

Classic Hollywood Archetypes: The Hawksian Woman (http://finefettleguide.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/classic-hollywood-archetypes-hawksian.html)
Decline of the Hawksian Archetype (https://hawksianwomen.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/decline-of-the-hawksian-archetype/)
Examples of the Hawksian Woman (https://hawksianwomen.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/examples-of-the-hawksian-woman/)
Hawksian Woman (https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Hawksian%20woman)
Hawksian Woman, The. Wise, Naomi. 1971.
Howard Hawks Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/people/howard-hawks-9331796)
Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall: May to December, A Romance to Remember (http://www.biography.com/news/humphrey-bogart-lauren-bacall-love-story)
Lauren Bacall Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/people/lauren-bacall-9194111)
Top 10 Hawksian Woman Movies (http://mavenrose.com/top-10-hawksian-woman-movies/)