Appearing before a ballroom crowded with stars including Tom Hanks, Christian Bale and Robert Pattinson, Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller stood onstage flanked by fellow Hollywood heavyweights Sophia Loren and Isabella Rossellini. Wertmüller made history when she became the first woman to earn a Best Director nomination for her film Seven Beauties (1975). Tonight, the 91-year-old attends the 11th Governors Awards to receive an honorary Oscar.
Behind me sits Jennifer Lopez and to the left laughs Shia LaBeouf. Quentin Tarantino is locked in conversation with Leonardo DiCaprio while Charlize Theron, Jon Hamm and Lupita Nyong’o scamper between tables to excitedly embrace Hollywood’s elite. I am, quite literally, starry-eyed—and it’s thanks to an invitation from Rolex, which has supported the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation behind the Academy Awards, more commonly known as the Oscars, since 2017.
The crowd quietens as Wertmüller approaches the podium. “She would like to change the name Oscar to a feminine name,” translates Rossellini as the filmmaker, clearly emotional, examines her statuette. “She would like to call it Anna, rather than Oscar.” It’s a significant moment because in the Academy’s 92-year history, only five women—Wertmüller, Jane Campion (1994), Sofia Coppola (2004), Kathryn Bigelow (2009) and Greta Gerwig (2017)—have earned Best Director nominations, compared to 350 men. Once again, none were nominated this year.
Three were in the room, including Campion, who said in her introductory speech: “I’ve been asked to talk about the history of women in the directing category. It’s a very short history. More of a haiku.” Also honoured was Geena Davis, who asked movie makers to review their current scripts, cross out a bunch of the male characters’ names and make them women instead. “With one stroke, you have created some non-stereotyped characters that could turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had their gender swapped,” she said.
Tales of chauvinism in the movie business are as old as the Hollywood Hills, and until recently the gender gap between nominees at the Academy Awards wasn’t really discussed. But in the wake of dramatic revelations about harassment and rampant sexism, we’re now all too aware of the film industry’s sordid side. And it would seem, based on the 11th Governors Awards, that the Academy is determined to spearhead conversations about gender inequality.