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Women Directors and
The Rise of Woman Stories

Blog
Women Directors and The Rise of Woman Stories

07.03.2018

Text: Melikşah Altuntaş

Three impactful women directors and their films about different women at various stages of their life brought the woman power to silver screen with outstanding productions. 

When Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy award in Best Female Actor category with her role in How to Get Away with Murder in 2015, in her acceptance speech she said “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” In the two years that have passed since, Hollywood hasn’t gone through a radical change, yet there is a lot more happening on diversity issues and women stories. In 2017, three women directors received important awards and a lot of praise with the noteworthy woman stories they brought on silver screen.

A coming of age story by Greta Gerwig: Lady Bird

With the unique women characters she portrayed in small budget films from directors like Joe Swanberg and Duplass Brothers, Greta Gerwig became a popular name in American independent cinema and started to work with various important directors. Gerwig also dabbled with script-writing in some of the both short and feature films she took a part in and her creative collaboration with writer-director Noah Baumbach, which started in Greenberg, gave us the indie hit Frances Ha.

Receiving a BAFTA nomination in Best Screenplay category and a Golden Globe nomination in Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture category, Gerwig attracted a lot of attention by the small black & white hit Frances Ha, which took place in New York streets. Alongside Mistress America, which she co-wrote with Baumbach and played the lead; she also took part in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, Barry Levinson’s The Humbling, Tod Solondz’s Wiener-Dog and Pablo Larrain’s Jackie as well as select independents like Eden, Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Woman

Co-directing Nights & Weekends with Joe Swanberg previously, Gerwig got used to behind the camera action and started to direct her debut as a solo writer-director , Lady Bird, in 2016. Inspired by her own youth, which she spent in conservative neighborhoods of Sacramento, California; Lady Bird received high praise from critics and audiences alike since its world premiere in Venice Film Festival, becoming one of the most successful independent films of 2017.

As Hollywood went through an exposure period regarding the harassment and discrimination against women in the cinema industry all throughout last year, Lady Bird’s timely run in the theaters around the world made the film one of the popular productions of the award season as well. The film received five Oscar nominations in Best Feature, Director, Actress and Supporting Actress and Original Script categories as well as various nominations in main categories of the most prestigious awards of the industry such as Golden Globe, BAFTA and Independent Spirit, finishing the award season with almost 100 wins and 200 nominations.

A feminist rebellion from Sofia Coppola: The Beguiled

We could say that being from one of the most powerful families of Hollywood and enjoying red carpet moments in Cannes on his father’s shoulders even as a kid, Sofia Coppola might be luckier than many other female film-makers. Yet sometimes colleagues from your own family cast a long shadow that is hard to get out of. Sofia Coppola’s success in forging on her own path despite such disadvantage might be enough proof to her proficiency as a film-maker.

After several successful shorts, Coppola managed to create strong female characters in her debut feature The Virgin Suicides, forging her path to become one of the most important writer-directors of American independent cinema. Making Kirsten Dunst a name known by masses with one of the most striking youth stories of all time, Coppola continued her success in her following feature, Lost in Translation, making herself a household name of Hollywood.

Just like what Greta Gerwig did in Lady Bird, Coppola took inspiration in her childhood, teenage and young adulthood years in her films Lost in Translation and Somewhere, creating a strong and genuine cinematic language. Lost in Translation received an Oscar nomination in the Best Director category, making Coppola the third woman who received a nomination in this particular category, as well as winning Best Original Screenplay awards in both the Oscars and Golden Globe. Following Lost in Translation, which received almost 100 awards, Coppola created a post-modern period gem in Marie Antoinette, paying an elegant tribute to this controversial historical figure.

Coppola managed to portray a broken father-daughter relationship with delightful realism in Golden Bear winner Somewhere, and after turned her camera to the lives of a group of fame-obsessed teenagers in The Bling Ring. Always on the lookout for interesting woman stories, Coppola finished 2017 with one of the biggest victories of her career.

One of the most successful films of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Beguiled brought the Best Director award to Sofia Coppola from a jury lead by Pedro Almadovar. A civil war story about a wounded enemy soldier taking refuge in a girls school, The Beguiled is a magnificent film-noir that turns into a feminism manifesto. A star cast with names like Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning portraying strong female characters, The Beguiled is another top-notch example of Coppola’s skills in both scriptwriting and directing, making her not only one of the strongest filmmakers of her generation but also a strong, important voice that shapes the industry.

Middle-age female romance with Claire Denis: Let The Sunshine In

Aside from being one of the best living directors of French cinema, Claire Denis’s innovative, exciting and fresh cinematic language makes her a very special writer-director. Her last film managed to make her hardcore fans fall in love with her once again, as well as reaching to new audiences who haven’t met her before.

Especially known for one of the most important films of the 20th century, Beau Travail, all of Denis’ films, from her debut Chocolat to Nenette et Boni, Trouble Every Day, 35 Rhums and White Material, received high praise from critics and audiences alike. Despite her over 70 years of age, Denis hasn’t compromised her dynamic cinematic language even one bit and with her latest film, Let the Sunshine In, which featured a brilliant Juliette Binoche performance in the lead and premiered in Cannes last year, she brought as a delicious dramedy on middle age women romance.

Let the Sunshine In is a special film about a Parisian artist, who is also divorced single mom in her early 50’s, looking for pure and sincere love. The film shows a humorous side of Denis which we haven’t seen before, with a hopeful yet realist tone. While refraining from judging its protagonist at all costs, the film exposes all of her disappointments and emotional drama, trying to understand and narrate her story to the audience; and in the end Denis’s Let the Sunshine In manages to bring a beautiful woman story to the silver screen with a refined cinematic language.

As long as these three important women filmmakers as well as countless others continue to make films about and of women with a deep, detailed and genuine tone that male directors - which consist the majority of the film industry - can never achieve, their voices will also continue to influence people through their cinema. Who knows, this might be one of the important channels to fight against the norms of patriarchal societies and industries that discriminate against women’s voices. Until women’s voices and stories are reaching wider and wider audiences, we will continue to watch their movies and support their existence in this cinema industry!

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