What Greta Gerwig’s Snub Tells Us About the Oscars and ‘Little Women’

Greta Gerwig attends the Teen Vogue Summit 2019 at Goya Studios in Los Angeles.

Source Rich Fury/Getty

Why you should care

Because female directors continue to be marginalized in awards season.

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In a stirring moment in the trailer for the recent film adaptation of Little Women, the character of Jo Marsh (played by Saoirse Ronan) reflects on the frustrations of a woman’s place in her world. “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts,” she declares. “And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, I’m so sick of it!”

The line is actually nowhere to be found in Little Women, but it does appear almost word for word in Rose in Bloom, another novel by Louisa May Alcott. The person responsible for making that powerful script insert is the film’s writer and director Greta Gerwig, a talented and ambitious woman like Jo who must be growing increasingly sick of what people seem to think a woman is fit for in her own world of modern Hollywood — or not fit for, as the case may be. 

For the second year in a row, the Oscars will be host-free and female-free, at least when it comes to the nominees for best director, according to the list of nominations announced on Monday for the 92nd Academy Awards to be held on Feb. 9. The absence yet again of any female directors in the category is glaring, but the snub of Gerwig, 36, who recently won the best directing award for Little Women from the National Society of Film Critics, is particularly noticeable. Gerwig could not be reached for comment, but she told BBC Radio 4 earlier this month that “[t]here’s so much beautiful work by women this year that you’d love to see it acknowledged by anyone who has trophies to give out.”

The lack of female nominees is reflective of a more systemic problem.

A Sacramento native, Gerwig rose to prominence in 2017 when she and her first solo directional film Lady Bird were nominated for five Oscars. Like her unforgettable lead character (also played by Ronan), she was an “intense child” who left the nest to pursue artistic dreams in New York, where she graduated from Barnard College and even performed alongside her friend Kate McKinnon, now of Saturday Night Live.

Gerwig’s talent for telling stories about young women and their struggles made her the perfect writer and director for the latest adaptation of Little Women, which was nominated for five Oscars and features an all-star cast including Ronan, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet. Little Women has a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and New York Times film critic A.O. Scott praised Gerwig’s direction, calling the film, released over the holidays, “an absolute gift.”

Despite a host of deserving candidates like Gerwig, the lack of women nominated in the directing column has become a punchline. Host Ricky Gervais pointed out the issue right before introducing the category at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. “I’ve had a word with the Hollywood Foreign Press, and they’ve guaranteed that will never happen again,” he joked. “Working with all the major studios, they’ve agreed to go back the way things were a few years ago when they didn’t even hire women directors, and that will solve the problem.”

As Gervais alludes to, the lack of female nominees is reflective of a more systemic problem. A 2017 study from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative found that of the 1,114 directors of top-grossing films in the previous decade, just 4 percent are female.  “While things in Hollywood may be slowly improving, it’s still dominated by men,” says Kim Elsesser, a UCLA lecturer and author of Sex and the Office, “and there’s still bias that exists against women.”

To be sure, it was an intensely competitive year in the directing category, and the Oscar nominees list reads like a who’s who of filmmakers, from Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Todd Phillips (Joker) to Sam Mendes (1917) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), not to mention Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), the first Korean director to nab a nod. Gerwig was not even the only director snubbed in her own family, with partner Noah Baumbach also missing out for his critically acclaimed film Marriage Story. Gerwig did snag a nomination for best adapted screenplay, a category that often serves as a consolation for deserving directorial candidates.

Gerwig and Baumbach are working together on their next big project: cowriting a Barbie movie for Warner Bros., with Margot Robbie to play the famous doll. Gerwig is reportedly under consideration to direct the film as well.

One of the reasons Gerwig made Little Women was her belief that the themes of ambitious women and female creativity were just as relevant today as when Alcott wrote in the 19th century. “This is literally why Greta made the film — one about women living in a man’s world, related to money and success,” Florence Pugh, nominated for best-supporting actress for her role as Amy March, told Variety of Gerwig’s omission. “This news only highlights the message of the film.”

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