Women often don’t get much of a break in the awards race. They are represented only in categories that have been created for them. Writers, directors, editors, composers, cinematographers, and sound engineers are almost always dominated by their male counterparts.
But an interesting shift has taken place this year. For the first time ever, four female writers are represented in the screenplay categories, all enjoying their first nomination. It’s rare enough to get one original screenplay written by a woman, but this year there are three. Diablo Cody, who wrote Juno, Nancy Oliver, who wrote Lars and the Real Girl, and Tamara Jenkins, who wrote The Savages.
A good publicist can often make the difference when it comes to getting noticed by critics or bloggers, and all of these women have been hovering around the screenplay categories in many of the critics awards in December. But that is the case with any writer, male or female. Something shifted this year in terms of personal stories being told by writer/directors. The opportunities for women auteurs has never been more wide open.
Sarah Polley, nominated for Adapted Screenplay for Away from Her, is the writer/director behind the dazzling performance by Julie Christie, which is one of the most acclaimed of the year. The project was Polley’s from conception on. Based on an Alice Monroe short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” Polley’s idea to turn the story into film occurred in 2001. It took her five years to get the project off the ground. She is one of the very few young actresses to make the leap to directing while in the middle of a thriving career.
Likewise, Tamara Jenkins also directed The Savages, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, the latter also nominated for a lead acting Oscar. Jenkins hit the scene a few years back with The Slums of Beverly Hills and had wanted to return to directing when the right project came along. Eventually, she just decided to write the right project to fulfill a development deal.
Nancy Oliver wrote the quirky drama, Lars and the Real Girl, which starred Ryan Gosling as a sad and lonely man who falls in love with a blow-up doll. Oliver had previously written for the HBO series Six Feet Under.
Finally, Diablo Cody has been a force of nature this Oscar season, dominating the press the way someone like Quentin Tarantino might have done. Cody was encouraged to write a screenplay when a reader of her blog noticed how witty and whip smart she was. Cody’s Juno became the toast of Sundance and now finds itself with four Oscar nominations, including Cody’s. She has been winning awards already with her sweetly cynical script and will likely win the Big One.
Women writers have kicked the door down this year, no doubt about it. They haven’t gotten in the room by imitating men or trying to tell stories the way men tell them, but are writing and directing films people want to see. Maybe the millions of kids who flood the mall on Friday night might not want to see them, but they have all made money this year. It is still an industry dominated and controlled by men, but they can’t deny women access to it anymore.