Patty Jenkins

(WOMENSENEWS)–Nominations for the 76th Annual Academy Awards had more than the usual number of surprises and upsets, but the most astonishing news was the unexpectedly high number of female filmmakers impacting the list.

In the eight major award categories–Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and BestSupporting Actress–11 women working as either director or screenwriter have films tied to nominations. This total is greater than the total for the last three years combined, marking a highly significant change in the way Hollywood has traditionally viewed the work of female filmmakers. Equally important, only 6 of the 11 are American, confirming the truly international importance of the Oscars, broadcast around the world.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film and Television, said. “And, it is very good news that women are finally getting the chance to do the kinds of films that win wide recognition.”

Raising the Profile of Female Filmmakers

Four nominations were announced last week for “Lost in Translation,” including the nomination of director and screenwriter Sofia Coppola as Best Director, which would be a major coup for any filmmaker. Coppola is now one of only three women (and the first American) ever to have received a Best Director nomination, following Italian director Lina Wertmuller in 1977, and New Zealand director Jane Campion in 1994. But important as this individual honor is for Coppola, it is also part of a larger trend for female filmmakers in general. In fact, Coppola is just one of the six female director/screenwriters whose work made it to the top of the list.

Three of this year’s Best Actress candidates appear in films led by and written by a woman: Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 13-year old star of Niki Caro’s “Whale Rider;” Diane Keaton, this year’s Golden Globe winner for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical in Nancy Meyers’ “Something’s Gotta Give;” and Charlize Theron, this year’s Golden Globe winner for Best Actress in a Drama in Patty Jenkins’ biopic “Monster.”

In addition to this, a fourth Best Actress candidate, Samantha Morton, appears in a film written by writing team Kirsten and Naomi Sheridan, who share the nomination for Best Original Screenplay with their father “In America” director Jim Sheridan. Add this to the part in “Lost in Translation” Coppola wrote specifically for actor Bill Murray, who captured this year’s Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical as well as an Oscar Nomination. In sum, a full 50 percent of this year’s highest acting honors went to parts created by female screenwriters.

There’s more. Shari Springer Berman, who co-wrote and co-directed last year’s Sundance Film Festival favorite “American Splendor” with her husband and partner Bob Pulcini, received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. “Thirteen,” directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who co-wrote the screenplay with actress Nikki Reed, produced a nomination for Holly Hunter in the Best Supporting Actress category. “In America” scored a third nomination, this time in the Best Supporting Actor category, for West African actor Djimon Hounsou. Last, but certainly not least, this year’s Oscar behemoth “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” nominated for 11 Oscars, received a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for screenwriters Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh.

Media specialist Martha Lauzen was cautiously pleased by last week’s Oscar announcements. Lauzen, a professor in the School of Communication at San Diego State University, is the author of the school’s annual “Celluloid Ceiling Study” which have quantified opportunities for female filmmakers for over a decade.

“We have to be realistic about our expectations and about how quickly Hollywood can change,” Lauzen told Women’s eNews. “However, every time a film directed by a woman does well at the box office and/or her film achieves critical acclaim, it helps women directors overall because it raises their profile. People become aware of the fact that women can be successful, and for some people in Hollywood, that’s still an open question.”

“If you change media messages, you change the world,” Lauzen added.

“We’re proud of everyone who got nominated,” said Iris Grossman, president of Los Angeles-based Women in Film. “These women have worked hard to get where they are. The work speaks for itself. The filmmakers just happen to be great women and that’s the best news.”

Box Office Power

Part of the explanation for this year’s coup maybe the increasing power of female moviegoers at the box office. Tara Veneruso, founder of the First Weekender’s Group which publicizes new films directed by women so that they can have the strongest possible opening, says female moviegoers have been using their purchasing power to support movies covering women’s issues.

“The studios don’t care when women complain,” she said. “The bottom-line is box office.”

Veneruso believes the Internet has become of the major forces in publicizing the work of female filmmakers and getting more women into theaters to support these films. Her group was founded three years ago by a core group of 40, and today has over 3,000 subscribers.

Last year two films were particularly lively topics of Internet conversation: Julie Taymor’s biopic “Frida,” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” written by the film’s star Nia Vardalos. Propelled mostly by female word-of-mouth, these two filmmakers made it to the 75th Oscar ceremony, even though the mainstream critical response to both films was lukewarm bordering on downright condescending.

At the end of the night, Vardalos went home empty handed, consoled by the fact that her film had become the highest-grossing independent film in history. (The budget for the film was $5 million; it grossed over $240 million in the United States.) Taymor’s film, however, took two statuettes, one for Best Achievement in Make-Up and one for Best Original Score. Taymor was not nominated for Best Director even though her film received six nominations. Outrage over that fact may well have made members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who chose Oscar nominations and winners more conscious of Coppola’s accomplishment when the time came to nominate the next set of contenders.

Although female film critics remain under-represented in the major media and therefore in the major film critics associations, women such as Rose Cooper of the Web site 3BlackChicks, Cherryl Dawson and Leigh Ann Palone of the Web site The Movie Chicks, and MaryAnn Johanson of the Web site, The Flick Filosopher, are developing strong female constituencies.

“No one tells you that you can’t do something anymore. You just don’t see women doing the things that you want to do,” says screenwriter Lizzy Weiss, who wrote last year’s “Blue Crush” and was inspired when Callie Khouri won an Oscar for her groundbreaking “Thelma and Louise” screenplay in 1992. “But every time this happens, young women think to themselves, ‘That could be me!'”

2003’s total recognition for women directors and screenwriters is greater than the sum of the past three years combined:





































Jan Lisa Huttner the managing editor of “Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples,” lectures around the country on female filmmakers.

For more information:

New York Women in Film and Television:

Women in Film:

Women in the Director’s Chair: