What’s the value of being a part of a story if you can’t tell yours? In the last decade, On-screen diversity has taken unprecedented strides forward, but behind the scenes barriers blocking black women from the director’s chair have been harder to break down.
“The biggest obstacle that keeps black women out of the director’s seat is the same thing that kept white women out of the director’s seat: the men,” says Jamaican-born and Canadian-raised filmmaker Jennifer Holness. She lets out a laugh, not because there’s anything particularly funny about it, but because of the obvious irony.
The past 12 months have been historic for women behind the scenes in the film industry. In 2020, Regina King was the first black female director to have a film screened at the Venice Film Festival. Then, at the Oscars, Chloe Zhao became the first woman of color to win the award for best director. Marvel is also diversifying the headquarters of its directors. by Zhao Eternals is making its way into theaters this month, and Cate Shortland’s Black Widow is the first film in the franchise to be independently directed by a woman. On top of that, Candy Director Nia DaCosta will bring the Captain Marvel sequel to life. It’s fascinating but also confusing. Why has it taken so long for women directors to be recognized?
For Holness, it’s a matter of catching up with the industry. His latest film, Subjects of desire, was a star at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. But exposure to independent festivals does not fully solve the problem. The problem seems to lie in the fact that the flow of progress has been reduced to a trickle. Since Kathryn Bigelow’s historic win for Best Director for The Hurt Locker at the 2010 Oscars, only two other women were nominated in this category: Greta Gerwig in 2018 for Lady Bird and Zhao for Nomadic country in 2020. While the Oscars aren’t the only authority on influential directors, they continue to be a leading force in filmmaking, which says a lot about the state of the industry. This crisis is particularly disheartening for black women, who have never been represented in this category, and in the 92-year history of the Oscars, only six black directors have been nominated and none have won.