Stories We Tell & Blackfish out of Oscar race: Does that mean the Academy’s Documentary Branch is ‘anti-female’?
Besides Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, among the other glaring Oscar 2014 absentees were Robert Redford and Golden Globe-winning composer Alex Ebert for All Is Lost; Joel and Ethan Coen’s well-received Inside Llewyn Davis from the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay shortlists; Daniel Brühl and his movie, Ron Howard’s Rush, which was completely shut out; two Weinstein Company releases that were also completely shut out, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, and their respective stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, and Michael B. Jordan; Guillermo del Toro-Charlie Hunnam’s Pacific Rim and Marc Forster-Brad Pitt’s World War Z from any of the technical categories; and finally, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish from the Best Documentary Feature category.
Needless to say, some have already claimed that anti-female discrimination was the likely reason for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Documentary Branch member’s having bypassed Polley and Cowperthwaite’s movies. But however politically correct such claims may be, they’re also baseless, as a quick look at the category will show.
Best Documentary Oscar nominees directed and/or produced by women
Since 1990, Best Documentary Feature Oscar winners directed and/or produced by women (at times in joint efforts with men) include Barbara Kopple’s American Dream (1990), Susan Raymond’s I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School (1993), Freida Lee Mock’s Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994), Alex Gibney and Eva Orner’s Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), and Charles H. Ferguson and Audrey Marr’s Inside Job (2010).
Female directed and/or produced nominees (at times in joint efforts with men) in the last few years include Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath’s The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (2008), Rebecca Cammisa’s Which Way Home (2009), Lucy Walker’s Waste Land (2010), and Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky, and Estelle Fialon’s The Gatekeepers (2011). And let’s not forget this year’s nominee The Square, directed by Jehane Noujaim.
It’s mind-boggling that the Academy’s Documentary Branch would bypass both Stories We Tell, featuring surprising revelations about director Sarah Polley’s family, and Blackfish, about the unethical idiocy of keeping orcas (a.k.a. killer whales) as amusement-park performers, but these sorts of “outrages” are nothing new when it comes to that particular category, regardless of the gender of the bypassed film’s directors and/or producers.
In fact, in 2012 Michael Moore revamped Best Documentary Feature voting rules for the very reason that for years a number of popular and well-regarded efforts had been getting short shrift from Documentary Branch voters, e.g., Moore’s own Roger & Me, Errol Morri’s The Thin Blue Line, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, and, more recently, Asif Kapadia’s Senna and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and Into the Abyss. Anyhow, rule changes or no, several high-profile documentaries were nowhere to be found on the Oscar shortlist last year.
Oscar 2014 Best Documentary Feature nominations
For the record, the five Oscar 2014 nominees for Best Documentary Feature, all of which have been enthusiastically received in the United States, are the following:
- The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen;
- Cutie and the Boxer, Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher;
- Dirty Wars, Richard Rowley, Jeremy Scahill;
- The Square, Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer;
- 20 Feet from Stardom, directed by Morgan Neville, and produced by Neville, Caitrin Rogers, and Gil Friesen. (The Academy has yet to determine the official 20 Feet from Stardom nominees, as “a maximum of two persons may be designated as nominees, one of whom must be the credited director who exercised directorial control.”)
Sarah Polley Stories We Tell photo: Roadside Attractions.