Feminism on Film: Greta Gerwig, a woman director in the male-dominated industry

With two directorial credits and an impressive acting career behind her, Greta Gerwig has become an important voice in a film industry that is still dominated by men

Maja Mazur
9th March 2021
Image Credits: IMDb

Women are highly underrepresented in the film industry, comprising only around 10% of all directors in Hollywood. Domination of men in receiving trophies is also overwhelming – Kathryn Bigelow remains the only woman who has ever won the Oscar for directing in the 92-year history of the awards. Greta Gerwig is one of few female directors who got critical recognition over the last years, proving that stories about women belong to mainstream cinema.

Gerwig started her film career as an actress, appearing mostly in independent, low budget films. She became an important figure in the mumblecore film movement characterized by an emphasis on dialogue over plot. She often refers to her experience in acting as helpful in directing: “The advice I would give to any director is that you should act. […] It doesn’t matter how good a shot looks, the lifeblood, the thing that people will connect to, is these people.”

Image Credit: IMDb

In 2008 she co-wrote and co-directed Nights and Weekends, but only after nine years she solo directed her first film – Lady Bird (2017). Now, I must admit that I’m not familiar with Gerwig’s earlier works, but this coming-of-age drama moved me more than I expected. The film is wittily written, humorous dialogues overlap with striking scenes presenting the struggles of young people. The wonderful Saoirse Ronan brought up the character of the rebellious teenager to life and made me root for her. The difficult relationships between mothers and daughters, despite not being a new topic in cinema, was handled especially well. The film is not literally autobiographical as some may think, but as Gerwig commented: “there’s a core of emotional truth that’s very resonant”. Lady Bird not only captivated the audience, but it also brought her nomination to the Oscar, marking Gerwig fifth female director in history acknowledged by the Academy.

Gerwig made a beautiful, joyful film, turning away from the naivety of the book

Her next film, Little Women (2019), received even greater critical acclaim. It is not the first adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott’s novel, but this one is truly feminist. Gerwig made a beautiful, joyful film, turning away from the naivety of the book. She gave a voice to all March sisters justifying their life choices. Most readers liked literary Jo, so it is not surprising that viewers fell in love with this character on the screen. But Gerwig also succeeded in showing the perspective of generally disliked Amy - her dialogue with Laurie in the artist’s room is simply unforgettable. The energy on the screen, the controlled chaos is truly exceptional, but even though the audience and critics raved about Little Women, Gerwig didn’t receive the Oscar nomination for directing. One may ironically comment that a film that got six Academy Awards nominations didn’t have a good enough director.

Gerwig emphasises that we need a larger conversation – the problem doesn’t only lie in not honouring women’s work, but most of all, in not letting them make films. Female directors struggle to get necessary financial support, even though Bigelow already proved that women can make good war films and productions like Wonder Woman (2017) showed that female protagonist can attract a mass audience. Despite that, Gerwig still needs to go through a “process of convincing people that financing movies about women is not a bad investment”. Let’s hope that the next years will bring positive changes and female directors will get equal opportunities – not because they are women, but because they can make good films.

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