For 90 years, film’s biggest stars have flocked to the red carpet for the most important night of the year: the Academy Awards. This year’s carpet will feature the fresh face of a woman who has already made quite a name for herself: Rachel Morrison, who is the first woman in history to receive an Oscar nomination for best cinematography.
By Haley Venglar ‘19
For 90 years, film’s biggest stars have flocked to the red carpet for the most important night of the year: the Academy Awards. The film industry has come a long way since the first show in 1929 when sound was added into films for the first time. This year’s carpet will feature the fresh face of a woman who has already made quite a name for herself: Rachel Morrison, who is the first woman in history to receive an Oscar nomination for best cinematography.
Morrison’s nomination is for her work on Dee Rees’ 1940’s set drama, “Mudbound.” In another first, she is the first woman to shoot a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the film “Black Panther.”
We spoke to Lisa Ellis, professor of film and women’s and gender studies from the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University, to find out what this nomination means for the film industry.
“When film was first created, it was very open and there were lots of directors that were women,” said Ellis. “It wasn’t until film production became more theatrical and moved to California, where it turned into an industry, that it became more of a business and very male dominated.”
Only 2% of the top 100 grossing films in 2017 had cinematographers that were women. This shocking statistic can be attributed to a number of factors, some of which originate in film school itself.
“I think that because of Morrison being nominated and all of the movements that are going on right now, there will be a greater level of consciousness on the importance of hiring women,” said Ellis. “However, I think it has to be a huge leap for this to become permanent. It has to start in film schools and we have to encourage women to hold the camera and not let male students over speak and dominate the conversations.”
Cinematographers have a vital role in film production. While a director is responsible for creating the vision of the film, the cinematographer is responsible for making this vision come to life and choosing all camera angles and lighting. Essentially, the cinematographer has the ability to choose exactly how an audience will view every scene of the film.
“Perhaps one of the reasons that we don’t have as many female cinematographers is because male directors are afraid that they will soften an image and portray it in a different way than what they’re envisioning,” said Ellis. “So, what we tend to see is that individuals in marginalized communities, like men and women of color, tend to be the ones that seek other underrepresented groups to work with them, like women.”
Even though women are underrepresented in the majority of major motion pictures, they have always played a part in the history of film. Women also comprise almost half of film school graduates.
“A lot of women, like myself, work in this independent film space that is documentary and art cinema spaces, and they’re just not represented in the top 200 or even the top 500 films,” said Ellis. “I’ve been teaching these courses for quite some time and I always find it amusing when people get upset about a woman’s work getting overlooked because this has been happening for years. There are so many early films where directors weren’t even labeled and we just sort of attribute them all to the work of men.”
We wish Morrison the best of luck at the Oscars!