Oscars Countdown: 10 Diverse Directors that are dominating right now
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The diversity of faces on screen is something we’re seeing Hollywood slowly and painfully move towards — though they have a long way to go. Casting diverse actors alone doesn’t come close to addressing the issues of diverse stories. The people behind the camera — the directors, the writers, the producers — all have a far bigger impact on the stories being told, and how they’re told.
Image courtesy of Vanity Fair
Here are 10 diverse directors that are absolutely killing it right now. Some of them received nominations at the Oscars this year, but most of them didn’t. Let’s hope in coming years the opportunities given to diverse creators grow more and more due to the huge success of these amazing directors!
1. Jordan Peele
If you haven’t seen last year’s most groundbreaking film Get Out (2017), one: you’re probably white, and two: you must have been living under a rock somewhere. Jordan Peele has been a household name for a long time alongside his comedy co-creator Keegan Michael Key, together bringing us joy through the genius of Key & Peele. Melding his love of horror film with his experiences as a black man in America, Peele has given us a film that is uniquely unsettling and validating, depending on the background and experiences of its audience. His voice in the industry is just as unique, and it’s a wonderful surprise that this radical genre film has been honoured at the highest level with Oscar nominations for Peele for both Director and Original Screenplay.
2. Guillermo Del Toro
From Pan’s Labyrinth to Pacific Rim, Del Toro’s fascination with monsters is a running theme in his work. The Shape of Water (2017) takes that fascination to new heights, and deservedly received a whopping 13 nominations at the Oscars this year. The subversion of what a monster is truly drives this film, and Del Toro has said the creature represents his own experiences as an immigrant in America. That really cuts to the core of why diverse filmmakers are so important: they bring their unique and diverse experiences to their work, allowing audiences to find themselves on screen in a mute woman, a black woman, a gay man, and a “monster” too.
3. Greta Gerwig
Lady Bird (2017) has received unanimous rave reviews, and it is groundbreaking in itself for a teenage girl’s coming of age drama to be recognised at the Oscars. The story hits many familiar beats from popular culture and from life - boyfriends, best friends, applying for college, your first time - but never have they been portrayed on screen with such reverence. Gerwig’s screenplay taps into the profoundness of what might otherwise be considered a perfectly ordinary life. The difference it makes having a woman penning the script and directing is evident in this quote from Gerwig in an interview with Bust Magazine: "I like writing about women in relation to other women — mothers and daughters, friends, sisters, mentors — because men don’t know what women do when they aren’t there.”
4. Patty Jenkins
Wonder Woman (2017) changed the superhero game last year, not only by centring a female superhero, but by centring a female perspective. The Amazon society on Themyscira showed women as rulers and politicians and (practically dressed!) warriors and mothers and sisters and even implied lovers. Though Diana (Gal Gadot)’s transition into the real world leads the film into much more male dominated waters, Jenkins’ film never loses sight of the female perspective that prioritises saving people over fighting bad guys. The time taken to develop the mutual respect and genuine care between Diana and Steve (Chris Pine) is a uniquely refreshing deviation from any preceding superhero romance subplots too! It’s a shame that the Academy couldn’t find space to nominate Wonder Woman at all.
5. Dee Rees
Mudbound (2017) is one of the most under appreciated films this year, though it has received four nominations, including for Adapted Screenplay. Rees co-wrote and directed this absolute masterpiece which deals with a black and a white soldier returning home from World War II to work on a farm in Mississippi. Rees has been open about using her own family stories to expand upon the novel by Hillary Jordan that the film is based on. This deep personal connection, as well as her perspective as an African American woman shapes this film so pointedly with regards to both gender and race. This story in anyone else’s hands could not come close to achieving what it does in hers. Rees deserved the title of first woman of colour to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars for this film, and it’s a travesty that she was overlooked.
6. Taika Waititi
Back to superhero films once more, Maori director Taika Waititi made his break into the mainstream with Thor: Ragnarök (2017), breaking all stereotypes about what a superhero film is. Though the diversification on screen involved casting Tessa Thompson in the role of Valkyrie, it’s Waititi’s influence behind the camera that made this film so revolutionary. Quite aside from his quirky humour and distinctive narrative voice, engagement with colonial theory made up the very spine of this film. To have a mainstream blockbuster deal with the effects of colonialism and the refugee crisis without losing its sense of fun is a feat not to be diminished. Waititi’s fantastic earlier work, Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) and Boy (2010), are steeped in Maori and New Zealand culture, and it’s brilliant that non-American and non-white voices like Waititi’s are finally being given the platform they deserve on a world stage.
7. Park Chan-wook
Park’s BAFTA winning The Handmaiden (2017) is a Korean adaptation of the novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters. He re-situated this British novel to explore the cultural differences between South Korea and Japan — a refreshing subversion of the all too common whitewashing of East Asian roles that happens in Hollywood. The exploration of gender and sexuality is so different from anything seen through a Western lens, and Park is so respectful of the female characters he presents. A razor-sharp deconstruction of toxic masculinity and cultural elitism, the film is an absolute triumph for women, and for Korean film being acknowledged for its radical statements.
8. Shubhashish Bhutiani
Born and raised in India, Bhutiani’s New York film education and help from La Biennale in Venice resulted in his first feature film, Mukthi Bhavan (Hotel Salvation) (2016) having a hugely successful festival run last year. The film is a beautifully empathetic exploration of mortality, family, and faith. Far from a Bollywood blockbuster, but not Western in its attitudes either, Bhutiani takes the best from both cultures and creates a film as unique as his voice in the industry. Indian attitudes and traditions meet with his European and American collaborators behind the camera to create a film that overcomes cultural boundaries in all directions. His is an exciting career trajectory that deserves to be followed closely.
9. Ava DuVernay
The next Disney blockbuster to hit our screens is A Wrinkle in Time (2018) from Selma (2014) director DuVernay. Always vocal about centring black stories, DuVernay cast young black actress Storm Reid as the lead of the film: a girl called Meg who is assumed to be white in the book. Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw make up just some of the rest of the hugely diverse cast. Diversifying and therefore universalising beloved stories, opening them up for every child to find themselves in, is such a profound thing to be doing, and DuVernay is no doubt the perfect figure to be spearheading such a movement.
10. Ryan Coogler
No one can have missed the movie-ment of Black Panther (2018) this past month, and the man behind the magic is 31 year old director Coogler. Both his previous feature films have received huge critical praise: Fruitvale Station (2013) winning Un Certain Regard and Cannes, and Creed (2015) being acknowledged at the Oscars. From the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man being unjustly shot by police in Oakland, to continuing the Rocky franchise, Coogler has always brought a reality and intimacy to black stories. Black Panther takes that to a whole new level, exploring the cultural conversation between Africans and African Americans, while elevating and celebrating both cultures in a way never seen before in popular culture.