SHOOT: While a major spotlight has been cast, and deservedly so, on the showing of female feature directors--Chloe Zhao for Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman (Focus Features)--in both Oscar and DGA Award nominations this season, hovering a bit under the radar are the accomplishments of women helmers in the commercialmaking arena. They too have made Guild history.
Nisha Ganatra of Chelsea Pictures
and Melina Matsoukas of PRETTYBIRD, two women of color, are among the nominees for the DGA Award recognizing Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials for 2020. This marks the first time that two solo female directors broke through with nominations in the spotmaking category in the same year.
The rest of this year’s field of DGA commercial nominees consists of directors Steve Ayson of MJZ; Niclas Larsson, also of MJZ; and Taika Waititi of Hungry Man.
earned her first career DGA nomination on the strength of Bodyform/Libresse’s “#wombstories” for AMV BBDO. She successfully diversified into the ad arena via Chelsea after directing Late Night, a feature which scored with critics and commercially at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Late Night was bought by Amazon for $13 million, the highest price paid at the fest for a film by a female director. Ganatra is also an Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy nominee as a producer on Transparent.
Matsoukas’ Guild nod came for Beats by Dr. Dre’s “You Love Me” from agency Translation. This is the third career DGA Award nomination for Matsoukas but first for a commercial. Last year she was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film for Queen & Slim. Back in 2018, Matsoukas garnered her very first Guild nom, for the “Thanksgiving” episode of the TV comedy series Master of None.
Matsoukas and Ganatra join a select field of women directors to gain Guild recognition in the commercials category--the first being Amy Hill as half of the directorial duo Reiss/Hill in 1999; followed by Katrina Mercadante as half of the team known as The Mercadantes in 2015. That same year, Lauren Greenfield also received a nomination, making her the first individual female helmer to earn that distinction in the commercials competition. Greenfield, however, was no stranger to the nominees’ circle, having broken through for the feature documentary The Queen of Versailles back in 2013.
In 2018, Alma Har’el became the second solo woman director to be nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials since this category was established in 1980. Fast forward to today, and two more solo women directors have made the spotmaking cut.
Har’el of course made a major breakthrough last year when she won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film for Honey Boy.
Fittingly, the entries garnering DGA nominations for Matsoukas and Ganatra break through barriers, and serve as catalysts for thought--one delving into Black culture and the hypocrisy as to how it’s viewed by many in White America. The other bringing out into the open the taboos that hold women back.
The latter, “#wombstories” helmed by Ganatra, confronts a damaging etiquette that women live with every day, one which dictates what they should--and shouldn’t--feel about their bodies. With #wombstories, the brands Bodyform and Libresse push back against the single, simplistic narrative girls are taught from a young age: start your period in adolescence, repeat with “a bit” of pain, want a baby, get pregnant, have more periods, stop periods, fade into the menopausal background.
The reality is, of course, much messier, but society doesn’t encourage women to talk openly about the highs and lows of their intimate health, especially. A research study of women and men by Bodyform and Libresse found that two-thirds of women who experienced miscarriage, endometriosis, fertility issues and menopause said that being open with family and friends helped them cope.
With “#wombstories,” Bodyform and Libresse want to encourage an open culture where everyone can express what they go through without fearing they won’t be properly heard or believed and without feeling shame that they are somehow less than what they were taught to be. The pleasure, the pain, the love, the hate. It’s never simple but it all needs to be heard. Because keeping it in or leaving it unheard comes at an emotional and physical cost both at an individual and collective level.
For “#wombstories” Bodyform and Libresse worked with Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated director, writer and producer Ganatra, a predominantly female crew and an all-women team of animators and illustrators who have imagined the life of wombs. Framestore provided animation and live-action visual effects.
From the burning down apartment of a peri-menopausal woman, a monster ripping at an endometriosis sufferer’s uterus, a woman’s “flood gate” moment during her period and an unexpected sneeze, to the woman who has chosen not to have children and the often-turbulent journey of trying to conceive--these select womb stories chronicle the sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal human side of the biology and physiology experienced every day. And while only a handful of experiences are shown, they represent the billions of complex experiences out there--from hysterectomies to postpartum trauma, artificial menopause, being a trans-man, and so on.
Meanwhile Matsoukas powerful short for Apple’s Beats by Dre honors Black culture, includes Black stars in sports and entertainment, and shows us how while mainstream society embraces Black culture and celebs, it fails to embrace Black individuals. The short opens with the familiar “You love me, you love me not” refrain, underscoring the mixed message that is a part of systemic racism.
“You love Black culture. But do you love me?” musical artist Tobe Nwigwe narrates. “You love how I sound: My voice, these beats, this flow. Not me though, right?”
He continues, “You love how I look: My hair, this skin. But me? Nah. We don’t get to exist. We’re forced to survive. We still fight. We still play while the world burns, on fields that ain’t even level.”
Matsoukas’ piece ultimately asks us to look inside ourselves so that this perennial injustice can finally be addressed and changed.
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