Five decades ago, Lina Wertmüller became the first woman ever to be nominated for an Oscars category that was almost entirely monopolized by white men. Only four other women were nominated for ‘Best Director’ in subsequent years, and Lina made history with her 1975 movie, Seven Beauties.
On October 27 this year, Wertmüller was awarded an honorary Oscar at the 11th annual Governors Awards for her lifetime contribution to the arts. The Italian director, who is known for focusing on social issues in her films, accepted her statuette but proposed a radical modification: “She would like to change the name ‘Oscar’ to a feminine name,” Isabella Rossellini said, translating for Wertmüller, who in turn called for the women in the audience to chant “We want ‘Anna’ – a female Oscar!”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must have been taking notes, as the four awards presented that evening included two brilliant women. Geena Davis, who already had a few Oscars under her belt for work in Thelma and Louise and Accidental Tourist, was acknowledged for her role as an influential activist this year with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The award is periodically given for “outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes,” and it recognized the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a non-profit organization which assembles research to inform the film industry of its gender bias while encouraging wider roles for female characters.
In her acceptance speech, Davis called the occupational representation of women in film to attention: “However abysmal the numbers are in real life, it is far worse in fiction, where you make it up!”
The audiences also witnessed the first ever Native American to be awarded an Oscar. Wes Studi, a Cherokee actor with memorable roles in Dances With Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans, was given an honorary Oscar for “becoming known for portraying strong Native American characters with poignancy and authenticity.” After being honored by Christian Bale, Joy Harjo and Q’orianka Kilcher, Wes Studi accepted his award, noting the importance of representation in the Oscars: “It’s about time!”
With the Academy taking steps (if not strides) to be more inclusive, David Lynch was the only white male recipient of the night, who also spent the least time onstage. His speech spanned just under a minute: “Thank you all very much,” he began. “To the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, thank you for this honor. And to all the people who helped me along the road. Congratulations to the other honorees tonight, and everyone have a great night.” Lynch then looked at his Oscar statue and added: “You have a very interesting face. Good night.”
View this post on Instagram
The iconic director’s first Oscar came after numerous nominations over the years, for his work on The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001).
The night wasn’t televised, but it was still memorable and relevant to audiences around the world. It demonstrated that the Academy took the #OscarSoWhite controversy, which lashed out against the all-white nominations for Oscars in 2015, very seriously. In the long run, we’re hoping the ‘Annas’ become a new slogan for female empowerment in film.