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How long can this nonsense of the Oscars failing to nominate female directors go on? | Ellen E Jones | Film

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Congratulations to those men – I guess? Issa Rae summarised the mixed feelings of many when yet another all-male list of best director Oscar nominations was announced yesterday. It’s possible to note – entirely without snide – that it has been a bumper year for films about men by men. The frontrunners – Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Sam Mendes’ 1917, and even Todd Phillips’ Joker – provided plentiful and pertinent insights into male power, male ego and male fallibility. But what about the rest of us?

We must content ourselves with Little Women, the lone female-directed film on the best picture list, for, as Aunt March would counsel, that is our lot in life. After decades of being mischaracterised as a cosy tale about sweet-natured sisters and their domestic trifles, Louisa May Alcott’s sardonically titled Little Women finally has a faithful adaptation. Under Greta Gerwig’s passionate direction, it rages righteously about the patriarchy’s narrow definition of artistic merit – amusingly embodied by Tracy Letts’ belittling publisher, Dashwood – and how it works to crush female creativity. How apt.

Does Oscars 2020 feel like a pendulum swing back to the bad old days before women were allowed creativity, or interiority, or speaking parts? Not even. In truth, female film-makers have never been properly acknowledged by the Academy. Only five women have been nominated for a best director award in the Academy Awards’s 92-year history and only one – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker – has won. On the most recent occasion when a woman was nominated, it was the same woman: Gerwig again for Lady Bird in 2017. Is Hollywood operating a “one-in-one-out” policy for female film-makers?

Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which did not receive any Oscars nominations despite being considered one of the year’s best films.



Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which did not receive any Oscars nominations despite being considered one of the year’s best films.

These stats do obscure progress of a sort. In Oscar terms, Bigelow was the Gerwig of the 00s, and she had to explosively out-testosterone Hollywood’s big boys with films such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty just to get a look in. Gerwig has been nominated for pictures that emphatically tell women’s stories. And yet, is it too much to ask that the Oscars acknowledge not just one female story every few years, but a multiplicity, every year?

Because it’s not as if the films aren’t there. Female-directed films now come in more shapes and sizes than a body-positive catwalk show. This year’s could’ve-should’ve-been-contenders include Lulu Wang, Marielle Heller, Céline Sciamma, Lorena Scafaria, Mati Diop and Melina Matsoukas. Why don’t they count?

It’s not as if the Academy is ignoring calls to diversify. Intake numbers increased year-on-year between 2015 and 2018, and overall female membership went from 25% to 31% in the same period. Some genres such as documentary have achieved gender parity, and this is sometimes reflected in Academy Award nominees. This year, four out of five films on the best documentary list have a female director or co-director.

Sometimes, but not always. Oscars 2020 demonstrates that diversity drives will only get us so far. Industry types, critics and ordinary filmgoers still all have to interrogate our assumptions about what makes a film award-worthy. If Ford v Ferrari receives nominations, why not Hustlers? If Marriage Story, why not The Farewell? If Parasite, why not Portrait of a Lady on Fire? Internalised prejudice means everyone, male and female, has a Dashwood in their head, scoffing at the very notion that female experience might be just as valid as male experience. But Jo March didn’t let him get the better of her – and neither should we.



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‘Rough sex’ as a defence for murder is grotesque victim-blaming | Sian Norris | Opinion

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The killer of British backpacker Grace Millane has been sentenced to life in prison in New Zealand. Millane’s mother, Gillian, told her daughter’s killer: “You have taken my daughter’s future and robbed us of so many memories that we were going to create.”

The horrific murder of Millane, who met her killer (who cannot be named for legal reasons) on a Tinder date, has focused attention on the increasing use of the “sex game gone wrong” defence by men who kill women. It’s a defence that can only be described as victim-blaming taken to its most grotesque extreme. Here we have increasing numbers of men blaming women for the fatal violence committed against them, suggesting women can somehow consent to their own deaths (which is legally impossible) while claiming they themselves cannot be held responsible. It’s time the use of this defence stopped – for good.

In a twisted reversal, the defence also positions men as hapless victims of women’s sexual demands. After all, how can it be his fault if he was just doing what she wanted? It argues men don’t know that, for example, strangling, beating and cutting a woman’s neck isn’t dangerous, and so they cannot be blamed.

But that’s nonsense. Millane’s killer strangled her for 10 minutes. As the sentencing judge explained, that’s not “rough sex”. It’s violence.

The campaigning group We Can’t Consent to This, which tirelessly records the use of this defence, believes “sex game gone wrong” was first used in 1972, when Carole Califono died after her partner Peter Drinkwater injected her with anaesthetics. He argued he was trying to “satisfy her perverted sexual desires”, and was sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter.

For 40 years the use of the defence was relatively rare. But since 2010, it has rocketed by 90%, with 28 cases of men claiming a woman died as a result of a “sex game gone wrong”. The oldest victim in the past 10 years was 66-year-old Lesley Potter – although this was just one of many excuses used by her killer. The youngest was 16-year-old Hannah Pearson, whose death I can’t think about without starting to cry. James Morton killed Hannah hours after they met, saying she “didn’t object” when he started to strangle her. He was convicted of manslaughter.

Morton and Drinkwater aren’t the only men who have used the defence. Six cases since 2010 led to a manslaughter conviction, including that of Natalie Connolly in 2018. She sustained 40 injuries and was left for dead at the foot of a staircase. Her killer, John Broadhurst, argued it was rough sex, and was sentenced to 44 months.

The defence also re-victimises the women it is used against, and victimises their families.

During the trial of Millane’s killer, the use of the defence led to her sexual history being raked over the coals. Tabloid headlines in the UK and around the world joined in with the killer’s claims by focusing on her dating past. The New York Post, in a particularly egregious headline, repeated without question her killer’s claims of what she asked for in sexual terms in the hours before her death. Other news outlets chose to focus on her membership of a fetish website, and her alleged requests for BDSM practices.

Of course, Millane can’t defend herself against his claims and the headlines his words spawned. Dead women don’t get a voice. Meanwhile, the people who knew and loved her had to listen to a panoply of voices shift blame from the man who strangled her on to a 22-year-old woman for daring to have a sexual past.

Such victim-blaming leads to another terrifying consequence of the sex game gone wrong defence. If past consent to certain sexual acts can be used against a woman in court then any woman who has ever expressed her sexuality in a certain way can be blamed for the violence committed against her. That is deeply troubling.

Since the Millane verdict there have been renewed calls for the law, in the UK at least, to be changed so men can no longer claim “sex game gone wrong” in court. The Labour MP Harriet Harman has led the charge, calling it the new version of the “nagging and shagging” or “provocation” defence that was banned in 2010. Boris Johnson also backs a ban, according to Grazia magazine.

Such a ban cannot come soon enough. Without it, men will continue to blame their victims for the fatal violence committed against them. Violent men will continue to claim that bruises and cuts are proof of their victim’s consent, as opposed to marks of aggression. And women and families will continue to be re-victimised by lurid claims like those directed at Grace. Claims she could not defend herself against because he took away her voice. He took away her life.

Sian Norris is a freelance journalist writing about feminist and LGBTIQ issues



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