The irony was lost on members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at last night’s Oscars when it showed a film clip from Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. In the scene, fledgling writer Jo March and her sister Amy disagree about the importance of Jo’s work. Confessing her doubts, Jo asks, “Who will be interested in a story of domestic struggles and joys? It doesn’t have any real importance.” Amy responds, “Maybe we don’t see these things as important because no one writes about them.” The act of writing them, she argues, “makes them important.”
Despite being nominated for Best Picture, Little Women did not garner a directing nomination for the gifted Gerwig, whose stories about girls and women are quietly subversive. In the case of Little Women, Gerwig took a cherished and sentimental classic and transformed it into a commentary about the limits society places upon women. These limits are still clearly being felt, as evidenced by the boys’ club in Hollywood that fawns over directors like Scorsese and Tarantino with their male-dominated, machismo-saturated storylines.
Indeed, the latest version of Little Women was looked upon by many as a “chick flick,” something no self-respecting guy would watch. A story featuring and dominated by women – “a story of domestic struggles and joys” – still holds limited appeal in a society that glorifies war, racing, crime and other manly subjects.
Everything about Gerwig’s version of Little Women made it worthy of an Oscar. The acting, the script, the production design that created a series of impressionistic visual images, the soaring musical score: it was a masterpiece. And it did win an Oscar – for costume design. I guess a “women’s movie” is allowed to be praised for its fashion sense.
As inspiring as it was to see a relative unknown, Bong Joon Ho, win big for his movie Parasite, I was disappointed that in 2020, women are still struggling against a perception that their stories and concerns are too light and inconsequential to be taken seriously. Maybe if Greta Gerwig makes the sequel, Little Men, the Academy will finally take notice.