WASHINGTON – Those disappointed with the Golden Globes again failing to a nominate a woman for best director might take some comfort in knowing that the National Film Registry this year is adding a record seven films directed by women into its canon,the most in a single year since the registry was created in 1989.
On Wednesday morning, the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden unveiled the 25 films added to the National Film Registry, a catalogue of films selected for preservation because of their “cultural, historic, and aesthetic” importance to the country’s film heritage.
This year’s slate of inductees includes Kimberly Peirce’s 1999 biopic “Boys Don’t Cry.” Hilary Swank earned an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena, a young transgender man who falls victim to a savage hate crime. Twenty years later, Peirce called the existence of the film, and the audience’s embrace of Brandon, “a miracle.”
“It was unimaginable to have a drama led by a transgender protagonist get studio funding and get shown to a wide audience,” Peirce told The Washington Post. “It’s an honor, as a woman, a genderqueer, and just as a person.”
Another pathbreaking film that will go in the registry: Madeline Anderson’s “I Am Somebody” (1970), about black hospital workers on strike in Charleston, South Carolina, is the first civil rights documentary directed by a woman of color and the first half-hour documentary by a black woman in the Directors Guild of America (DGA). That film also is considered one of the first films to link black women to civil rights activism. “A New Leaf” (1971), which made Elaine May the first woman to write, direct and star in a major American studio feature, will go into the registry, too, as will Claudi Weill’s 1978 comedy-drama, “Girlfriends,” which was the first grant-funded American indie film.
The registry includes works ranging from narrative features to short, experimental subject pieces. Past inductees include classics such as “12 Angry Men” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” as well as pop culture staples such as “The Big Lebowski,” “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” and “Airplane!”
This year’s honorees hail from a variety of genres. Riotous comedies such as Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” (1994) and Spike Lee’s debut “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986) accompany Disney’s fairy tale fantasy “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), Prince’s iconic musical drama “Purple Rain” (1984) and the Peter Shaffer masterpiece “Amadeus” (1984), an epic biographical drama about Mozart’s life and legend. The 2019 class spans a century of filmmaking, from the 150-second subject film “Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island” to the 2003 political documentary “The Fog of War.”
Peirce, the “Boys Don’t Cry” director, said she appreciated the Library of Congress’s recognition of her work, saying that such accolades elevate the work of female, nonwhite and non-cisgender artists. She added that there is more work yet to be done.
“The Library of Congress is doing great corrective work,” she said. “But we also have to ask, only seven films led by women. Why not 12 or 15?”
The film industry historically has not been friendly to women filmmakers. According to Emily Carman, an associate professor of cinema and media studies at Chapman University in California, women behind the camera were prevalent during the silent film era between the mid-1890s and the late 1920s. But once Hollywood studios transitioned to sound, she said, they cleaned house and reshaped their image to parallel “respectable businesses” such as the male-dominated Wall Street.
“In Hollywood there were only two female directors with DGA memberships from around 1930 to the late 1960s,” Carman said. “And they didn’t even work at the same time. Dorothy Arzner was from the late ’20s to the ’40s and Ida Lupino worked from the late ’40s to the mid-’60s.”
Female directors began to consistently reenter the fray during the ’70s. Carman noted that a majority of opportunities for women to leave their directorial marks came not within Hollywood but from the realms of documentary, independent and experimental cinema.
Tellingly, most of the women-led films the National Film Registry chose this year came from these spaces. “I Am Somebody” and Greta Schiller’s “Before Stonewall” (1984) are documentaries. “Girlfriends” and Patricia Cardoso’s “Real Women Have Curves” (2002) are indie films. Gunvor Nelson depicted childhood experience with vivid rhythms and visuals in her avant-garde standout “My Name is Oona” (1969).
Films selected for the 2019 National Film Registry
Becky Sharp (1935)
Before Stonewall (1984)
Body and Soul (1925)
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island (1903)
Employees Entrance (1933)
The Fog of War (2003)
George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute (1937)
I Am Somebody (1970)
The Last Waltz (1978)
My Name Is Oona (1969)
A New Leaf (1971)
Old Yeller (1957)
The Phenix City Story (1955)
Purple Rain (1984)
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Zoot Suit (1981)