Rachel Morrison broke one of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ longest-running, most unfortunate streaks this morning, becoming the very first woman ever to be nominated for the award for Best Cinematography for her work on Netflix’s Mudbound.
Cinematography, which essentially rewards a movie’s images and how they’re captured via camerawork and lighting within the frame, was the only technical category in which the Oscars had never nominated a woman. Indeed, across all the Oscars categories, the only other two without female nominees are Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, where the lack of women nominated is in the very definition of the category.
That the cinematography branch had never nominated a woman before this morning is a combination of factors, but the biggest one is that the field is a small one, and often filled with familiar names. (The same man — the brilliant Emmanuel Lubezki — won from 2014 through 2016, to give you a sense of how often the same names float to the top of the list.)
Women weren’t often employed as cinematographers in the early days of film, owing to the heaviness of the equipment, but that institutional bias carried forward even into the days when cameras have become more and more portable. (Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but Hollywood sometimes isn’t the most progressive place when it comes to gender relations.) It’s only in the past 20 years that names like Ellen Kuras and Maryse Alberti have even been in the conversation.
Morrison’s work is historic in another way, as Netflix’s first nomination in a technical category this significant. Cinematography is one of the few categories that has been around from the very first ceremony in 1928, and Morrison’s gorgeous images, full of richly hued skies and all manner of mud-streaked colors, are a wonderful new addition to the list of nominees.