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Natalie Portman’s Oscars cape honors the women directors the Academy ignored

There were no female nominees in the Best Director category this year.

Natalie Portman wears a cape with the names of female film directors who were not nominated for Oscars.
Natalie Portman’s cape features the last names of eight women directors who weren’t nominated for an Oscar.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Natalie Portman’s Oscars outfit might not seem like anything out of the ordinary at first glance. Upon closer inspection, the lining of the actress’s elegant Dior cape carries a subtle dig at the Academy. Portman’s cape features the last names of eight women directors of critically acclaimed 2019 films — none of whom were nominated (in fact, no women were nominated by the Academy for the Best Director category).

“I wanted to recognize the women who were not recognized for their incredible work this year in a subtle way,” Portman said on the red carpet. The women directors on her cape are: Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Mati Diop (Atlantics), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), and Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).

As Alissa Wilkinson wrote for Vox, the Academy has an abysmal history of nominating women in the director category. In fact, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to win; her Best Director award for The Hurt Locker happened back in 2010. A decade later, not much seems to have changed. While announcing the nominees in January, presenter Issa Rae famously quipped “congratulations to those men,” drawing attention to how, once again, there were no women in that category.

Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Little Women despite the film earning six nominations, and those who directed critically acclaimed and audience-loved films — for example, Diop, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes for Atlantics and Wang, who was nominated for a Golden Globes for The Farewell — were also left out.

Some critics say the Academy is drawn to movies with familiar narratives and tropes — as a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” bit jokingly points out, films that are centered on “white male rage” (the viral song, by Melissa Villaseñor, also notes Gerwig’s snub). Despite Little Women’s box office success and the massive critical praise it received, the film has been overlooked this awards cycle. As Constance Grady wrote for Vox, this might be a result of the narrative that men aren’t interested in watching Little Women.

It’s not only the Academy: Hollywood has historically struggled to honor or even hire women directors. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, as of 2019, only 4 percent of Hollywood films were directed by women. Portman has been particularly vocal about the lack of celebration of women directors across the industry. As a presenter at the 2018 Golden Globes alongside Ron Howard, she introduced the Best Director category by saying, “and now, here are the all-male nominees.”

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