Last Friday, as I compiled, wrote and posted my list of My 11 Favorite Cinematographers, a harsh truth was confirmed: there really are no notable female cinematographers currently (or previously) working in film. While that’s a bold (and, as I soon learned, inaccurate) statement, the real question I’m driving at is: why are there no female cinematographers?
First off, let me make it very clear that I have no intention of answering that question, simply because I’m unqualified to. Fact is, stats don’t lie, and according to the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film, of the highest grossing 250 films in any given year, only 2 percent of them are shot by women. That’s five movies. Another haunting figure: how many women have won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography? None. A woman would have to be nominated first in order to win, which has never happened.
So, why are there hardly any female cinematographers? Probably the same reason there aren’t many female directors, editors, film musicians, and so on. What’s the reason? Hell if I know. Hollywood misogyny, lack of awareness, absence of opportunity. Again, I’m no expert, I can only attest that it is a shame to hear a female’s name being called on Oscar night for categories limited to costume design, makeup, and female acting.
Let’s not run wild here, though. I don’t mean for this post to turn into a feminist-inspired bash on the film industry (although, I wouldn’t mind doing that someday). Instead let’s focus on the female exceptions to the craft of cinematography, of which there are several, sure, but not nearly enough.
|Alberti (right) with Darren Aronofsky|
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004)
Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
The Wrestler (2008)
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010)
Arguably the most well-known female cinematographer ever (and the one whose gotten closest to an Oscar nomination) is Ellen Kuras. While her frequent work with Spike Lee (most notably on the gritty and gorgeous He Got Game, which I have previously said is one of Lee’s most technically flawless films), drew my attention years ago, and her use of Super-8 film stock in the flashback sequences for Ted Demme’s Blow is ingenious, her magnum opus has got to be Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Eternal Sunshine is a ballsy, unique film with a ballsy, unique script, that is executed with ballsy, unique vision. Nothing about the movie is normal. It breaks barriers and sets new limits. All of you who hailed Eternal Sunshine as the best film of the 2000s should most definitely give credit to Kuras. She made the thing fly.
|Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind|
Summer of Sam (1999)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Away We Go (2009)
Public Speaking (2010)
Rain Kathy Li
Paranoid Park (co-shot with Christopher Doyle) (2007)
Dead Presidents (1995)
Trees Lounge (1996)
Three Seasons (1999)
The Soul of a Man (2003)
The Caveman’s Valentine (2001)
Hustle & Flow (2005)
This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
Black Snake Moan (2006)
Shattered Glass (2003)
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Brianne Murphy has a number of credits on IMDb, she’s even won a Scientific and Engineering Oscar for the concept, design and manufacture of the MISI Camera Insert Car and Process Trailer, (though I’m not sure what that means). But notable feature film credits are nonexistent.
Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Nancy) has shot many of her documentaries, none of which have garnered commercial success. Ditto Ellen Spiro, whose many documentaries have never received wide distribution.
|Winter’s Bone, dir. by Debra Granik|
Now-revered female directors Debra Granik (who directed Down to the Bone and Winter’s Bone) and Lynne Ramsay (who made Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin) both got their start shooting short films, but have since hired male DPs to shoot their features.
In short, I’m not sure why there aren’t more female cinematographers, or more females in the film business in general, I just know that the percentage of female DPs is staggering to the point of embarrassment. The same could be said for the lack of minorities in the business as well, but at the risk of having this post become an unhinged rant, I’ll leave you with the names above. Names of women who have proven they’re as good as their male counterparts. I just hope we start seeing more of them.
My original list of My 11 Favorite Cinematographers