If the awards are to be used as a measure of progress in Hollywood, then two consecutive Oscar wins for female directors, with last year’s winner Jane Campion becoming the first woman to be nominated twice, could be a sign that things are moving in the right direction. the right direction.
But there is one category that still needs to seriously catch up – cinematography.
Since the Oscars began in 1929, there has never been a female winner, and in fact only two women have been nominated – Dee Reese in 2018 for Mudbound and Ari Wegner for Power of the Dog, which won Champion for directing.
But the Academy can only reward those responsible for making movies in any given year, and a recent study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that only a handful of women are behind the cameras. found that in 2021, only 6% of filmmakers were women, compared to 4% in 1998.
Polly Morgan, whose new film The Woman King premiered to overwhelmingly positive reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, is one of that small percentage.
The British filmmaker is the only woman accredited by both the British and American Film Societies and, speaking at the film festival, told Sky News that progress was being made, but slowly.
“I do see a lot of young women… and a lot of women contact me from all over the world and they all ask me questions like, ‘How do I do this? How do I get there? Do I go ahead?” Morgan said.
“So it’s hard to know contextually how many are out there, but, you know, we’re moving somewhere, we’re definitely taking a step in the right direction.
“There aren’t really that many female VFX and female composers. I think there are the fewest female composers, so filmmaking is just very male, and I think we’re making strides to strike a balance, but it’s just taking a little bit of time.”
In addition to The Woman King, Morgan also worked as a cinematographer on this summer’s box office success Where the Crowded Sing.
She says that despite being one of the few women to make it to the top of the industry, she still can’t believe it.
“I have to pinch myself because it’s all so weird, I still feel like I’m 21, and so I think it’s scary when I realize that I’m not and that younger people are coming up behind me.” she admitted.
“But I think it’s important to have a presence, to do advertising and stuff, because I understand that’s what inspires young people.
“I think when I started, there were very few women in the industry that I could really go to and ask for advice, and that’s why I love it now that there are more women doing it.”
Morgan says she was inspired by representation – when she was trying to balance her career with her family.
“I like that women have families and [are] managing to do both,” she said.
“I thought in my twenties and even thirties that I would never be able to have a family and do this job, and it wasn’t until I started seeing women around me doing it that I thought, oh, I can too do it’ – and now I can.
“And even though it’s hard for working mothers, we make it work, and that’s why I think it’s important for women to know that they can be directors in any way they want and also be mothers.”
The Woman King was something of a passion project for director Gina Prince-Bythewood and star Viola Davis.
About an all-female warrior unit in West Africa called the Agojie, it is set in the 1820s and took about seven years to create.
When the deal got the green light, Prince-Bythewood assembled a team of top female department heads, including Morgan.
Filming took place in South Africa, and the cameraman says the shoot was not easy.
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“It’s been a challenge all around, I think that’s one of the things that really attracts me to something is the excitement of pushing yourself and doing something new,” Morgan said.
“But yeah, we started doing principal photography in northern South Africa on location, in a game reserve, actually shooting the opening scene of the movie, which is a nighttime exterior, a huge battle scene, and we had to get everybody and everything to that location, everybody extra backdrops, all the camp materials, all the lights, cables, generators, crew, and there’s no Wi-Fi, so communication was difficult, so it was incredibly EXCITING.
“The crews in South Africa are incredible and I think a challenge like this just brings everyone together and you just have to figure out how you’re going to do it.”
But while it’s been tough, it’s also been rewarding, and Morgan says she’s proud of what she’s accomplished.
“On a film like this, as opposed to a smaller film, my role changes because I have to lead and manage all these different types of people, as well as a team of editors who will go ahead and set up the equipment for us in advance and make sure everything is on places when we get there so that we don’t need a phenomenal amount of time.
“So it’s like working at an airport or something – flying airplanes is some other part of my brain that has to work.”
Woman King opens in UK cinemas next month, but whether a woman will ever be crowned Best Cinematographer at the Oscars remains to be seen.