Did Guillermo Del Toro just secure his first Academy Award?
It certainly seems that way following Saturday’s Directors Guild of America Awards, where the Shape of Water filmmaker won the night’s top prize. After all, every D.G.A. feature victor in the last 14 years has gone on to claim the corresponding Oscar, save for Ben Affleck in 2012. (The Academy snubbed Affleck in the directing category, and awarded Ang Lee for Life of Pi.)
“We are living in a time that is tremendously difficult, and sometimes the best way to [celebrate] inclusion, and welcoming others rather than fearing them is with a fable,” del Toro said of his whimsical period romance, about a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with an empathetic fish-man (Doug Jones). “Inclusion is necessary if not for any other reason than for the fact that we are not hearing all of the stories that need to be heard.”
Inclusion was very much the theme of the evening. Each of the nominees in the feature-directing category was invited onstage to make a speech. The ceremony, which was hosted by Judd Apatow, took place inside the same Beverly Hilton ballroom where, four weeks earlier at the Golden Globes, Natalie Portman pointed out Hollywood’s egregious gender disparity by presenting the “all-male” directing nominees. The D.G.A. Awards, however, unlike the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, nominated Lady Bird filmmaker Greta Gerwig (the ninth woman nominated in the category by the guild) and Get Out mastermind Jordan Peele (the fourth black director nominated).
Though Del Toro took the evening’s marquee honor, it was Peele who received an enthusiastic standing ovation upon winning the best first-time-director medallion. Peele is the first director in guild history to be nominated in both feature-director and first-time-director categories, and Get Out cast member Bradley Whitford articulated how incredible it is for “a first-time director, right out of the gate, to arrive with a fully-formed voice that transcends genre and chucks a cultural grenade.”
Said Peele, “Directing Get Out was one of the greatest privileges, experiences, and responsibilities of my life. It was based on the notion that a cry for justice can come in many forms. . . I think the fact that this cry for justice has been heard is very much a step in the right direction.”
D.G.A. President Thomas Schlamme opened the ceremony by acknowledging another cry for justice.
“Today we are witnessing a historic cultural shift in our industry and hopefully our society as well,” said Schlamme. “Our guild has been outspoken about our commitment in the drive to more respectful and inclusive workplaces, which includes a world where our members and others can show up for work without any fear of sexual harassment.”
Apatow used his opening monologue to point out that “only 5 percent of movies were directed by women in the last 10 years.”
“Isn’t that the worst, most embarrassing statistic? When women direct movies you get Lady Bird, Mudbound, and Wonder Woman. When you have male directors you get The Emoji Movie. . .with a character who is a literal piece of shit.”
Despite the meager statistics about female directors, women won three of the eleven D.G.A. categories on Saturday: Beth McCarthy-Miller of Veep for comedy directing; Reed Morano of The Handmaid’s Tale for drama directing; and Niki Caro of Anne with an E for children’s-program directing.
Perhaps the most poetic moment, given the industry’s thrust for equality, came when Greta Gerwig took the stage during her presentation for Lady Bird. After about 90 seconds of obligatory thanks—to star Saoirse Ronan, her producing team, etc.—Gerwig realized that she was slightly hunched over the podium, her posture more apologetic than assured.
“I don’t know how I end up down here,” Gerwig said, suddenly realizing that she was crouched over the microphone for no reason. “I end up here most of the time.”
She realigned herself—her spine straight, her shoulders back, and her head held high—and said, “I’m tall and I make movies. Thank you.”
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