It’s 2004. I’m a sophomore in college, sporting my first-ever pixie cut as a solid homage to my love of Mandy Moore. I’m a young and naïve sponge, constantly looking to older, more sophisticated women (read: wearing glasses, smoking Natives, and listening to Radiohead) to look up to and learn from, certain that they hold the key to adulthood in the pages of their moleskin journals. I am poised to wake up.
It is in this moment in time when love was still alive (Brad and Jen were still together after all), that my older sister invites me to an Oscar’s viewing party at her friend’s apartment in LA. This is basically the coolest party I’ve ever been invited to up to this point in my life because there will one) be alcohol, two) be lots of sophisticated UCLA grads with lots of opinions, and three) everyone will be dressed up because that’s how theatre people roll.
I put on my mixed CD of Green Day, Ashlee Simpson, and Kelly Clarkson while I get ready, deciding to nix my usual flared jeans, halter top and chunky belt ensemble for a sparkly cerulean tube dress with identical side slits so that I can one day write the most 2004 sentence imaginable.
I arrive at the party where smart adults are chatting easily with one another, exchanging barbs and jokes, talking about books and fashion and movies. They are artists, readers, thinkers on the brink of existential crises and I am overwhelmed by how decidedly uncool I am.
The telecast plays on a tiny television that we all crowd around. Someone hands me a beer and everyone is hilarious and brilliant. The only time the party quiets enough to be able to hear what is being said is when a woman wins an Oscar.
Charlize Theron wins Best Actress for Monster. The women around me, many actresses themselves, talk about how she deserves the win for how fully she morphed into the role. I nod along in fervent agreement despite the fact I haven’t seen the movie because it looked scary (I may be nineteen, but I am basically still a fetus).
Then the category for Best Original Screenplay comes up. The room hushes once again. Sofia Coppola wins for Lost in Translation. I’m excited because I loved the movie and want all of the women in the room to love me as much as I suddenly love everything. Beer!
Yet, when I look around, I find my enthusiasm unmatched. I see two of the women I’d been chatting with (eavesdropping on) fold their arms and shake their heads. I immediately stop clapping, yearning to understand so I can get in their club of scrutiny and discerning brilliance.
“What? You didn’t think she should win?” I ask, speaking for the first time, emboldened by my two beers.
One of the friends who has a mop of curls and those killer pre-hipster black-rimmed glasses, turns to me and says, “It’s not that. She’s just definitely not going to win Best Director now.”
I furrow my brows, confused.
The one with red lipstick explains, “It’s like a consolation prize. She gets best screenplay so they don’t have to give best director to a woman.”
My mind, as they say, explodes.
The Best Director win goes to Peter Jackson for Return of The King and though certainly not undeserved (LOTR forever), I am far less excited than I would have been minutes before.
Before this moment, it has simply never occurred to me to think about the politics of Hollywood in this way. To look for the interplay of sexism, misogyny and patriarchy in something as glittery and fun as the movies (see above: fetus). I’m forever changed by this conversation.
Fast forward to 2010. Kathryn Bigelow makes history as the first woman to win the Best Director Academy Award for The Hurt Locker. I brush my newly-cut Mandy Moore side-swoop bangs out of my eyes, excited and sure that this is a sea change for women in entertainment.
I manage to hold on to this hope until 2015 when Ava DuVernay’s masterful work in Selma is stunningly snubbed in the Best Director Category. I become more frustrated than hopeful. Cynical in my old age (30).
Now it’s 2018 and though Mandy Moore is more relevant than ever, I no longer share her hairstyle because I have over-committed to blonde and finally accept that we don’t have the same face shape.
More importantly, it is announced that Greta Gerwig receives multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Director, for her film Lady Bird. She is the first woman to receive a nod for a debut film, and fifth woman ever in directing. In ninety years.
I take a moment. I close my eyes and think back to that party in 2004.
I remember the complicated disappointment in the face of massive achievement, knowing now that this is what progress looks like.
I think about the frustration in the eyes of those aspiring artists around me, who were determined to walk the same path, nervous and fearful that they would be overlooked, snubbed, discounted, or worse, simply for being women.
I think about how Greta Gerwig is basically the exact embodiment of these women who made such a lasting impression on me. (And how I should probably get her haircut, right?)
I think about how one small conversation left a massive impression on my understanding of the world.
I think about how wonderfully wild it is that this nomination is for a movie about a young woman coming of age, the type of story rarely considered, let alone lauded.
Most of all, I think about the upcoming Oscar night and hope that there will be a party of young women somewhere, crowded around a television, dressed up, drinking beer, talking about how far we’ve come, and how very far we have yet to go.
It’s next year and I am probably sporting a Greta Gerwig-inspired bob because of course I am. Change comes for all of us.
Edit: Due to a technical glitch, the original post was deleted. This is a slightly altered/edited version reposted in anticipation of the upcoming Academy Awards this Sunday, March 4, 2018.