With as many women as there are at the 90th annual Academy Awards, it's not that surprising that we've had them making jokes at the expense of Hollywood's sexism and racism, with presenters like Tiffany Haddish comforting those watching that more white people are coming to Emma Stone noting there are four male directors "and Greta Gerwig." But perhaps one of best jokes was Sandra Bullock's 2018 Oscars shade when she came up to present for Best Cinematography in a Motion Picture.
While presenting the award, she took an extra shot across the bow of Hollywood by noting that in the category of cinematography, there were "the four men and one trailblazing woman" who were nominated.
That first woman, by the way, is Rachel Morrison, the cinematographer for the overlooked Fruitvale Station five years ago and the cinematographer for Mudbound this past year, for which she was nominated. (I should note that this year her cinematographer credit is Black Panther. So while she's breaking barriers, she's also credited with making the film for this year that's making bank.)
In a year where the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs both failed to nominate women — especially the ones behind the camera — Morrison's nomination was an accidental feather in their cap. The nomination of Greta Gerwig was one that came after the Globes controversy, where many complained bitterly (and Natalie Portman zinged the Hollywood Foreign Press on stage) over their inability to nominate any women directors, especially with those like Dee Rees, Patty Jenkins, and Gerwig had done so well. But no one thinks of Cinematography. It's not one of the major award categories that the public thinks of (or ever really understands). So the nomination of Morrison was a surprise, and a welcome one.
But it still highlighted how women have made such little inroads in almost a century of film. 90 years, and this was the first woman, ever, to be nominated? Even Morrison admitted she was kind of shocked to learn she'd made history. She told CNN,
I have realized how inspirational this visibility has been to so many women... [it] has really been the light at the end of the tunnel for so many women and the encouragement they needed to keep shooting.
Morrison isn't just the first woman to be nominated ever in the Best Cinematography category in 90 years of the Oscars; she's also the first to be nominated for a film that was distributed via streaming. When Mudbound was bought by Netflix after the Sundance Film Festival last year, there were numerous tweets regretting that this meant its Oscar chances had just flown out the window.
But Morrison's work, as well as the work of Mary J. Blige and others on the Mudbound film proved too powerful for old school prejudices against films released via streaming formats, and the Oscars for the first time nominated a Netflix distributed film, along with making history, both by nominating Blige for Best Song and Best Supporting Actress, and Morrison for Best Cinematography.
Sadly, like Mary J., Morrison didn't win in her category either.
This was a bit of a surprise win for Morrison to lose to, since most assumed that the win would either go to Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water, or to Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk. Dunkirk had already partly swept many of the technical categories, and The Shape of Water was a heavy favorite to win in most places it was nominated, especially Best Picture. Either way, the assumption was that though the Oscars had broken barriers with Morrison's nomination, and a nomination for Netflix, they just weren't quite progressive enough to follow it up with a win.
Sadly, they were right. But at least Bullock got a kick in while she could.