“Who will be interested in a story of domestic struggles and joys? It doesn’t have any real importance,” says Jo March (played by Saoirse Ronan) in a scene near the end of 2019’s Little Women, fearing that no one will want to read the book she’s writing about her family. “Maybe we don’t see those things as important because people don’t write about them,” her sister Amy (Florence Pugh) replies. The question of what art gets to be lionized and revered is one that Little Women’s writer and director, Greta Gerwig, fixated on when adapting the work for the big screen.
Analyzing her own screenplay in Vanity Fair, Gerwig said that while she worried this exchange between Jo and Amy would be too on the nose—it’s one of the only elements she didn’t borrow from the book or from author Louisa May Alcott’s other writing—she decided to include it. “I still think we very much have a hierarchy of stories,” Gerwig said. “I think that the top of the hierarchy is male violence—man on man, man on woman, etc. I think if you look at the books and films and stories that we consider to be ‘important,’ that is a common theme, either explicitly or implicitly.”
When the 2020 Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, Little Women earned a spot in the Best Picture category and collected nods for Ronan, Pugh, and Gerwig’s screenplay. But its recognition, which came without a Best Director nod, was still a tier below the biggest favorites of the night, including Joker, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and 1917—movies, some of them superb, about men and violence. For decades, those kinds of films have dominated the ceremony: Long dramas about weighty issues, biopics of celebrities, or narratives about moviemaking, with a dearth of genre movies, domestic narratives, and stories told by women and people of color.