Fiona Mountford

The necessary politics of Promising Young Woman

  • From Spectator Life
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman, Image: Shutterstock

Last month there occurred an event so culturally seismic that it made, well, a barely perceptible dent on the news headlines. Not just one but two actual women were nominated for the Best Director Award at the Oscars, a category that has for many years now been open to five nominees. It was the first time that two women have ever made it into contention in the same year and, by their audacious presence at the top table, Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) and Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) have at a stroke increased the number of women the Oscars have ever nominated for this prize from five to seven. (Only one, Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker, in 2009, has won). 

Given that 2021 will see the 93rd iteration of the Academy Awards, that’s not bad going. At this rate, we can expect celluloid gender parity by… oh, you do the maths.

If there is any justice in the world (spoiler alert: there isn’t), Zhao will walk away with the top prize come 25 April for her elegiac look at those rootless souls who travel America in camper vans. Yet it is Fennell’s humdinger of a film that is going to grab the column inches, to provoke discussion and outrage in equal measure, especially among women in this country already angry after the Sarah Everard tragedy. If only cinemas were open when Promising Young Woman is released on 16 April, their doors would surely be trampled down in the general haste to secure a ticket.

I don’t make all those heavy-handed comments about the sexism of the Oscars for no reason. It’s ingrained, it happens year after year (also at the BAFTAS, the Golden Globes and all the rest), on such a dispiriting scale that it is almost a cliché to harp on about it.

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