A version of this story appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
“It’s about damn time.” That was Rachel Morrison’s reaction to her historic Academy Award nomination for cinematography, which made director of photography for “Mudbound” DP the first woman in history to make the cut.
Not that she thinks she is personally owed the honor — it’s just that her gender is terribly underrepresented in the prestigious below-the-line category.
“I’m very honored to fill that role, but it’s long overdue,” Morrison said, citing women cinematographers she admires like Mandy Walker (who has shot Baz Luhrman’s “Australia” and the indies “Shattered Glass” and “The Mountain Between Us”).
Why, exactly, aren’t there more women in the field?
“I don’t really have an answer for it,” she said. “It makes no sense to me. It’s a job that requires you to visualize human emotion, which a man or a woman can do. The most common excuse I hear about the lack of women is, ‘The camera is too heavy,’ which is entirely ludicrous” she said.
It wasn’t too heavy for Morrison on “Mudbound,” a project that came from her and director Dee Rees’ “mutual admiration” for each other. The drama follows two families struggling in the Jim Crow South, the look for which was conceived after Rees sent her a visual guide of how she’d like the film to look — one that didn’t include a single photograph.
“She put together a visual lookbook of imagery,” Morrison said. “It was two- and three-dimensional art, no film. Really stunning portraiture on wood and sculpture.”
That sealed the creative union and, next thing she knew, the women unveiled the project at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. After those first few screenings in Park City, Morrison got more than a few pats on the back, and she kept hearing one line that caused her to roll her eyes in disbelief: “That’s going to get an Oscar nomination.”
Netflix purchased the film for $12.5 million with the pledge of a full awards campaign, which resulted in four nominations — including the one that stopped her eye-rolling.