Film & Television

Honey Boy’s Alma Har’el Tackles Childhood Trauma and Hollywood Sexism

Last week, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced the 2020 Golden Globe nominees. This annual awards-season kickoff generated excitement, as usual. And, also as usual, there were no women nominated for Best Director.

The Golden Globes have been around for 77 years, but only 5 women have ever been nominated for that top honor: Barbra Streisand, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, and Ava DuVernay. And, only one, Streisand, has ever won. Interestingly enough, those paltry numbers are exactly the same for the Oscars. In 91 years, they’ve recognized 5 female directors and sent only 1, Bigelow, home with a statuette.

The list of nominees for the Golden Globes is particularly disappointing in light of Hollywood’s #Time’sUp movement, as well as Natalie Portman’s brilliant snark as a presenter last year. As she prepared to present the Best Director prize, she ad-libbed, “And the all-male nominees are . . .” before reading their names. 

One female director recently praised for her new film, Honey Boy, took to Twitter to protest. Soon after the nominations were announced, Alma Har’el tweeted, “Good morning to everyone that’s writing me about the #GoldenGlobes. I feel you but know this. I was on the inside for the first time this year. These are not our people and they do not represent us. Do not look for justice in the awards system. We are building a new world.” 

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association quickly responded. “We don’t vote by gender,” insisted Lorenzo Soria, the organization’s president. “We vote by film and accomplishment.”

Har’el just as quickly pointed out that this year has seen films by several award-worthy women, listing Mati Diop for Atlantics; Greta Gerwig for Little Women; Melina Matsoukas for Queen & Slim; Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers; Lulu Wang for The Farewell; and Olivia Wilde for Booksmart. Whether out of admiration for her peers or modesty about her own accomplishments, Har’el neglected to include herself. However, with her narrative debut, Honey Boy, she has certainly earned a place on the list. 

Har’el, who previously directed the documentaries Bombay Beach and LoveTrue, has made a touching and memorable film, based on a screenplay (and real life lived) by talented but off-the-rails actor Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf, who began his career as a child, notably starring in the Disney Channel series Even Stevens, is recognized as much for his tabloid-fodder exploits as his formidable acting skills. In fact, the Honey Boy screenplay, which is marvelous, was written as an exercise when LaBoeuf was in court-mandated rehab.

In 2011, Har’el’s film Bombay Beach won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. LaBeouf saw the film and reached out to the director through the “contact us” function on her website. A dinner meeting resulted, in which the two discovered they had a shared sensibility. “We both come from a similar pain index,” Har’el told The Wall Street Journal. They collaborated on a music video, and LaBeouf financed Har’el’s second documentary, LoveTrue. When he left rehab in 2017, he presented her with the autobiographical script he had written. “He wrote his father in a way that you could feel he prepared for his whole life. I had to stop everything and make it right away.”



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