Director: Nia DaCosta
Release Date: April 19, 2019
According to a report from San Diego State University, female directors were involved in just 8% of the top 250 films at the domestic box office in 2018. That number is down 3% from 2017. In 2018 women occupied just 20% of the behind-the- scenes roles, such as directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers. The mainstream film industry has not shifted its selection process in a positive way. In fact, it appears to be getting worse, as this number is actually slightly down from 1998. In the last 20 years female actors are getting more beefy parts, more leading roles and have even brought in over $1 billion worldwide with Captain Marvel. The roles for female leads are there but why hasn’t the opportunity been given for the behind-the-scenes roles?
Little Woods is an exception to those statistics. In her debut with this rural indie drama, writer and director Nia DaCosta tells a story of two sisters who are related by adoption — Ollie (Tessa Thompson) and Deb (Lily James) — in rural frigid North Dakota. The sisters must come up with $3,000 in a week or the bank will foreclose on their house.
The film opens with Ollie burying a package of prescription drugs in the woods just before she is chased down by the police. We are then put in the present day as Ollie is trying to get her life on track. She barely makes a living by selling coffee and food to the local oil workers. We quickly learn that she used to sell prescription drugs to workers who can’t afford to go to the doctor and get their injuries treated. With the threat of losing their house, Ollie digs up her stash in the woods and starts selling again. Que the Al Pacino Godfather III reference.
To further complicate matters, Ollie’s sister Deb has just found out she is pregnant. Deb is already a single mother and, with an unreliable deadbeat baby daddy, she can’t afford another or to get an abortion. With the inability to afford healthcare, she’s forced to do things that put her at risk in order to make ends meet and get the care she needs.
This story touches on a number of social issues such as access to free healthcare, the opioid crisis, and reproductive rights. The main themes are poverty and family. Little Woods shows the pressure that being born into poverty puts on a family that’s just trying to keep the lights on. In a deep conversation about what to do next, Ollie puts it as, “Your choices are only as good as your options.” The risks the sisters take to simply keep their family together is a commentary on the endless cycle of poverty and the difficult situations that come with it.
DeCosta balances the different issues the film touches on and portrays them with accuracy. The pill-addicted oil workers, the piss-drunk baby daddy, and the rural environment close to the Canadian border give the film a sense of realism. DeCosta makes the stakes real and she has us emotionally invested in the characters and their hardships. Her strong debut has her slated to direct the reboot of the 1992 horror film Candyman. If you want to see more women given these opportunities, then say it with your wallet and go see these films in theaters.