It all started for Greta Gerwig with a book — so it’s fitting one of the best moments of the 2020 Awards season for her so far should come at a library.
On Saturday night, Gerwig won the USC Scripter Award, an annual award given to both the screenwriter and original author of a work adapted into a feature film. She won for her adaptation of Little Women.
Producer Amy Pascal was also on-hand to accept on original author Louisa May Alcott’s behalf. Held at the USC Libraries inside the campus’ Doheny Library, the annual award honors both the best adapted television and film of the year.
For both Pascal and Gerwig, the moment held a particular resonance, given their own lifelong love affair with libraries. “The public library was a giant part of my childhood. We’d go there multiple times a week. I would always check out the maximum books, which was 20,” Gerwig exclusively told EW moments after her win. “In Sacramento, they had this beautiful downtown library that had just undergone a renovation when I was like six, so it was the best place to hang out, and I would be there all the time. Libraries are still my favorite place to work. When I was at college, there was the 24-hour Butler Library at Columbia and I’d spend all my time there. So everything was very familiar to me tonight about being in libraries and how much it means.”
Pascal told EW that her mom was a librarian, and her relationship with the novel pre-dates her own birth. “[I first heard it] when I was in utero. My father read it to my mother when she was pregnant and he was studying for a dissertation at Columbia, and that’s why they named me Amy Beth,” she explainsed
Both Pascal and Gerwig made impassioned speeches, thanking the Scripter committee and honoring Alcott’s original work. “I wish the actual Louisa May Alcott could be here tonight to accept this award to see how legendary her words are and the women she created are,” Pascal said in her speech. “Little Women has been translated across space and time in ways few novels have. It’s probably the most influential novel for aspiring female writers and for so many of us, this secretly subversive story about ambition and love gave us the courage to be the people that we dared to be as women. Louisa wrote, ‘Women have been called queen for a long time, but the kingdom given them isn’t worth having.’ I think that tonight with this extraordinary honor, she might feel that this kingdom is fit for her, joyfully, to take her place upon the throne.”
Gerwig reiterated Pascal’s words while speaking to EW about what Alcott might think of this honor. “I think she’d be thrilled. I think she wanted acknowledgment and space and all of the things that were not really possible,” she mused. “I think all of this would be thrilling for her. But I don’t know, I think she’d probably also just get back to work because if nothing else, she was a complete workaholic.”
While taking the stage to accept, Gerwig paid tribute to how much Alcott’s work has shaped her life and given her the courage to be an artist. “What I want to say is that who I am today would be totally unimaginable without Louisa May Alcott. Not just because the journey that I’ve been on the past five years of writing and directing this film of Little Women, but because Little Women is the book of my life,” she said. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who the March sisters were – re-reading and re-reading this book throughout my childhood made me the woman I am today. Because without Louisa, I never would have listened to the voice inside of myself that whispered ‘Write.’ Because she wrote about girls who wanted and yearned and dreamed, and because Jo March wanted to be the writer and because I was holding the book that Louisa May Alcott actually wrote.”
She went on to speak to the spiritual connection she felt with Alcott while writing, and to urge other women in the room to take this inspiration to heart. “My most joyful, strange, and vivid moments of writing this screenplay, I was certain that I could speak to her. I was sure she could hear my voice as I could hear hers and I tried to listen as she spoke across time and space to transcribe what she was trying to say,” Gerwig concluded. “And then I said to her, the same thing that I say to you tonight, I said, ‘Thank you.’ I can do this because Louisa May Alcott did and my hope for this film was that the gift was extended to the next generation of girls and women who want to make and write and do and be. So go write your book and make your film and sing your song.”
In an awards season that has been dominated by snubs for female-directed projects, the Scripter committee took the rare tact of exclusively honoring female creators. Phoebe Waller-Bridge continued her spate of awards success, winning in the television category for her adaptation of her own one-woman play Fleabag.
While Gerwig was being honored at Scripter last night, the Directors Guild Awards took place across town in Beverly Hills — a ceremony that had failed to nominate Gerwig for her work on Little Women, making her words about women’s voices and artistry all the more powerful.
The USC Scripter Award is often a bellwether for the Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars, and Gerwig was already a heavy favorite in the category. While Gerwig told EW the prospect was “too nerve-wracking” to consider, Pascal expressed her wish it would prove true. “I have my fingers crossed for Greta. She deserves it,” she said.
Instead, Gerwig climbed into her car, planning to share her win with her star-studded cast, which includes Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, who are also Oscar-nominated for their work. “I’m gonna get on our What’s App group right now and tell everyone because honestly I always think anything that is an honor for the movie is an honor for everyone, but especially with writing, it’s only ever brought to life by actors, so it’s them,” she gushed. “They make me look really good.”