And the winner isn’t
How the Oscars are failing the industry
by Dillan-James Carter
2018 was an unprecedented year for cinema: the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements shook up the Hollywood boys club, the #OscarsSoWhite pushed ethnic diversity in the nominations and challenged the whitewashing of the awards, and Frances McDormand’s powerful ‘Inclusion Rider’ acceptance speech urged those with power in the industry to stand firm on diversity standards. A recent piece by the anonymous feminist artists Guerrilla Girls questions the authenticity of this progress comparing the employment of senators to directors over twenty years – in which the U.S. Senate has vastly increased the demographic of female senators (from 9% to 25%) and Hollywood has remained stagnant at 4%. With the 91st Academy Awards fast approaching, things like the Kevin Hart controversy and the nominations list neglecting to select a single female director beg the question: Are the Oscars in trouble?
The Oscar nominations for Best Picture this year have come from many different genres as well as both mainstream and independent films. The shortlists highlight a divide occurring within the Academy between the exclusive territory of the ‘Old Hollywood’ types – male, Caucasian, over 40 with a preference for drama without subtext – and the ‘Indie Academy’, ethnically and gender diverse as well as more internationally orientated. This clash of values is more evident than ever with films like A Star is Born and Green Book vs the eclectic Roma and The Favourite all up for best picture: the decision shaping the idea of what is an Oscar worthy film is for years to come and the progress the Academy has made should be acknowledged. Whatever the outcome it can’t be as terrible as picking Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction.
Josie Rourke, Debra Granik and Marielle Heller are some of the talented female directors who were overlooked on the nomination this year to an all-male shortlist. In the history of the Academy only five women have ever been nominated, with only one winning – Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010. The lack of female directors can be attributed to two main factors: the directors branch of the Academy having far more ‘Old Hollywood’ types than any other category, and the lack of opportunities given to women for big budget productions. A study from the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that out of the 250 top grossing films of 2018, only eight per cent were directed by a female director; this in turn showing that women are far less likely to be given the opportunities of their male counterparts. These hurdles are what set women back from the limelight of the Oscars, especially with such a great range of films to choose from this year.
Speaking to Vogue, Heller recognises her luck and the imbalance of the nominations: ‘There are so many women who have done incredible work this year, but they’ve been totally ignored by the awards. In many ways, I feel so fortunate to be working, but there are times when I look around and realise that we still have so far to go’.
Whatever your opinion on the Academy Awards, they have made progress – although one could argue it was shamed into the 21st century by the political movements rather than of its own accord. It’s difficult to not see it as a fraught ceremony with such inequalities not yet tackled, but when the 25th of February rolls round and the dreams of all but a few nominees are crushed on camera, they can take consolation knowing the game was rigged to begin with.