In recent years, the whiteness and maleness of the Academy Awards have finally begun to raise questions about fairness and equality in the Hollywood film industry. In 2015, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite dominated. In 2016, the former Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, vowed to double the number of women and people of colour in the Academy’s membership by 2020. In 2017, there was the now infamous envelope mix-up, where La La Land was mistakenly given the Oscar for Best Picture before it was retracted and awarded to Moonlight, which became the first film with an all-black cast, the first LGBTQ film, and the second-lowest-grossing film domestically (behind The Hurt Locker) to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In 2018, we seemed to have fallen back in the diversity stakes, #TimesUp spread through the awards season, and Frances McDormand made a speech which concluded with the phrase “I have two words for you: inclusion rider.” She was referring to the clause in an actor’s contract that requires cast and crew to meet a certain level of diversity.
So, there’s been a lot of talk, over recent years, about more women and people of colour at the Oscars. Is 2019 going to be the year the Oscars finally offers due credit to diverse films and filmmakers? Judging by the nominations, announced last week, that seems unlikely.
Many of the best films this year feature women’s stories and some, gasp, are actually directed by women. I enjoyed Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider and Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here. But it’s not gone unnoticed that not one female director has been nominated for an Oscar or a BAFTA. Most surprisingly, Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? has nods for Best Adapted Screenplay and its two lead actors but no recognition for the woman whose vision shaped the film. How can you separate the two?
If you asked should there be at least one female director in this year’s line up because it’s about time, these women would probably be non-plussed. No-one wants to be nominated just because of gender. It’s talent, vision and guts that matter to the creative. And let’s face it, the pool of female directors is still small compared to the men, but their films are well crafted, entertaining and worth watching.
Everyone knows the Oscars are a popularity contest swayed by the egos of producers and the size of their publicity budgets. The Academy voting base is mostly white and male so old habits are dying hard and this nine-year-old Guardian article shows not much has changed. Female directors are coming to the fore with some splendid indie films but without a little fairy dust on the big awards circuit, women statistically fail to get a second feature made while their male counterparts jangle their keys to the franchise. And it’s frustrating to see the men continue to get recognition when Peter Farrelly, director of Best Picture nominee Green Book, has had to apologise for allegations of sexual misconduct. It seems the men can behave badly and get noms but can you imagine a woman being protected from such scandals all the way to the red carpet?
There are some wonderful human stories in this year’s crop of potential award-winning films made by men, of course. The most visually stunning is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. A masterpiece on every level. I suspect and hope it will win Oscar for Best Picture and Director over The Favourite which is not my favourite but has an equal number of nominations.
The problem is that the films getting the big budget funding are still mostly made by men. Why aren’t women getting an equal share so that when awards season swings round, there’s a fifty-fifty split of films made by both genders?
Great reviews and prestigious gongs get you meetings in Hollywood, but maybe, as women quietly work away at their craft, they trust the acclaim will come. Or, better still, they don’t care. What women want is support in the form of funding and the chance to shine like the men – and that is beginning to happen. Chloe Zhao just signed to direct the next Marvel film, The Eternals, and Patty Jenkins, who scored a huge box office hit with Wonder Woman is directing the sequel.
It’s a little-known fact that Katharine Hepburn, a woman, is the winner of the most Oscars ever. She never once showed up to the award ceremony to collect them. “As for me, prizes are nothing,” she once said. “My prize is my work.”
For most filmmakers it’s not taking home a little golden statue that matters, it’s the joy of telling stories. And long may women get to the tell their stories.