7 Ways In Which The Oscars Are Still Failing Women
The Debrief: Just in case you need a reminder...
As an unabashed film nerd and fan of pretty dresses, I love the Oscars. I love the glamorous outfits, I love the ceremony (hello, Hugh Jackman in 2009, and his GOAT opening number) and I love that it’s a celebration of everything that’s great about the film industry – not just the acting, but the countless talented individuals working behind the scenes. Love them or loathe them, the Academy Awards aren’t going anywhere – but they still desperately need dragging into the 21st century. Want the evidence? No problem - here’s seven ways the Oscars are continuing to fail women.
1 Over half of this year’s Best Picture nominees fail the Bechdel Test
It’s pretty simple for a simple to pass the Bechdel Test - it just needs to feature two named female characters, who have a conversation, that isn’t about a man. Out of the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year, only four films pass the test: Hidden Figures, La La Land, Fences and Arrival. Passing the Bechdel Test doesn’t indicate that a film is feminist, but the fact that so few films do pass demonstrates how few female characters there are on screen in the first place, and how so often they only exist to propel the male character’s story along.
2 Women still aren’t being represented off-camera
It’s not just Best Picture that presents a problem. The Women’s Media Center worked out that from 2005 to 2016, women made up just 19% of all non-acting Oscar nominations – that’s 327 compared to 1,387 for men. Only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director since the Oscars began in 1929, and out of those, only Kathryn Bigelow won (in 2009, for The Hurt Locker). No women of colour have ever been nominated – despite Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, taking home the Sundance Festival Best Director award in 2015. Curiously, Selma was nominated for Best Picture – but apparently first-time director DuVernay didn’t do enough to break through into the Oscar directing category. And cinematography? Nope. Not one woman has ever been nominated.
3 Diversity has been reduced to a Hollywood buzzword rather than a call to action
These aren’t new problems. In 2000 when she accepted her Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry, Hillary Swank gave an emotional thank you to Brandon Teena, the trans man she portrayed in the film. 'His legacy lives on through our movie to remind us to always be ourselves,' she said. 'I pray for the day when we not only accept our differences, but we actually celebrate our diversity.' 16 years since Swank’s speech, how much is diversity actually being celebrated in the industry and at the Oscars?
The first (and so far only) woman of colour to win the Best Actress Oscar was Halle Berry in 2001, who said in her speech 'This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. It’s for every nameless faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.'
Was the door really opened, though? Out of 70 possible Best Actress nominations between 2002 and 2016, only six non-white women were nominated. Things look a little better this year in terms of racial representation, with Hidden Figures, Fences and Moonlight all vying for Best Picture, and Ruth Negga, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Harris and Viola Davis all nominated for acting awards – amazingly, 2015 and 2016 saw no people of colour nominated in any of the acting categories, and prior to Ruth Negga’s nomination, there hadn’t been a person of colour even nominated for Best Actress since 2012.
4. Sexism behind the scenes is as rampant as ever
Patricia Arquette used her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech in 2015 to highlight the gender pay gap and women’s rights, saying 'To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.' Understandably, her speech raised a few eyebrows, particularly from the non-white and LGBTQ communities - complaining that you’re not getting paid enough to star in blockbusters when many are struggling to even get the slightest representation on the big screen felt tactless in that context. But her point - that Hollywood is fundamentally sexist at every level - still stands.
Backstage in 2016, Best Actress winner Brie Larson spoke out about the sexist way she’d been treated when auditioning, stating 'There were many times that I would go into auditions and casting directors would say: ‘It’s really great, really love what you’re doing, but we’d love for you to come back in a jean miniskirt and high heels.’ They were asking me to be sexy, but a jean miniskirt and heels does not make me feel sexy. It makes me feel uncomfortable.' So, the casting couch is still a thing. Gross.
5. Only two women have ever hosted the Oscars solo
In fact since 1990, only three women have taken the helm on Oscar night: Whoopi Goldberg (twice), Ellen DeGeneres (twice) and Anne Hathaway (co-hosting with James Franco, widely regarded as The Worst Decision Ever – not Anne’s fault). It’s not as if Hollywood’s short of funny women who are more than capable of being mistress of ceremonies – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler killed it at the Golden Globes in 2015, and then there’s Julie Louise Deyfruss, Leslie Jones, Oprah Winfrey – seriously, take your pick.
6. The red carpet process is still demeaning to women
Then there’s the red carpet. It took until 2015’s #AskHerMore project for women on the red carpet to get asked something other than ‘Who are you wearing?’ and ‘Ooh, where’s your jewellery from?’ This was also the year that FINALLY saw the death of E!s inane Mani Cam – a tiny red carpet where actresses could show off their manicures. Yep. After Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon refused (and Julianne Moore, who took one look at it and said 'No. I'm not doing that. No, I'm...no!') at the SAG Awards, E! gave up – claiming they 'didn’t have space.' Cate Blanchett also called out a cameraman at the Golden Globes for his creepy up-and-down shot of her dress, asking 'Do you do that to the guys too?' By all means wear a nice dress, but how about we ask Emma Stone about La La Land’s alleged whitewashing of jazz rather than what she had for breakfast?
7. The Oscar’s diversity problem is the wider industry's problem too
We all know Hollywood has a diversity problem, but until the Oscars are willing to recognise and reward talent when they see it, it will continue to be difficult for actors to secure roles and for directors to secure budgets. The film industry’s trapped in a vicious cycle of cause and effect – opportunities simply aren’t been given to the women who need them the most, and the Oscars are largely dominated by the people in the industry and those that look like them: rich, white men. It’s only in recent years that this has started to change, and that female actors have become willing to speak out about their experiences and struggles in the industry.
Especially in times of political and social disarray, film has an incredible power to bring people together – people that say the Oscars don’t mean anything are partly right, in that some of the greatest films ever made were snubbed on the night, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. It’s 2017, people. Designer dresses and musical numbers just aren’t cutting it anymore – the most prestigious awards in the film industry could (and should) be better.
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