WILL FEMALE FILMMAKERS EVER GET A FAIR SHAKE AT OSCARS?
FEB 24, 2015
With an Academy membership that is 94% Caucasian and 77% male, the odds of marginalized voices making it to the big stage are staggeringly small.
Say what you want to say about the 2015 Oscars—NPH fell flat; Boyhood should have won; Patricia Arquette’s comments were incendiary; No, they were ignorant—one thing we can all agree on is that a woman was never going to win the best director award. Not because Alejandro González Iñárritu wasn’t deserving, but because not a single woman was even nominated.
In a recent piece for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote that Hollywood studios’ “refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.” The film critic breaks ground because it’s the first time the mainstream media has put the spotlight on Hollywood’s exclusion of women directors in terms of Title VII violations—a distinction that could make a class action lawsuit viable.
Selma, which was nominated for best film but not best director, wasn’t the only feature directed by a woman in 2014—but among the hundreds of eligible films, it was one of only a handful. Kelly & Cal was another, and it stands as an example for exactly why female helmers are so crucial to providing our culture with a balanced purview of the world. Jen McGowan’s directorial debut tells the story of Kelly (Juliette Lewis), a former member of an underground girl band, who finds herself trapped in American suburbia with a newborn baby and a corporate husband.
The film rehashes the thematic territory of films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives but manages to deliver a perspective that is completely new: Kelly, sympathetically drawn by McGowan, struggles between staying true to her wild nature and giving into American, middle-class social convention. And though the feature received praise from industry trades—”This disarming pic navigates tricky emotional territory to emerge as an impressive feature,” said Variety—it did not receive much by way of a marketing campaign and made little impact at the box office.
U.S. media is undeniably America’s most influential global export. Feature films contribute greatly to the collective cultural voice of our civilization, but as demonstrated by the nominees for the 2015 Oscars, the only voices the world gets to hear from Hollywood are those of men—mostly white.
As neatly stated in The Guardian: “Every nominated best director, screenwriter, screenplay adapter and original score composer is a white man…All but one of the best picture nominations are about how hard it is being an entitled, genius white man.” And yet, not everyone agrees that our most-esteemed awards show should be a litmus test for North America’s ever-changing tableaux. As one Philadelphia magazine reader wrote: “The only function of the Oscars is to honor excellence in performance or craft. It is not its function to be purposely balanced by race, gender, age, experience, number of previous nominations, or any other political correctness. Nor is it to be influenced by the subject matter or the contents of the script. The only criterion must remain excellence.”
Noble words, but with an Academy membership that is 94% Caucasian and 77% male, what chance is there for other versions of “excellence” to be appreciated? Why do we allow this fortress of secrecy, an institution known for sexism and racism, to function as the grand architect of our nation’s ethos? If we are to live in a world that honors freedom and equality, shouldn’t balanced gender perspective be communicated by our most heralded media?
Richard Brody ends his article with the words: “Female filmmakers of this generation have to build their careers on the basis of a virtual heritage of their own creation, because the industry—and critics—failed the generations that preceded them.” And as Jane Campion once put it: Women “represent half of the population, and gave birth to the whole world. Without them writing and being directors, the rest of us are not going to know the whole story.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a new narrative.
Maria Giese directed the feature films ‘When Saturday Comes’ and ‘Hunger.’ Educated at Wellesley College and UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television, she is a member of the Alliance of Women Directors, the Directors Guild of America, and currently serves as the Women’s DGA Director Category Rep. Check out her activist/agitator web forum.