Dubbed “The Super Bowl for Women” for its focus on fashion and glamor, the Academy Awards is a one of the biggest nights in Hollywood. But what does the show really tell us about the values Hollywood is selling us? After all, calling the show the “Super Bowl for Women” specifically for the fashion essentially removes women from the technical and film aspect of the Oscars, as it implies women only watch for the fashion. And while I do enjoy seeing the parade of gowns and tuxes float down the red carpet, they’re not the reason I stayed up past my bedtime to watch the Academy Awards last night.
Let’s being by taking a look at the nominees. Last year, Kathryn Bigelow won best director for her film The Hurt Locker (which also won best picture and best screenplay, among other awards) and became the first female director to win the prestigious award. With Bigelow’s big win, many hoped that a barrier had been broken and we’d see more women up for the best director slot. In fact, two emerging women in film this year looked promising: Deborah Granik (Winter’s Bone) and Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right). However, while both films were nominated for best picture, neither Granik nor Cholodenko received a nomination for best director, effectively relegating them to the category of “great film- who directed it again?” (Stevens, Slate.com). Obviously, these women weren’t not nominated because they made bad films, but it wouldn’t be fair to assume that they weren’t nominated because of their sex either. However, a look at the lack of female presence in the film industry tells us that the exclusion of females from the cannon of film is not an isolated incident, but a systematic issue.
Also just last year, Mo’Nique won best supporting actress and Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for best actress for their roles in Precious. Both Mo’Nique and Sidibe broke the mold of the skinny white woman that traditionally defines Hollywood actresses. While these two women couldn’t single handedly break the years of stigmatization and exclusion faced by people of color in films (and Precious did depict many negative black stereotypes), much like Bigelow’s win, the victory for Mo’Nique and nomination of Sidibe prompted the hope that their success might open doors and break barriers for other actors and actresses of color. Flash forward to this year, where not a single person of color has been nominated for a major category. Turns out the barriers we thought were falling are still firmly in place.
And, of course, you can’t have a discussion of the Oscars without talking about the glamor and fashion (after all, I am a woman, am I right?). As mentioned above, last years Oscar winner Mo’Nique and nominee Sidibe broke the skinny white mold of the Hollywood actress. This year, we made it all of ten minutes into the pre-show when Mila Kunis came onscreen to be badgered by the insufferable Ryan Seacrest, who wanted to know how Kunis had lost weight for her role in Black Swan, just in case the people at home wanted to emulate her. Kunis got down to 95 pounds for the role, dropping 20 pounds and dancing up to eight hours a day. She also noted that, based on her experience “[she] could see why this industry is so fucked up”. The secret to her weight loss was behavior that borders on a disorder. Despite this, we are still told that if such behavior ultimately leads to the “ideal” body, then it is something we should embrace and imitate.
The entire pre-show was peppered (as usual) with jokes about actresses not eating for days in order to fit in their designer gowns, and it will only take a couple days for special double-issues of tabloids to be released, highlighting the best and worst dressed of the evening in a concise 32 pages. Joan Rivers, famous
zombie fashion critic will tear apart celebrities for their fashion faux-pas, and the vast majority of criticism will fall on the shoulders of women. While the Oscars may be the biggest night for Hollywood, we also must keep in mind that in many ways it’s a symbol of our obsession with an unattainable ideal, and old prejudices still affect our definitions of great films and roles.