The 87th Annual Academy Awards premiered on ABC last night, and many notable things happened in relation to feminist issues: Reese Witherspoon popularized #AskHerMore, a movement to question women on the red carpet about more then what they’re wearing. Patricia Arquette gave a well-intended shoutout to women in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. John Legend and Common accepted the award for Best Original Song for ‘Glory,‘ and stated in the acceptance speech “Selma’ is now because the struggle for justice is right now.” Suicide was discussed and in the spotlight in both Dana Perry‘s acceptance for Best Documentary Short and in Graham Moore‘s moving acceptance for Best Adapted Screenplay. If you haven’t seen these speeches and other highlights from this year’s Oscars, I highly recommend watching them.
Although a broad range of important topics were brought to the forefront at The Oscars this year, one topic in particular was not talked about at the award show: the lack of gender diversity in both the films recognized and the people nominated. I don’t know about other viewers, but I found myself getting tired of the clips for Best Picture, because all I saw was men, men, men, men, a boy (who becomes a man), men, men, men. The soundtrack in my brain was basically the Two and a Half Men theme song on repeat. All of the films in the Best Picture category centered around a man and his personal journey, and it didn’t have to be that way. The Academy could have chosen up to 10 films for the category, so with just 8 nominated, I wondered why groundbreaking movies like “Wild” and “Gone Girl,” which both center around interesting complex women, were neglected.
An easy way to tell if women are represented in any given film is to use The Bechdel Test, which asks three questions: 1. Does it have at least 2 named women in it? 2. Who speak to each other? 3. About something besides a man? That’s it. Sounds simple, right? Well, of the 8 nominated Best Picture films*, Birdman, Boyhood, and Selma pass, The Theory of Everything almost-maybe passes, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Whiplash do not.
However, women were not only underrepresented in the films nominated for Best Picture, but in most of the other categories as well. The Academy nominated more men than women in non-acting categories by a margin of 5-to-1 (149 men and 35 women). No women were nominated for directing, writing (original & adapted screenplay), cinematography, original score, visual effects, or sound mixing (Women’s Media Center). This inequality is not new: In the history of the academy awards, only one woman has been named best director, and of best picture nominees since 1977-2014, only 12 have been directed by women, out of 216 directors (Forbes).
The important thing to note about the gender inequality at the 2015 Academy Awards is that it doesn’t apply only to the Oscars, but to the film industry as a whole. The 5-to-1 ratio that I mentioned before is also representative of the amount of men to women in the industry. The highest paid male actors earn millions of dollars more then the highest paid female actors every year. Of the top 250 films of 2012, 15% of writers, 9% of directors, and 2% of cinematographers were female, and those statistics are roughly the same now. To see more of these interesting/shocking statistics, check out the New York Film Academy blog on Gender Inequality in film (which is where I got this info).
How do these statistics effect women filmmakers at JMU? There doesn’t seen to be as stark of a gender inequality in the SMAD program here, but does it exist? I’m not a SMAD major, so I’m curious to know if the statistics from the film industry extend to projects in the SMAD DVC concentration. All I know is that I have high hopes for all of the women at JMU who want to work in the film industry, and I want to see more movies about women’s stories that also have women behind the scenes. Is that too much to ask?
*For The Bechdel Test results, I’m not sure if American Sniper passes because The Bechdel Test website doesn’t have it and I haven’t seen it.