Does the Academy neglect female film directors?

Joe Holloran seeks to understand why the Oscars undervalues female directors

Joe Holloran
6th November 2017
In the 86 years since the birth of the Oscars, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director. Of those four only one, Katheryn Bigelow, has won. The winning film for Mrs Bigelow was 2008 The Hurt Locker, a high-octane modern war drama. So, we must ask, how is it that of the hundreds of directors nominated over the years so few have been nominated?
Actress Greta Gerwig is considered by many to be the finest young female director woking today. Image:Wikimedia

It is not the case that over the years women haven’t produced enough quality to warrant a nomination. Lizze Borden’s Born in Flames (1983), Marzieh Meshkini The Day I Became A Women (2000) and Ida Lupino’s ground-breaking Outrage! (1950) all won awards at other festivals both in the States and in Europe. So, perhaps the problem is the Academy of Arts & Sciences itself. The nominees and winners are chosen from a wide range of retired professionals from the industry, over 6000 in total. The nominees themselves often have a say in who the judges should be. This all sounds positive, surely not all are like-minded and hegemonic in thought. Well according to the Economist, 94% of these judges are white and an incredible 77% are male. Therein lies the problem.

Lost in Translation director Sophia Coppola. Image:Wikimedia

I do not think that these judges and the Academy is pro-actively misogynistic. It is simply just an echo-chamber of tradition. Most of the ex-professional judges are white and male, most of the current professionals are white and male, therefore the pool of nominees are going to come from what this group determines to be the most worthy. A few years ago, the Twittersphere was set ablaze with #Oscarsowhite trending worldwide for several days, with film goers around the world calling for action to be taken to recognize the efforts of ethnic minorities in the industry. The same campaign is needed for women, but it needs to go further than that.

There is no overnight solution, but there are clear steps that can be taken immediately to help set things right. One is a form of affirmative action. From now on all Oscars judging groups must be equal proportioned 50/50 men and women. Another idea is to force the Academy to nominate at least one female director every year, I don’t believe this approach will work as every future female director nominee will be accused of tokenism. I think the answer has more to do with fears for the box-office than anything else. Women directors still have the reputation for creating emotional, dialogue driven films of the Sofia Coppola model.

These films may receive critical acclaim, but they seldom enjoy big opening weekends at the box-office. Hollywood studios need to be willing to produce films by women that span all genres, as this year’s Wonder Women has shown, action-adventure is not something that only the boys can do. Until the other studios learn from Warner Bros. and Patty Jenkins, do not expect things to progress in LaLa Land, it is a land of business first, art second.

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