Alice Boyd discusses female inequality in modern cinema
Most of you will be familiar by now with the discrimination and sexual objectification women undergo in Hollywood on a day to day basis. And a lot more of you will be aware of the sexist remarks Tabloids and the media dish out towards women in film. To demonstrate the point, “The Best and Worst Dressed Stars at the 2015 Oscars” were the first searches that came up when searching for “women at the Oscars 2015.”
But the problem is deeper than a sexist and objectifying media judging the body types and outfits of ladies on the catwalk. The 2015 Academy Awards may have been a few months ago, but they still represent a strong message that even in the 21st Century women still struggle in the film industry to be noticed, and praised for their achievements.
The issue does not lie with women being uninterested in acting, screenwriting, directing or even cinematography and visual and sound effects. It lies with women not being actively praised for the achievements they make, despite most of them being more accomplishable than their male and white female counterparts.
According to the Women’s Media Center, women made up only 19% of all non-acting nominees in 2015. To deepen the wound, since 2012 an average of only 19% of all non-acting Oscar nominations have gone to women. In 7 of those Oscar categories, no women were nominated. This included Writing and Directing: roles that have had increasingly active female involvement in recent years.
To bring light to the issue, a stunning documentary film named “Blackfish” by Gabriela Cowperthwaite was only nominated for a BFCA and a BAFTA in 2014. The documentary managed to historically plummet SeaWorld’s profitability, and in 2014 its share price had fallen 44%. From November 2014 the company’s stock was down 50% from the previous year. This remarkable achievement for Animal Rights activists was almost entirely thanks to Cowperthwaite alone. But she received hardly any nominations for such a groundbreaking documentary. A documentary that managed to literally shake and change the business and activist world failed to make the cut at the Academy Awards. Is that purely because she is a female director? Or is the panel of judges narrow sighted and dismissive to emerging creative ideas? You tell me.
But the problem, frustratingly, goes even further. There is a noticeable 10 year gender gap. Women have only won awards for the categories of Directing, Writing (original and adapted) Screenplay once. These were in 2006, 2008 and 2010. It has been 5 years since a woman has won a notable achievement for film production, rather than just starring in a film. In fact, it took the Academy 81 years to give an award to a female for Directing. This year marked the first time in 15 years where no females were nominated for Directing or Screen Writing. Additionally, there was not a single Best Picture nominee about a female protagonist for the first time in nearly a decade.
Female inequality isn’t the only issue the Oscars fail on, either. 2003 was the last time a film won Best Picture that had a protagonist that wasn’t a white man, and even then that was a white female. No people of colour were nominated in acting categories this year. The only real recent achievement was in 2014, where Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She was the first Mexican and first Kenyan actress to win an Academy Award, and “12 Years a Slave” was the first film to win an Oscar that focused solely on a Black person’s journey that wasn’t through a White person’s perspective. How 2015 could take such a huge leap backwards in equality and diversity baffles many film lovers, Black Rights activists and Feminists.
The female character in film is an issue in itself, even without consideration of Academy Awards. The problem is not getting better, it is actually getting worse. In 2014, only 12% of clearly identifiable protagonists were female, a decrease of 3% from 2013 and 4% from 2002. In 2014, 75% of protagonists were male, and only 13% were male/female ensembles. Females only compromised 29% of major characters, a pathetic increase of 2% since 2002, more than a decade ago. 2014 and 2013 shared a non-progressive 30% of all speaking characters being female (including major and minor characters.)
So how can females remain such an integral part of film and production, yet not be praised and awarded for their achievements more often? The Los Angeles Times found in a study that 94% of Academy voters are white. 77% of those are male. Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center, believes that this is why “talented directors like Ava DuVernay (‘Selma’) and Angelina Jolie (‘Unbroken’) did not make the final cut.”
The argument for inequality in awards for females in film is not that females are uninterested in film. It is not that there are females bringing bad ideas to the production table; Cowperthwaite shatters this concept entirely. “Diversity for the sake of diversity” is unbelievably untrue and patronising; the point of the Academy Awards is to showcase great works of film, not meet a diversity quota. But the value of these “awards” is greatly diminished when they are repeatedly, and only, awarded to White men. If the Academy Awards was not about the colour of your skin and about works of art, then explain the lack of diversity on the judge’s panel in the first place.
There are plenty of stories about women to write about and make into film. There are thousands of accomplishable females throughout history to base exciting and profitable stories on, from a huge selection of cultures, ethnicities and class backgrounds. If White men are still not writing about them, the only solution is to increase the diversity of the Academy judges’ panel and equality and diversity in the industry.
The Academy Awards of 2016 will be met with a tough ladder to climb out of a large hole they have dug for themselves.