Once again, this years’ Oscar Award Ceremony nominations were met with considerable debate, specifically about the lack of diversity and representation among nominees in the Best Director category. In the past few years, the Academy Awards have received criticism and have been public-shamed regarding the lack of recognition of female directors—popular hashtags such as #OscarsSoMale annually re-emerge, as well as circulation of videos of actress Natalie Portman and actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae pointedly mentioning the lack of female candidates during the presentation of the nominees.
This year, no women were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; in 92 years, only five women have been nominated and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has won. Bigelow received the award for the movie “The Hurt Locker,” a film with a predominantly white, male cast.
However, there is a multitude of female directors doing incredible work. In the past year, several noteworthy films were female directed; box office hits such as “Frozen 2” and “Captain Marvel” were both co-directed by women and Greta Gerwig was initially pronounced to be a shoo-in for a nomination for her work on “Little Women.” Despite such success, nominations and awards are still noticeably absent.
The Oscars isn’t the only award ceremony refusing to acknowledge female directors. Across the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, DGA Awards, and Critics’ Choice Awards (2008-2020), only 5.1% of Best Director nominees were women—only 4 individual women were nominated, and only one, Bigelow, won any awards. Whether or not these events are taking direction from the Oscars, a change in one of them is extremely likely to inspire significant change in the others.
According to a study done by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, 10.6% of top-grossing films were directed by women in the past year; this percentage is the largest in over a decade. This progress, however incremental, should indicate a rise in success for female directors; and consequently an increase in recognition and awards. Why is this apparent advancement not reflected in award ceremonies?
Perhaps the lack of recognition is due to a homogenous board of judges. In 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Academy Awards, promised to substantially increase diversity among its members. Despite this promise, the number of white men involved in the voting process is still significantly larger than that of women and people of color. Whether or not this disparity is directly causing representation issues, such inequality makes change more difficult.
The continuous lack of representation demonstrated in award ceremonies, especially in a leadership category, is detrimental. Not recognizing women and their work within such a prominent industry perpetuates classical stereotypes surrounding gender—limiting the number of women in a position to receive recognition for leadership awards gives a sort of credence to belief that women shouldn’t be in positions of authority.
The entertainment industry influences modern society. It is a constant presence in our daily lives. Limiting representation and recognition in the media shows women, minorities, and marginalized communities that they do not deserve to have their stories depicted or their communities represented within such an influential industry.
That’s not to say those that have been recognized aren’t deserving; however, they are the only people receiving recognition on a consistent basis and its time to strive for equity. Members of diverse or marginalized communities shouldn’t be recognized just because of their identity—but when their work is repeatedly shut out or unnoticed, are award ceremonies relevant anymore?
As a viewer, it is difficult to find a platform to change these issues. In spite of this, it is essential to recognize the disparity in awards ceremonies and possibly stop viewing them until they are more representative. As a consumer, go to movies created by women directors and spread awareness about their work. Become a voice that recognizes and celebrates them. Advocate for those whose identities are outside of the majority.
Regardless of gender, use the power of participation to change the direction of the Oscars for the better. Change requires participation and support from those in positions of power as well.