The Oscars are sexist but what should we do about it?

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By Leah Martindale, Film & TV Editor

The 92nd Oscars are behind us, but for women in the industry there is still a long road ahead. With International Women’s Day fast approaching, we are taking a critical eye to the industry.

The statistics for women’s recognition in the most coveted Western awards of the industry, the Academy Awards - or Oscars, as you may know them - are frankly shocking. Only one woman has ever been nominated for Best Cinematographer, in 2017, and only five for Best Director, with a shocking singular win - Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker (2008) - a toxic masculine wet-dream if ever I’ve seen one.

Best Director winner Bigelow behind-the-scenes of bomb-disposal war drama Hurt Locker | IMDb / Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment.

Only eight women have been nominated for Best Original Score, and fourteen for Best Sound Editing, with twelve actual film nominations. While the Oscars are debatably outdated and archaic in their assessments, they still hold the gold standard for cinema, and there is no way for women to reform the Academy from the outside. The Oscars board of voters is notably undiverse, which I suppose makes this all less surprising...

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The Oscars have become infamous for their seemingly instinctive shirking of diversity. At this year’s awards actress Natalie Portman made headlines worldwide for her notable cape, adorned with the names of women snubbed from the Best Director category. This was a move praised by many and notably unimpressive to many others, including the often controversial Rose McGowan.

What an exciting move! How bold of her to so openly critique the status quo. Until, that is, you look further into it. Portman’s own production company, Handsomecharlie Films, has a total of 11 films listed on IMDb. Of these films, only two were directed by women - or, I should say, a woman: Portman herself. Eve (2008) and A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015) both hold Portman at the helm as writer-director, and in Love and Darkness, also actor.

The names of women snubbed for Oscars were embroidered on the lapel of Portman's Oscars outfit | IMDb / Amy Sussman / Getty Images

Unfortunately it is all-too-common for Hollywood’s women to climb the ladder and pull it up after them. It is particularly ironic that Portman began her career at the tender age of 11 when scouted in a shopping mall, and starred in Léon: The Professional (1994) before her thirteenth birthday. For many there are factors like race, class, and Eurocentric expectations of classic beauty that do not allow such meteoric rises in the industry.

Of course, it is unfair to blame Portman for the luck of her life. However, when her entire success is predicated on privilege and luck it can leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth to see such empty shows of ‘solidarity’. There are many ways Portman could champion other women’s voices, and a Dior cape that likely cost more than my mother’s car is not the way.

The Oscars have become infamous for their seemingly instinctive shirking of diversity

Marilyn Monroe is notable in history for innumerable reasons, from the admirable to the less-so. One area in which she is vastly underappreciated, however, is her constant championing of other women in the performing arts.

It has been reported on reliably that without the help of Monroe her friend and favourite singer Ella Fitzgerald, an African-American singer, would have languished in clubs below her talent’s worth due to repressive segregation laws and racist American attitudes.

While we will never have another Marilyn, there are so many ways to emulate her that do not involve a peroxide blonde scalp or physics-defying figure. While the women in the industry can hardly overturn the entire system, the higher you rise, the further you can drop people.

With great power comes great responsibility, and I personally would love to see less empty shows of support and more active involvement in reforming the system the higher ups are imbued in.

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Of course, we are not all Oscar Award winning actresses who became household names before we could legally drive. We are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in ordinary ways, and it can be so easy to become disillusioned by the Academy, the industry, and the arts, when even at the top it appears women just cannot catch a break. It is so easy to tell Natalie Portman to step it up, because she can afford to, but what about the rest of us?

Lina Wertmüller (second left) became the first female Best Director nominee in 1976 for Seven Beauties (1975) | IMDb / Kevin Winter / Getty Images

As one audience member amongst millions, it can feel like you are a drop in the water. But eventually, every drop turns the tide. Watch women’s films, champion women’s stories, and tell them yourselves.

If you are a woman, tell your stories, look for them in film, and support the films you see yourself in. If you aren’t, take your time to watch women’s stories, to champion them, to widen your horizons. If we can learn anything from the Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) trailer trauma of last year, it’s that audiences’ voices can go a very long way...

Featured: IMdb / Michael Caulfield - WireImage.com


Do you think it is fair to call the Oscars inherently sexist?

AUTHOR

Leah Martindale

Part-time Film & Television MA student; full-time Instagram storier, and ABBA enthusiast; amateur film critic. Can always be found writing from bed.