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Thoughts on the Oscar Noms from Female Film Writers and Experts

Thoughts on the Oscar Noms from Female Film Writers and Experts

Here are some thoughts from some people I reached out to earlier today about the Oscar nominations, in alphabetical order. 

Thelma Adams, Film Editor at ZEALnyc: 

First of all, I welcome more voices to the discussion. Only a few years ago, we women bothered by the bias in Hollywood and at the Oscars were howling more or less alone. Now, the status of women in Hollywood, and the imbalance of the Awards has become a common topic. While we can decry the snub of Ava DuVernay as a Best Director nominee, even as her movie Selma got its rightful place among the Best Picture nominees. Another thing that strikes me is the Best Actor and Actress categories. There has been a lot of talk about the weakness in the potential actress nominees and the incredibly competitive actor category. This is totally symptomatic, not of actors being superior but of male actors having better opportunities and more challenging roles. If the two categories merged into one, the men would dominate. Perhaps Julianne Moore and Marion Cotillard would compete this year but who knows. So, Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston fell off the nominees but each and every one of the male contenders — Benedict Cumberbatch, Bradley Cooper, Steve Carell, Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton — deserve to be feted. So many were left out: Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hardy, David Oyelowo to name just three. This is not a measure of acting talent, male versus female, but a chasm in opportunity. More leading roles for women where they get to carry the narrative will result in a more muscular and competitive Best Actress race. 
Zeba Blay, Film Critic at Two Brown Girls Podcast:

This year’s Oscar nominations look like a parody of the Oscars, playing into everything that we expect from a predominantly white, male, over 60 voting academy. The Selma, Ava DuVernay, and David Oyelowo snubs are incredibly hard to understand, politics aside. It’s even harder to believe that some half-baked smear campaign could do so much damage to the such a deserving film. But ultimately, what’s most shocking about this outcome is how utterly boring it is. 

Inkoo Kang, News Editor at Women and Hollywood and Film Critic at TheWrap: 

Even more than the painful Ava DuVernay snub, I’m disheartened by the fact that not a single one of the eight Best Picture nominees features a female protagonist (because the secret ingredient that makes a story great or fascinating or award-worthy is a penis?). I’m sure only a handful of the Academy and the film industry at large would identify as active misogynists (heh), but the continued exclusion, devaluation, and disdain of women’s stories and female creatives, especially at the “prestige” level,” will only drive women away from the movies (to TV, for instance) — and contribute to the death of cinema as we know it. I’ll tune in on February 22 to celebrate the very few women whose work was nominated by one of the whitest, malest, most deflating Oscars in recent history.

Dr. Martha Lauzen, Researcher at Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State: 

When Kathryn Bigelow won her well-deserved Oscars (Best Director, Best Picture) for The Hurt Locker a number of years ago, journalists and industry pundits speculated about whether her well-deserved success would create a sort of halo effect, boosting the prospects and profiles of other women working in the business. Such an effect never materialized. While the film industry may have once resided at the center of the cultural zeitgeist, it now appears to be dramatically behind the times. The nominations provide evidence of this disconnect. The studios increasingly operate in an insular world of recycled stories, and deeply entrenched and dysfunctional employment practices.

Kate Muir, Chief Film Critic at The Times of London: 

Once again, the Oscars are looking embarrassingly white this year, in every acting nomination. This was not merely noted by an incandescent Twitter where an #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was trending, but by The Washington Post and the stentorian New York Times: “No people of colour made the Oscar acting nominee lists”. The big snub has been to the superb political drama Selma directed by Ava DuVernay.
The Academy did, however, put the somewhat jingoistic, patriotic and violent American Sniper among the eight pictures in the nominations. Clint Eastwood, who directed American Sniper, is 84, and his fellow Academy members have an average age of 63, are 93 per cent white and 76 per cent male. The choice is not that surprising.
If DuVernay had made the best director list, she would have been the first African-American woman ever nominated. In nearly nine decades of the Oscars, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, has won that award. DuVernay has some serious hurdles to overcome.

Claudia Puig, Film Critic at USA Today (read her reaction piece):

We still have a very long way to go in terms of parity between the genders, and, of course, among different cultures and races in Hollywood, just as we do as a country. When I didn’t see Ava DuVernay’s name among the best director nominees, my heart sank. Her nomination would have gone a long way to inspire young women, and especially young women of color, to pursue filmmaking as a career. I was truly hoping not only to see a woman burst into the all-boys club, but an African-American woman. That would have indicated some progress in a male-dominated industry. When Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win a best director Oscar in 2009 for The Hurt Locker it felt like perhaps Hollywood was stepping up and opening the doors to its inner sanctum. But that was 6 years ago. I hate to think of her as the token female director Oscar winner. 

Having said that, I was heartened to see that Selma was among the best picture nominees. Perhaps fellow directors did not think DuVernay was enough of a seasoned veteran to make it into the elite ranks of director nominees? In general, women behind the camera are given short shrift in Hollywood, so it’s not very surprising that they account for a small minority of the overall Oscar nominees in categories like writing, directing and editing. Their presence behind the camera in mainstream films is more rare than in the independent film world, so that accounts for why more creative women pursue the indie avenue, or go into television. 
Carrie Rickey, Longtime Movie Critic and Writer:

I’m disappointed that two wonderful actors of color, David Oyelowo of Selma and Gugu Mbatha-Raw of Belle and Beyond the Lights, did not get nominations. I’m disappointed that though Selma received multiple nominations, its director, Ava DuVernay, did not. Part of me thinks, what can we expect of a body that is 96% white and 72% male?

Cathy Schulman, President of Women in Film: 

It was another typical year for minorities and women when the Oscar nominations were announced this morning. I’m thrilled there are 44 women in the race – which is the norm looking back over the last five years – but that’s a very small number in a pool of over 200 total nominees. Numbers aside, what troubles me the most is that the Best Picture nominees – all movies I loved – are all about men and their stories – and generally about their heroism and overcomes. I guess the great Joseph Campbell lives, but aren’t we capable of doing more? Aren’t women heroic? Aren’t diverse human beings heroic? Thank God for Boyhood.

I am always troubled by the separation of best picture and best director nominations and wins, as I’ve never seen a best picture direct itself. The metrics of the voting process contribute to this, but really, Selma without Ava DuVernay? Not to mention Sniper without Clint Eastwood? It also deeply disturbs me that women are nominated in the same behind the scenes categories every year – hair, make-up, costume design and production design. Is this some sort of ghetto? I greatly admire everyone nominated in those categories and the crucial work they do, but don’t women write, direct, edit (Yay Sandra!) and shoot films? Of course they do.

Congratulations to the female documentary nominees. But isn’t it clear when the stakes of money and power are high in the narrative categories, diversity vanishes? All this said, these nominations are the effect, not the cause. Let’s get to the root of all this. The movie business, both domestically and internationally, has not made enough of a concerted effort to break the pattern of continued gender and racial inequality. It’s so far beyond time to change this that it’s nothing less than embarrassing. More importantly, it really hurts. It hurts all of the supremely talented people who are continuously overlooked.

Sasha Stone — Awards Daily

The Golden Globes and the Directors Guild have both opened more doors to women than the Academy’s directing branch has, with 7 nominees in their history.  The Academy lags behind with only 4 in 87 years of Oscar history.  They passed up the chance to nominate Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, and now, they’ve just passed up the chance to nominate the first black woman director in their history. Instead, they went for white men down the line, which ensures their membership stay mostly white men. I don’t think anything sinister is afoot – it’s a matter of preference. This is their preference. I can’t say why they picked Morton Tyldum who directed the safe and conventional The Imitation Game over DuVernay or Dan Gilroy or David Fincher. It is not an industry that looks at David Fincher’s hard choice to stick with Gillian Flynn as screenwriter on her own novel; every other adaptation was adapted by a male writer. Fincher is now on his third project with Flynn and remains one of the few directors in the business who invests in women because he trusts them. Would that the rest of the industry gave a damn. 
Women are afraid to stand up and speak the truth because they’re afraid of men criticizing them, calling them feminazis. Young actresses like Shailene Woodley don’t even want to call themselves feminists because they mistakenly believe the propaganda that it means having power over men or removing men from leadership position. It is about equality. We aren’t seeing that in today’s Oscar race, sadly.  Jessica Chastain is one of the few who does speak out and wouldn’t you know, she was shut out of the race after a year of magnificent performances.  
Nothing will change, unfortunately, until two things happen: more women film critics to balance the dialogue around film, and more female directors nominated to change the demographic in the Academy.  And finally, more women need to get mad and not care what men think of them. There are many men out there who are supportive. 
That the only female writer, Gillian Flynn was shut out of the screenplay category is horrifying. That means we have 100% male writers and directors and subject matter in the major categories. I try really hard not to think things like “the industry just doesn’t care about women anymore.” I keep hoping things will get better. The truth of it is, in the 16 years I’ve been doing this, things have only gotten worse. 

Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood: 

The directors branch of the Academy is notorious for not recognizing women. Alas, the slings and arrows aimed at Selma may have had a negative impact, but clearly there was enough passionate support for the film for it to be a Best Picture contender with only a Best Song nomination. (Watch that song win.) 
It’s hard for many white men to accept a narrative that celebrates a black man standing up to a white president who has been lauded for his Civil Rights achievements. The Academy is dominated by white men, and many voters were not ready for this revisionist history.
But another reason Selma didn’t do better is that finally, it’s a small indie made on a tight $20 million budget. The Academy judges these films on their scale and scope. Ava DuVernay is a relative unknown, even if she was admitted to the Academy recently. And the film’s Brit lead David Oyelowo is not a major established star. 
The movie was finished late and hit the race late. Screeners to the DGA, SAG and PGA were affected. More and more, late arrivals are at a disadvantage in terms of catching up with awards contenders–unless you are Clint Eastwood. 

Susan Wloszczyna, Writer at and Women and Hollywood: 

I took some solace in the fact that Selma was at least in the best picture race, considering that only eight titles were deemed worthy in that category this year. But how can the directors’ branch live with themselves knowing that they could have made such an important statement and show they are truly committed to supporting and acknowledging the efforts of filmmakers of every gender and background? At least Ava DuVernay received the entire academy’s support by being the first female black director to have a film up for best picture. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and DuVernay will come back with an artistic vengeance, I am certain.  

Stephanie Zacharek, Chief Film Critic at Village Voice: 

I’m less troubled that the Academy has failed to recognize “woman directors” than by the fact that Ava DuVernay has simply made a terrific and beautifully directed film. You’d hope — in futility, as it turns out — that the Academy would recognize that achievement, regardless of her sex or race. Her movie stands on its own — she doesn’t need any special pleading. I’m more dismayed by the Academy’s lack of bold and imaginative thinking in general. I know it’s a voting organization, not an individual, so perhaps we shouldn’t hope for individualistic qualities like boldness or originality. But even if the group -is- mostly made up of older white guys, there’s still the possibility that they’ll know good work when they see it. And yet, they continue to put their muscle behind facile, perfunctory filmmaking like American Sniper. It’s hard to keep making excuses for them.

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