Still sore about all those “Selma” snubs? Take comfort, people of color, you’re not alone. The academy — which is 76% male, according to a L.A. Times study — doesn’t care much about women either.
Consider the Oscar race for Best Picture. The nominees are “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything,” and “Whiplash.” You could count the female leads on one hand. You could count them on one hand even if you lost all but one finger in a freak woodworking accident.
That’s right, Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything” is the only woman with a leading role in a Best Picture nominee this year, but “Theory” really only deserves half-credit, because it places her in the well-worn Oscar role of the Long-Suffering Wife, who spends much of her time loving, supporting, and doting on her tortured-genius husband. In “Theory,” it’s Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) who gets the on-screen standing ovation for his achievements, not his wife Jane.
Behind every great man is a great woman, as the saying goes. But in Hollywood that usually means there’s a great man standing in front of a great woman.
Maybe that’s why they snubbed “Gone Girl.” David Fincher‘s crime drama about a dysfunctional marriage takes the idea of the supportive wife, turns it on its head, stabs it in the gut, and sets it on fire. That probably made the predominantly male members of the academy squirm in their seats.
Let’s take a closer look at Fincher. Consider that his last two films about women (“Gone Girl” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“) were snubbed in the Oscars’ top race, while his last two films about men (“The Social Network” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) were both nominated for Picture and Director. You could argue that his two “Girl” movies weren’t conventional Oscar fare, but really, neither were “Network” (contemporary college dudes revolutionize the internet) or “Button” (fantasy film about reverse aging).
Also snubbed for “Gone Girl” was writer Gillian Flynn, who adapted her own novel and was widely considered one of the frontrunners for Adapted Screenplay. The writers branch didn’t nominate “Wild” either; it was written by a man (Nick Hornby), but it’s about the journey of a woman, author Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the memoir on which the film is based.
In fact, all 10 screenplay nominees this year are written by men about men.
“Gone Girl” and “Wild” were both nominated in acting races – lucky for them men weren’t an option for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress – but those categories further illustrate the academy’s marginalization of women this year.
Of the Best Actress nominees, only Jones in “Theory of Everything” has a corresponding nomination for Best Picture. Meanwhile, “Wild” nominee Reese Witherspoon is accompanied only by a supporting bid for her co-star Laura Dern, and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night“), and Julianne Moore (“Still Alice“) are the only nominees for their films.
Compare that to the Best Actor race, which has seemed overcrowded all season. That’s not because men were disproportionately good at acting this year. It’s because almost all of the major awards contenders this year were male-driven films.
The academy finally settled on Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher“), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), and Eddie Redmayne (“Theory of Everything”). Of those, all but Carell are in a Best Picture-nominee, but even “Foxcatcher” managed five total nominations, including Best Director (Bennett Miller) and Best Original Screenplay.
Were the movies about women just not as good as the movies about men? Hardly. Based on critical aggregate websites, Best Actress films were better, averaging 78.2 (MetaCritic) and 87.2% freshness (Rotten Tomatoes), compared to Best Actor films with 77.2 (MC) and 84.6% freshness (RT).
What about money? Well, “American Sniper” looks like it’s going to be a big hit on the men’s side, but “Gone Girl” was actually David Fincher’s biggest hit ever, grossing $167 million domestically. Meanwhile, “Wild” ($31 million) has out-grossed “The Theory of Everything” ($26 million), “Birdman” ($26 million), and “Foxcatcher” ($8 million) in the US.
So no, money doesn’t account for the disparity either.
What are we left with other than an industry that doesn’t take stories about women as seriously as it does stories about men? What made “Wild” a less viable Best Picture candidate than another film about a lone hiker in the wilderness, “127 Hours” (2010), besides the genders of their protagonists?
One wonders if the academy would have nominated any women at all if there were no separate acting categories for them. Imagine consolidated races for lead and supporting performers. Would any women have made the cut? Maybe Moore and Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”). Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods“), perhaps, on the strength of being Meryl Streep. Anyone else?
Cate Blanchett won Best Actress last year for “Blue Jasmine,” and in her acceptance speech appealed for more movies about women. “The world is round, people,” she said. The academy just flattened it again.