Oscars & women: While racial representation improves, the academy still has a gender problem

The 2017 Oscar nominations made great strides in terms of racial representation (more on that here). The academy nominated myriad people of color in front of and behind the camera, but while we celebrate a progressive step forward in one area, let’s not neglect another: the academy still has a woman problem.

Oscar nominees list: 2017 Academy Award nominations

To be clear, Hollywood as a whole has an issue with sexism, and the Oscars, as always, are the most visible symptom of that problem. Men and women are represented equally in acting categories because the Oscars have separate categories for actors and actresses, but in most other categories men still tend to dominate. Consider the race for Best Picture: nine films are nominated, but only eight out of the 30 producers cited are women. There are no women at all on the producing teams of “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge” or “La La Land,” compared to just one film with an all-female producing team — ironically the macho bank-heist drama “Hell or High Water,” produced by Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn.

And consider the subjects of those films. Movies that earn nominations for Best Picture tend to favor heroic men, and this year is no different. Seven out of the nine Best Picture nominees have a male character at their center. Only one of those seven (“La La Land”) has an equal female co-lead, and only two other Best Picture nominees are driven solely by female protagonists (“Arrival” and “Hidden Figures”). Meanwhile, other female-led films that looked like strong contenders earlier in the season — like “Jackie,” “20th Century Women,” “Florence Foster Jenkins” and “Loving” — under-performed.

Oscar nominations by movie: ‘La La Land’ leads with record-tying 14 bids

Regardless of who appears on screen, though, every Best Picture nominee is directed by a man. And those above-mentioned female-centered movies that didn’t make the cut are directed by men as well. According to a recent study by Martha M. Lauzen for San Diego State University, women accounted for only 7% of the directors of 2016’s top 250 grossing films. That’s down from 9% in 2015. Women also made up only 24% of producers, 17% of editors, 13% of writers and 5% of cinematographers.

Given those statistics, it’s not surprising that only one woman is nominated for writing this year (“Hidden Figures” co-writer Allison Schroeder) out of the 13 total scribes nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. Only one out of six nominated film editors is a woman (“Moonlight” co-editor Joi McMillon). And none of the nominated cinematographers are women.

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All five nominees for Best Animated Feature are directed by men, though two women are nominated as producers: Arianne Sutner (“Kubo and the Two Strings”) and Osnat Shurer (“Moana”).

Only one nominee for Best Documentary Feature is directed by a woman — Ava DuVernay (“13th”) — though women are better represented there as producers: Donatella Palermo (“Fire at Sea”), Julie Goldman (“Life, Animated”) and Caroline Waterlow (“O.J.: Made in America”).

And only one of the five Best Foreign Language Film nominees is directed by a woman: “Toni Erdmann” by Maren Ade.

Oscar Best Picture Gallery: History of Every Academy Award Winning Movie

Just one woman is nominated for Best Score (Mica Levi for “Jackie”), while no women are nominated for Best Song. No female production designers were recognized either, though three of the nominated set decorators are women (Anna Pinnock for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Nancy Haigh for “Hail Caesar!,” Sandy Reynolds-Wasco for “La La Land”).

A notable exception to this gender imbalance is Best Costume Design, where all five nominees are women: Joanna Johnston (“Allied”), Colleen Atwood (“Fantastic Beasts”), Consolata Boyle (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), Madeline Fontaine (“Jackie”) and Mary Zophres (“La La Land”). But Best Costume Design has typically been more hospitable to female artists than other fields.

Consider that stark comparison: there are five female nominees for Best Costume Design this year, but there haven’t been five female Best Director nominees in the entire 89-year history of these awards. On Saturday, January 21, women staged a historic march on Washington. Maybe their next stop should be Hollywood.

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