Why the Academy Awards Matter for Gender Equality in Hollywood

“I hadn’t even heard of that movie until the nominations.”
“Oh, it’s Oscar nominated? I’ll have to see it.”
“I need to see all the best picture nominees before the Oscars are on!”

How many times do you hear these things during awards season? All the time? And then also through the rest of the year? Yeah, me too. Because it turns out that no matter how apathetic you can be toward awards, this is the one award that most people use to judge the worthiness of a film. It makes them seek it out.

That’s the first reason why the Oscars matter. Here is the second reason.

After the Oscars were announced this morning and I aired my grievances — not shock by any means, but annoyance — on Twitter, I got some push back. Who cares about awards? Well, a lot of people: see above. But mostly, my displeasure comes from the fact this is another greater representation of how skewed Hollywood is.

In the entire history of the Oscars, since 1927, there have been four women nominated for best director. That’s four out of 423. Less than one percent. There have been 637 people nominated for cinematography — zero of them women. That is also less than one percent.

There are some women nominated this year, like Sandra Adair for her editing work on Boyhood. Becky Sullivan for sound editing on Unbroken. Laura Poitras’ documentary CitizenFour. Documentary shorts Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 directed by Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Joanna directed by Aneta Kopacz. Some nominations for songwriting, make-up and hair, production design and costuming. And yes, actress categories, haw haw. But my point is that beyond the editing nominees, this is pretty much how Oscar nominations for women tend to go in a good year.

Things don’t change unless people in places of power and decision-making seek to change them. Studios don’t take chances on women because they’re still “different”. People hire from within, and they tend to hire people that look like them. All of these things that come back around to internalized sexism — sexism that is mostly just casual and societal rather than outright malicious — and it feeds into Hollywood and gets spit out on Oscar nomination morning in the form of eight best picture nominees about men.

That’s why awards matter: they bring attention to stories that might not get attention, and they represent what Hollywood has to offer us which often serves as a reminder of what Hollywood lacks. The visibility and success of these films from Oscar season tells Hollywood what “we” want to see, which circles back around into creating next’s year crop of things. And the lack of diversity in what “we” desire does nothing to help eliminate the gender gap in Hollywood.

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