The Problem with the Oscars

I have a bone to pick with these guys.

Last year I didn’t watch the Oscars (traveling.. I have a good excuse!) but I was unabashedly STOKED that a woman was nominated for Best Director and pumping my fist in a heartfelt feminist cry of ‘hell ya!’ when she won.

2009 was the first year a woman has won for Best Directing and Oscar has been around for 83 years. Multiply 83 years x 5 directing nominees per year (I’m averaging here) and you get 415 nominees. And in the history of the Oscars, only 4 women have ever been nominated. That’s less than 1% of nominees, people.

Now, I’ve heard some people argue that affirmative action has no place at the Oscars and that women shouldn’t be nominated unless their films deserve it.. I guess the idea here is no nominations for women means no worthy films were made by women and it’s as simple as that. Bull. I agree that women shouldn’t be nominated for Oscars just because they’re women, but the lack of female Oscar nominees in major categories is indicative of a larger problem – that not enough women are making movies in Hollywood.

The Stats on Women & Hollywood

* Women comprise only 23% of film critics at daily newspapers. (San Diego State)
* In 2007, women only comprised 15% of all directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 grossing films. (San Diego State)
* In 2007, only 6% of the top 250 grossing films were directed by women. (San Diego State)
* In 2007, only 5 of the top 50 films starred or were focused on women.
* Women make up 27% of TV writers and 19% of film writers (WGAW)
* In 2006, less than a dozen of the 307 films eligible for an Oscar were women driven (EW).
* In 2006, only 3 movies in the top 50 starred or were focused on women. (EW)

The fact is that most people cannot name even 5 directors that are women. I challenge you to try right now. Now try to think of 5 male directors and I’m sure it will be much easier to just rattle them off.

The Oscars this year (2011) was quite interesting to me because it highlighted another ‘issue’ I have a problem with: Best Picture and Best Director nominations. The Academy actually has a website where you can read about all the Oscar Stats. Of note is the list of films that were nominated for a Best Picture award but not for Best Direction. In the early days of Oscar there were more Best Picture nominees than directing nominees every year so understandably some were left out… and the Academy recently decided to return to this model for their nominations. (10 Best Picture Noms and only 5 Best Director Noms.) But in the interim period of time it is surprising just how many movies haven’t gotten nominated in both categories!

I have never quite understood how the Best Picture Winner and the Best Director Winner are not the same thing. Oh I know the Best Picture Award goes to the studios and producers of the film but really – isn’t film a director’s medium? If a film is the Best Picture of the year, doesn’t it also follow that it is so because of the incredible direction behind the project and should therefore guarantee the director’s win? Could the film have won Best Picture if not for the Director at the helm? I dunno. Makes sense to me anyways…

Even more surprising to me is the idea that a film could be nominated or win for Best Picture and not even NOMINATED for Best Director. Especially when they were doing it 5 and 5. This year, two of the Best Picture nominees were directed by women: The Kids are Alright and Winter’s Bone. But neither of them were nominated for Best Director. I would argue that The Kids are Alright probably deserved it and Winter’s Bone was a festival darling that got swept in there because they had 10 nominations to give out.. but that’s just my opinion. So why is it that women get overlooked for achievements in directing, even when their films are recognized as Best Picture quality? This is not just true of this year either…


1986 (59th) Randa Haines — Children of a Lesser God
1990 (63rd) Penny Marshall — Awakenings
1991 (64th) Barbra Streisand — The Prince of Tides
1993 (66th) Jane Campion* — The Piano
2003 (76th) Sofia Coppola* — Lost in Translation
2006 (79th) Valerie Faris (with Jonathan Dayton) — Little Miss Sunshine
(Beginning with the 82nd Awards, the Best Picture category expanded to 10 nominations)
2009 (82nd) Kathryn Bigelow* — The Hurt Locker
2009 (82nd) Lone Scherfig — An Education
2010 (83rd) Lisa Cholodenko – The Kids are Alright
2010 (83rd) Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone

You can see here that LESS THAN HALF of women who had their films nominated for Best Picture actually got recognized for their direction of said film.

I’ll just let that sink in.

Now I’ll get real here for a second. I KNOW the Oscars are a big fat self-love fest that gets more and more incestuous by the minute. I KNOW the Oscars doesn’t recognize even a quarter of the great films produced every year. I KNOW that the Oscars are only one of many awards ceremonies out there.

But here’s the thing. The Oscars are like the President. Or the Pope. Or the Nobel Prize or something. They are the ones that everyone knows about and watches (even the plebs who have nothing to do with film-making.) The Oscars has the opportunity to recognize different genres, ages, races, sexes and set an example. It could be so meaningful – artists voting for artists and a real celebration of creativity and talent, not just box office numbers. But it doesn’t. And that makes me really sad.

I love movies but I am starting to think that self-congratulatory awards ceremonies are destroying the real potential of the medium. When I was in film school, we had to organize our end-of-year screening and the professors asked us if we wanted to do an awards ceremony and have a jury and stuff. We didn’t and I think our year was all the better for it. Instead of competing with each other we were supporting each other and recognizing all the work we’d done on a equal playing field. Film is a collaborative medium and every member of the crew and cast contribute to the final, magical piece of art that is created… thank god!

Some links of interest…

Women and Hollywood

What Does a 70 Million Opening Weekend get?


2 thoughts on “The Problem with the Oscars

  1. I was cleaning up my computer after being away for 2 weeks (Mexico) and I tried the link in your e-mail about donations to your film. I just want to say that I like your writing style and I agree with your contentions about the Oscars. Um, how will/would you feel in the future about seeing YOUR name beside a Best Directing list?! Just a thought….
    Love, Shirley

  2. Pingback: The Bechdel Test «

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