When the Motion Picture Academy addressed criticism of its demographic makeup last month by inviting 683 new members, the big story, it turns out, was the number of women who were asked to join across the organization’s various crafts branches.
According to a Variety analysis of the previous five years of Academy membership, the cinematographers branch made the greatest leap in number of women invited. In 2016, nine of the branch’s 28 invitations were extended to women, or 32% of DPs invited. That’s a much more representative figure than the one from 2011 to 2015, when women comprised just 7% (four out of 54) of the new members invited to join the branch.
The music branch also saw a considerable jump, from 14% over the past five years to 42% this year, while film editors went from 23% to 41%. There were incremental upticks for visual effects (3% to 9%) and sound (12% to 18%) .
The only dips came among designers and makeup artists/hairstylists, which dropped 4% and 3%, respectively. But those two areas consistently represent truer percentages of women both in the Academy and among the industry at large.
“What I’ve noticed is that the discrepancy has been in the categories where there’s female authorship and ownership, like writing, directing, and composing,” says new member Lesley Barber, composer on this year’s indie darling “Manchester by the Sea.” “There’s a loss of new energy and new voices if people aren’t included. Think of the energy provided by the showrunners, writers, directors, and creators — the women that have come in and risen to prominence, like Lena Dunham, Mira Nair, Kathryn Bigelow, Mary Harron, Kimberly Peirce, Tina Fey — it impacts the way the industry and the audiences hear female voices and new subject matter.”
Reed Morano (“Kill Your Darlings,” “The Skeleton Twins”) was one of just two female lensers invited to the cinematographers branch in 2013. She says she is appreciative of the Academy’s strong and immediate reaction to the recent conversation of inclusion, but wonders about the extent of the effect on such a large body of people, now numbering nearly 8,000.
“I think this change is to show that the Academy is making an effort, but I don’t know if it’s going to necessarily make that big a dent, since [lack of diversity is] such a huge problem,” she says. “Like, why hasn’t a female cinematographer been up for an Oscar?”
Morano points to the work of Ellen Kuras, DP on 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” who “should have been nominated because there were so many great in-camera visual tricks in that film. But it’s a numbers problem. There aren’t that many female cinematographers in comparison to men doing those movies that catch the Academy’s attention.”
Morano also notes that the films that get campaign pushes during Oscar season often are preordained by the initial exposure they receive at festivals and in the press. She speaks from experience: After working on Courtney Hunt’s “Frozen River,” she saw the movie catch fire at Sundance in January 2008 and carry through to Academy nominations, earning Hunt a nom for original screenplay and Melissa Leo one for actress. It’s incumbent on festival brass and journalists, she believes, to rally that attention to all categories in such films as much as they do to projects with larger profiles.
Yet, whatever change is achieved, Morano says she expects things to crawl forward incrementally. “There’s no instant fix,” she says.
(Pictured: Natasha Braier, DP on “The Neon Demon,” is among those recently invited to join the Academy.)