In “the year of the woman,” gender equality has become as much a focal point in the awards-season discourse as racial diversity. In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in particular, the importance of female agency and representation has received a profound spotlight in the entertainment industry.
At the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7, Natalie Portman called out the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. for its notable lack of female director nominees. A few short weeks later, the Recording Academy found itself in the crosshairs as well, after only one woman, best new artist winner Alessia Cara, received a solo prize on the Jan. 28 Grammys telecast. (Additionally, according to a Variety report, 21-year-old recording artist Lorde was the only album of the year nominee not offered a solo performance spot on the show.)
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow soon after ended up in hot water with ill-worded comments telling women to “step up” if they want to be represented on the show. A number of female music industry executives have called for his resignation, declaring the organization “woefully out of touch,” while Portnow himself has announced an independent task force aimed at reviewing the Recording Academy’s equality efforts “to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”
All of that amounts to a very clear environment of heightened awareness around female representation at awards shows. How can the Motion Picture Academy expect voters’ choices to be scrutinized after the dust settles at the 90th annual Oscars on March 4?
Looking across the various contenders, outside of the acting categories of course, it becomes clear very quickly that women could be nearly as marginalized at the Oscars as they were at the Grammys. “Lady Bird” helmer Greta Gerwig, for instance, appears unlikely to reign in either the directing or original screenplay categories, as Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), respectively, have moved ahead as frontrunners. The only other female writing nominee is Dee Rees for “Mudbound,” but the adapted screenplay prize seems destined for “Call Me by Your Name” scribe James Ivory.
In best picture, six of the nine nominated films were produced by women. Two of them, “Dunkirk” and “Lady Bird,” are very much in the race, but most pundits expect “Get Out,” “The Shape of Water” or even “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” to triumph. Pixar’s “Coco,” however, produced by Darla K. Anderson, is sure to claim the animated feature prize. (Indeed, animated feature is the only category where a woman is included for each nominated film.)
“Darkest Hour” makeup artist Lucy Sibbick is the only female contender currently an odds-on favorite to win an award in the crafts categories, though Oscar-winning “Remember Me” songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Coco”) could double that and make it a whopping two. Even the costume and production design categories, which tend to feature female winners, could become boys’ clubs if frontrunners “Phantom Thread” and “The Shape of Water” hold true. That said, “Mudbound” cinematographer Rachel Morrison received the most enthusiastic burst of applause at the Academy’s annual Nominees Luncheon on Feb. 5, so perhaps she’s a lurker given the history she made with her nomination.
There is more opportunity in the documentary and short film categories, as ever, but the Oscars telecast could very well be poised to feature as few as three or four female winners outside of acting, and nearly all of them in tandem with male co-nominees. If the Grammys dust-up is anything to go by, that would not be a great look.
It should ultimately be noted that, of the Academy’s 24 categories, 21 of them feature female nominees. That’s certainly a better ratio than the British Academy, which nominated women in 16 of 24 categories. But one consistently problematic area is the visual effects field, where out of 20 individual nominees across five films, not one is a woman. Original score and sound editing were the other two Academy categories dominated by men this year.
Come what may on Oscar night, what’s important is that the conversation is happening. Every new outrage, whether it’s #OscarsSoWhite or #GrammysSoMale, adds fuel to an overall movement geared toward a more inclusive atmosphere in the arts. As long as awards shows remain such public-facing report cards for industry efforts, they will continue to be lightning rods for the cause, whether they like it or not.