Beyond Hildur: 5 More Female Composers Competing at the Oscars

Much has been written about “Joker” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, the Icelandic cellist who may well walk off with the Oscar Sunday night, making her only the third woman to win an Academy Award for best original score.

But she’s not the only woman who has composed scores for Oscar-nominated films. In fact, five others are in contention in the documentary feature, documentary short subject and animated short categories.

Three of the five nominated films in the doc shorts category were scored by women (and one of the other two has no score): Sasha Gordon for “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” Amanda Jones for “St. Louis Superman” and Laura Karpman for “Walk Run Cha-Cha.”

Music for the documentary feature “For Sama” was composed by London-based Nainita Desai, and Japanese composer Karen Tanaka scored the nominated animated short film “Sister.”

The number is very likely a record at the Oscars. Last year’s doc shorts and features credited only one female composer (veteran Miriam Cutler for “RBG”).

“There is progress being made,” says Karpman, who is also one of the governors of the Academy music branch. “It’s important to celebrate the fact that all of these inclusion initiatives, at the Academy and with the Alliance [for Women Film Composers] and other women’s advocacy groups, are working. It’s slow, but we are seeing a flowering, especially in the documentary and shorts field. The door is open — we’ve just got to keep our foot firmly kicked inside of it.”

The improved outlook for women composer-arrangers extends to this year’s Oscar ceremony. A woman will conduct at the Oscars for the first time, as Irish-born Eimear Noone is set to baton a medley of this year’s original-score nominees, and, Variety has learned, this year’s team of music arrangers includes more women than ever.

The Academy declined to provide exact figures, but it is believed that the number of arrangers has increased from one (last year, Grammy winner Nan Schwartz) to four or five this year.

Adds Alliance president Starr Parodi: “Things are moving in a very positive direction. There is definitely a shift that I’m seeing and feeling. I just got back from Sundance and it was palpable there as well. It’s fantastic to see more high quality projects with compelling stories and Oscar-worthy production being offered to female composers. However, I feel like we’re at a very critical time. Because there’s more visibility of female composers, it gives the illusion that we are approaching some reasonable form of gender parity, when we are still a long way off from the goal. There still needs to be gender diversity in every conversation and pitch when it comes to scoring.”

According to Parodi, women composers in the Alliance now number between 400 and 500, and a U.K. chapter of the Alliance has just launched.

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