Alina McGregor explores the bias behind the lack of female nominations for Best Director at the 2020 Oscars.
This year we saw the film ‘Little Women’ come out to huge critical success, as well as gaining 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), Best Adapted Screenplay (Greta Gerwig) as well as Best Costume design (Jaqueline Durran).
In case you don’t know what this film is about and why it has made its mark in popular history, a quick review is in order. Louisa May Alcott wrote her semi-autobiographical novel about four young sisters from Concord growing up during the American Civil War in the late eighteen hundreds. It revolves around their passage from childhood to womanhood in this highly patriarchal era. It has been read by some as a family drama that supports morality and goodness over wealth and affluence, and by others as a romantic quest.
The director, Greta Gerwig, has received 186 nominations and 57 wins, proving again and again her worth as a director. However, this year she was left off the Best Directors Slate which, in all the 92 years it has been around, has only seen 5 years where the nominations weren’t all men. This year the nominees are Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Todd Phillips (“Joker”), Sam Mendes (“1917”), Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), and Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”). So, why is it such a male-dominated category even though there are female directors such as Greta Gerwig creating work that earns multiple nominations? In 2017, the same situation happened with Gerwig’s film ‘Lady Bird’, so we should probably start asking ourselves some questions.
Women and girls are four times more likely than male characters to be shown wearing skimpy outfits, nearly twice as likely to be shown partially nude and four times more likely to be shown completely nude.
Hollywood’s racial and gender biases are well known to most, but with movements such as ‘Times Up’ and ‘MeToo’, many hoped and even dared to expect things to change. And while we have seen a small explosion in cinema which celebrates previously-ignored female achievements, as well as showing parts of the industry formerly kept quiet, such as sexual harassment, there doesn’t seem to have been a similar explosion for women behind the camera. So why is it important? Do we really have to care at all? It’s not like its hurting anyone, right?
Well, actually it is. For both the workers and the audiences, this sort of polarization of power is damaging. For the actresses it can be blatantly dangerous, as was shown by the Harvey Weinstein case as well as many others. Men in powerful positions can usher their actions away and threaten actresses with their careers. This can lead to serious mental health issues and can damage actresses’ careers. Even just having a high concentration of men onset can lead to certain needs ignored or cast aside. Actresses Emilia Clarke, who played Queen Daenerys in Game of Thrones, said last November that nude scenes were terrifying on the show as she was not met with consideration from those behind the camera, specifically in season one. She goes on, saying that over time she has learnt the level of nudity that she is comfortable with and enforces that on sets now.
For the audiences, it offers them only the male gaze on TV. The male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world from a masculine, heterosexual standpoint only for a male audience. This can lead to the objectification of women as only sexual objects and can deprive audiences of complex and intellectual female characters. For young girls who watch these films and series, they begin to grow an idea of what being feminine is. That is not to say that it is completely horrible out there for all women and that we never see big films or series that show women as people. Over the past decade, we have seen some amazing films which feature complex female characters such as ‘Little Women’ and others which show women in leadership positions. However, according to the research from development organisation Plan International and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, who analyzed 56 top-grossing films in 2018, women and girls in leadership positions are four times more likely than male characters to be shown wearing skimpy outfits, nearly twice as likely to be shown partially nude and four times more likely to be shown completely nude. This highlights the fact that the male gaze is certainly not dead. By creating an idea of women simply as beings for the male gaze, it is unlikely that their ambition for greater things will be acknowledged in this already tough industry where stereotypes are rife.
Other hugely acclaimed films which had female directors this year include Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers,” Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady On Fire,” Melina Matsouka’s “Queen & Slim,” Alma Har’el’s “Honey Boy,” and Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Fans of Wang’s movie, which had an all Asian cast, were deeply frustrated with the fact that it got zero nominations, some arguing that it was because of the ethnicity of the group of actors. Many also voiced their thoughts on how white the nominations were. Cynthia Erivo is the single non-white actor recognised by the academy this year, nominated for her depiction of Harriet Tubman in “Harriet”.
Other fans were bemused as to why Todd Phillips was nominated for his film ‘Joker’ when it was compared to a remake of Scorsese’s work and voiced their opinions on Twitter. What it seems we can be sure of is that there is still a long way to go until both female and non-white ambition is as successful as their peers at the Oscars.