It's a Man's (Celluloid) World Out There

In 2019, more than 10 percent of top films were directed by women — the highest number in more than a decade. However, for the third year in a row, no female director has been nominated for best director. The Academy's exclusion of Gerwig for best director was particularly not well received. Little Women ended up with six different nominations including Best Picture and best-adapted screenplay. Yet Greta Gerwig was completely left out of the Best Director category at the Academy Awards. Her snub sparked outrage because a director is a pretty large part of the overall feel of the film. In the entire 92-year-long existence of the Academy Awards, only five female directors have been nominated, and only Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.

  1. 1. The Odds Are Never In Their Favor

    Women directors, producers, and writers have always been the minority in filmmaking. According to the New York Film Academy, there is a 5:1 ratio of men to women working behind the scenes of films. Women's Media Center found that from 2005-2016 only 19% of all non-acting Oscar nominees were women. A study published by USC Annenberg's Inclusion Initiative found that of the top-grossing 1,300 films from 2007-2019, 4.8% of directors were women. The statistics for the number of female directors of color is more harrowing. Ava DuVernay and Jennifer Yuh Nelson were the only two women of color to direct a top-grossing film before 2019. This year, four women of color (Kasi Lemmons, Melina Matsoukas, Roxann Dawson, Tina Gordon) were added to the list. The addition brings the statics to a "record breaking" 0.3% of top-grossing 2007-2019 films directed by women of color. In other words, no film studio has distributed the stories of more than four underrepresented female directors across 13 years.

  2. 2. Viewpoints of the "Opposition"

    Discussion about the lack of diversity across all types of diversity during awards season has increased in the last several years. In past years, awards shows have reasoned that the general lack of representation results in the lack of minority nominees. While it certainly has a very long way to go, there is no doubt that representation has increased in the past few years. Without the excuse of lack of representation to rebut, both awards shows and critics claim that women aren't nominated for top awards because they don't produce quality films. In actuality, of the top 100 movies of 2019, 12 of the directors were women, up from five in 2018. As for their caliber, a study conducted by the Annenberg Foundation compared Metacritic scores for films with only male directors with those with a female director attached and found no difference. “Despite receiving the same average critical review, female directors were given substantially less access and opportunity than male directors to helm these highly visible films,” the study said. They have explained the lack of nominations, because women (and people of color) should be nominated for quality not tokenism. When women and people of color produce quality, good work (e.g. Us, Hustlers, The Farewell, Booksmart, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, etc.) and still aren't nominated, what's the excuse then?

  3. 3. A Domino Effect

    One may make the argument that film awards are not relevant anymore because they are biased and are only there to act like soccer trophies given to second graders. In other words, award shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes are there for filmmakers to awards themselves. There is some truth to the claims. In 2014 (just six years ago) a 2014 survey conducted by The Los Angeles Times found that the Oscar voters were on average 63 years old. 76% of them were men, and 94% of them were white. In 2016 Academy announced plans to address lack of diversity, promising to double its number of women and diverse members by 2020.

    According to Digital Spy, since 2016 The Academy invited on average 800 new members each year. Of the average 800 new members each year, an average 41.5% percent are female and 29% are people of color. As of 2020, an average current breakdown is only a reported 31% female and 16% people of color. In other words, The Academy is hardly speeding towards proportional representation.

    However, regardless of whether or not you question the validity of award shows, they are not going away anytime soon. Award show wins and nominations boost careers which leads to an increase in films made by females and other minorities. A study done by USC Annenberg Foundation analyzing directors in Hollywood found that "recognition from peers and other industry members can provide a critical boost to a director's career. The public prominence that can result from a high-profile nomination can also create new role models for aspiring filmmakers or students." In other words, future female filmmakers need to see themselves win big awards. When aspiring filmmakers see filmmakers on stage giving grandiose speeches, they will know they can be successful.

    It is all a domino effect. An increase of female talent behind the camera then leads to an increase of representation on screen. According to new research from San Diego State University's The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film:

    -In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 58% of protagonists. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 30% of protagonists.

    -In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 42% of major characters. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 35% of major characters.

    -In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 39% of all speaking characters. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 32% of all speaking characters.

Naturally, the cycle of representation continues. When female filmmakers win awards, their career is boosted. A career boost will allow them to hire more female talent on and behind the screen. Future actresses and filmmakers will then see themselves represented, resulting in an increase of representation on and behind the camera. The more actresses and female directors, writers, producers, cinematographers there are, the more likely it will be that female talent will win awards, creating an altered cycle to repeat.