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What the Oscar Nominations Tell Women

Nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced yesterday. And for the 87th time in its history, no women directors received nominations in the Best Director category, despite 2019 producing both critically acclaimed and commercially successful films directed by multiple women. In the Best Picture category, Little Women, directed by Greta Gerwig, is the only film (among nine nominated films) directed by a woman to be nominated. In the acting categories, only one of the twenty actors nominated across four categories is a person of color. The nomination of Cynthia Erivo for Best  Actress for her role in Harriet is the only reason we’re not hearing a reprise of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. 

The Oscars continue to be far too white and far too male in all of the non-acting categories. And while this annual event can easily be chalked up as unimportant and viewers can and likely will choose to ignore the telecast where awards are handed out, these nominations affect future work in Hollywood for talented people in front of and behind the camera. And more importantly, the stories that audiences see on-screen send a powerful message about whose stories are worthy of being told and celebrated. 

Of the films which received the top and most nominations, not only are they largely all directed by men, but they are also largely nostalgic stories about men. In Ford v Ferrari, we saw the story of the unlikely friendship between rival auto racing teams at the beginning of the sport. The Irishmen continues a long Hollywood tradition of glamorizing the tough guys in organized crime families. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was a tribute to classic masculinity in Hollywood. Proving that audiences just can’t get enough of violent origin stories, Batman’s arch-enemy has now been played on the big screen by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker. And two of those roles have now been nominated for Academy Awards (Ledger and Phoenix). Sam Mendes’s 1917, a film about trench warfare in WWI, joins dozens of other films made about The Great War. And staying in the war arena, the Academy, it seems, can never get enough of WWII, nominating Jojo Rabbit for Best Picture.

Little Women, Parasite, and Marriage Story are the only three films with significant lead roles played by women. Favorite films by and/or about women that were overlooked include The Farewell (Lulu Wang) and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller) for Best Picture and Best Director. Awkwafina, Lupita Nyongo, and Jennifer Lopez were notable women of color who were overlooked for their roles in The Farewell, Us, and Hustlers (respectively). This follows a year when people of color won a majority of the acting awards: Rami Malik for Bohemian Rhapsody, Mahershala Ali for Green Book, and Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk.

The Academy, while more diverse than ever before, is still showing its long-entrenched sexism and racism by failing to recognize films made by and about women and people of color. There are not only cultural reasons why representation matters, but also economic ones. The films nominated for Oscars will enjoy increased box office sales over the coming weeks and beyond. And the directors, editors, cinematographers—all mostly men—who were nominated in their respective categories, are more likely to parlay those nominations into future lucrative work, thereby perpetuating the gender gap in Hollywood.

Take Action! If you choose to watch the Oscars on Sunday, February 9th, join our conversation on social media and let the world know what you think about the continued under representation of talented women and people of color on Hollywood’s most talked about night.