The 2019 Oscars were held the last weekend of February, and they were a record year for the representation of women and people of color. Despite this, the diverse list of nominees can’t cover up the fact that women still don’t get as much screen time as men, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
Only one female has ever won the Academy Award for best director, and that was for a film (The Hurt Locker) where women shared a limited amount of screen time. In 2019, it seems as though we should be getting better where the disparity between men and women is concerned. Yet while this year’s Oscar nominees and winners represented a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.
Women and Best Picture: By the Numbers
Of 2018’s eight best picture Oscar nominees, just two had more than half of its lines spoken by women. The average between all eight was just 29 percent, according to Forbes. And Green Book, which ultimately took top honors, clocked in at just 12 percent of speaking time by women. In 2019, that should be unacceptable to both the frequent and casual moviegoer.
As for the Best Director award, only nine women have been nominated in the history of the awards, the most recent being Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird in 2017. But it’s not for lack of trying: Of the 250 top grossing films in 2017, women made up 11 percent of directors and 19 percent of executive producers overall.
As women make up half of all people on Earth, that seems like a ridiculously low number, especially in such a lucrative industry. Yet that number virtually mirrors the percentage of women who hold high positions in other occupations. Ohio University reports that only 16 percent of women in the workforce hold an executive level position, and a further 45 percent “have no minorities on their executive team.”
The Captain Marvel Controversy
March 8th ushers in the newest Marvel film, this one with a female superhero at the helm. It is Captain Marvel, with Oscar winner and outspoken feminist Brie Larson playing the title character.
While research shows that female-led films outperformed their male-led counterparts between 2014-2017, Captain Marvel is already being panned by professional and armchair critics alike. Points of contention include the fact that Larson isn’t “smiling enough” in the film’s promotional material, and the fact that Larson herself is a feminist.
And Captain Marvel isn’t alone. Along with female superheroes, other female roles have been panned and disgraced throughout history. Nurses are a notable example. According to Duquesne University, 86 percent of nurse practitioners are white females. On screen, nurses are often portrayed as harsh and unlikable, such as Nurse Ratched in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Why should we worry about how particular people or roles are portrayed on film? When diversity is frowned upon or ridiculed rather than accepted, it spans beyond the big screen and can negatively affect our daily lives.
Expanding Inclusivity Beyond Film
The film industry is an ideal venue to begin building more inclusivity when it comes to women, on screen and off. In a situation that’s been dubbed “the inclusion crisis,” the 2018 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that the film industry is essentially going backwards where inclusion is concerned. In fact, the study found that women had fewer speaking roles in movies in 2017 than they did in the decade prior.
Responding to the Annenberg data on Twitter, actress Amber Tamblyn had the following to say: “This is a punch to the gut reminder that we still have a long way to go. The #InclusionCrisis is real and demands our attention.”
The pendulum needs to swing the other way into 2019 and beyond, much like it has for female athletes, whose stars are on the rise. A full 40 percent of sports participants are female, and the industry has created superstars like tennis ace Serena Williams and race car driver Danica Patrick, the first woman to win an Indy race.
Since the film industry also includes numerous female stars, shouldn’t the industry, and available speaking roles, be more accommodating? At the very least, filmmakers should acknowledge the need for more female inclusion on both sides of the camera.
The 2019 Oscars weren’t all bad news where directorial equality is concerned, however. Director Rayka Zehtabchi received a golden statuette for her short documentary Period. End of Sentence. Producer Melissa Berton shared the stage with Zehtabchi and took home a golden trophy of her own. What’s more, their film is about menstruation, which remains a relatively taboo, female-centric subject across the world.
The pair of trailblazers are perhaps ushering in a new period of inclusivity for women in all industries. “I thank high school students and young activists everywhere,” Berton said in her acceptance speech. “This is a moment for women and girls and menstrual equality. Yes! This is huge.”