Oscars ‘19: Omission of women still a glaring reality

Oh, Oscar. Women in film have all had a crush on that guy for a very long time. Did the 2019 Oscars mark a seismic shift in the entertainment world for women? I mean, after all, when a short film about menstruation, produced by two women, wins the coveted prize, have we finally made it?

Watch a woman win an Oscar, and more often than not, she will tell you to “believe in the impossible,” or something of that ilk. Why? While taking home an Oscar for an actress might seem impossible, two actresses do just that each and every year. Possible. Long shot, but possible. However, the dream of women in directing, cinematography, and screenwriting, remains very nearly impossible, with so few females even garnering nominations in these coveted categories.

Despite a few inspiring moments for women in the industry, the 2019 Oscars were pretty much as male-centric as they have always been – and the biggest honors went to men, of course. We knew this when the nominations were announced, but it still doesn’t help the sting of feeling invisible in a visual industry.

We could talk all day about Oscar’s repeated dismissal of Glenn Close’s genius, but the acting categories are not where Oscar offers his most egregious snubs.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 24: (L-R) John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone accept the Sound Editing award for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ onstage during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Let’s take a moment to congratulate the talented women who went home with an Oscar Sunday, and highlight the categories where women seem to have some clout.  

Best Documentary Feature: Free Solo. Two of the four honored producers were women: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Shannon Dill.

Makeup and Hair: Vice honored designers are both women: Kate Biscoe and Patricia.

Costume Design: For Black Panther, the honor went to the talented and long overlooked Ruth Carter.

Production Design: Black Panther’s Hannah Beachler became the first African American to be awarded this honor. And she’s a woman. Pretty incredible.

Sound Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody’s Nina Hartstone took home half the honor for this category.

Animated Short Film: Bao’s delightful, self-admitted geek directors, Domee Shi and Becky Neiman-Cobb took this honor.

Best Documentary Short Subject: Period. End of Sentence. Perhaps the most inspiring female moment of the night happened when Rayka Zentabchi and Melissa Berton accepted their Oscars for this profound short film.

Lady Gaga was also awarded her Oscar for co-composing the original song “Shallow” for the film A Star is Born.

Congratulations to these ladies, your voices were heard.

Now on to those whose weren’t.

The Oscars often feel like a patriarchy that just won’t let go of its grip. Like an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Oscars seem to be determined to keep women in their place. In this less than egalitarian society, nominations and achievements generally go to women who make contributions to what we see in films as opposed to how we see things. In other words, we seem willing to honor a woman’s performance, her costuming, makeup, and other artistic designs, but we have yet to really celebrate looking through her lens, or hearing her voice.

For example, no women were nominated in the areas of cinematography, film editing, or direction, and only one woman in each of the screenwriting categories was nominated. These categories are the meat of the filmmaking world, the driving force behind what is brought to life on the screen.

Perhaps the most talked about slight was the failure to recognize Marielle Heller’s beautiful direction of Can You Ever Forgive Me?. The film garnered Oscar nominations for stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, as well as an adapted screenplay nod. So why was Heller not in contention for her exceptional work? To date, only five women have ever been nominated in this category. Only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009), has ever won. In a year that marked the passing of legendary actress/director Penny Marshall, this oversight feels even more devastating than in past years. Marshall was worthy of so much more praise than she was ever given for films like Big, Awakenings, and A League of Their Own.

Of the films that were in contention for the 2019 Oscars, there are many other deserving female directors that should be noted here: Leave No Trace directed by Debra Granik, Destroyer directed by Karyn Kusama, You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay and The Rider directed by Chloe Zhao.

Director Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy on the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Dozens of female cinematographers are doing superior work all throughout the industry, yet not a single woman made the nominees list. In fact, it took 90 years before a single woman was ever nominated in this category. That unfortunate streak was finally broken last year when Rachel Morrison was nominated for her work on the Netflix Film Mudbound. Year 91, we are back to zero.    

The omission of women, especially in the technical categories, is still a glaring reality, and the battle to be recognized for our contributions rages on. Perhaps the issue with Oscar is that at the end of the day, Oscar is still a man, living in a man’s world. The journey from set to screen and then to the red carpet is a long one. Any film that makes it to the Dolby Theater on the last Sunday of February each year has had a team of lobbyists behind it. If we are ever to see a time when women share in these honors, we must be active in fighting for our films to be seen, to be recognized and to be celebrated. We cannot shift the tide unless we understand that there is still a huge effort that must be made on behalf of women, for women. We deserve a place on that list, and a seat in that house. Now more than ever. Period. End of Sentence.

© Angela Stern (2/26/19) FF2 Media

Featured photo: Best Documentary Short Subject: Period. End of Sentence. Image Source: Getty / Kevin Winter

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Angela Stern is a writer and actress. She earned her BFA in theater from U.C. Santa Barbara and began writing plays shortly after graduating. She is the author of five short plays, three full-length plays, and several short films as well as a novel. Angela had the honor of being selected as one of the 30 finalists in the 2016 Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival. In August 2016, the show was performed at the East 13th Street Theatre in New York. In October of 2016 her work was a finalist in the Manhattan Rep Short Play Festival and in August 2017 the play went on to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Most recently, Angela's full-length play was selected as one of the finalists in the Athena Project's PIP series. Her screenplay for Mama’s Eggnog was recognized as a quarter-finalist in the 2018 Final Draft Screen Writing Competition. She is an independent film critic and contributor to Screenpicks.com. Angela has acted extensively on stage throughout the US and in several independent films as well.
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