Claire Elshaw on Women at the Oscars

When it comes to the film industry, there should be a sign on the wall saying “you don’t have to be a man to work here, but it helps.” Because whilst it’s not impossible to be a world-renown, highly in-demand film goddess on-screen, it can get seriously tough for those of us behind the lens. Even actresses can get a bum deal in the pay department, and there have long been issues with the type and quality of female roles, especially for older actresses. But these grievances are just the tip of the iceberg.


Over the past year there have been lots of things written in the press about the lack of women in the top roles in the industry; and even worse those few female producers and directors that do make are less well known. It seems that getting your foot in the door and getting noticed are even harder if you happen to be of the female persuasion. With that oppressive cloud over our heads it’s not surprising that the Oscar nominations can serve as one long, grim, reminder of the mountain we’ve yet to climb to reach gender equality.

Let’s have a look at the numbers: if we discount the actor/actress categories, because they are divided along gender lines already, then yes, the nominations could be viewed as depressing for feminists. Less than a quarter of nominees (named individuals associated with the awards) are women, by my count 40 out of a possible 193. There are several categories with absolutely no female nominees at all – directing, cinematography, sound editing and mixing. And where there are female nominees they are often vastly outnumbered. In the Best Picture category only 7 of the 24 named individuals nominated for producing were women. However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Whilst the number of individuals nominated was small, in the same category 5 out the 8 nominated films did have at least one female producer. And the news is even better for Brooklyn where both producers were girls! Congratulations Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey.  

There are even categories where women dominate – 4 out of 5 nominees in costume are women, as are half the nominees in hair and make-up. Margaret Sixel, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey all scored nominations in the best editing category whilst Sara Bennett gets a nod for visual effects. Meg LeFauvre and Andrea Berloff are nominated in the best original screenplay category and over in adapted screenplay Emma Donoghue and Phyllis Nagy both holding slots.


So we have a foot in the door, but we are still a long way from getting a fair slice of the pie. There are organizations trying to do something about it. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media researches gender imbalance on screen and how that affects young girls. The two issues go hand in hand. We need strong female role-models on and off screen. Having more women in the industry will hopefully lead to better on-screen female characters, and that in turn could inspire more young girls to take up a career path in the industry, creating a positive cycle.

But what about those of us already of working age? You can’t change an ingrained, institutionalized way of working overnight. What if there are talented women out there getting impatient? What can we do… buy a fake beard, book gender reassignment surgery? Nothing that drastic, but I have a feeling that the first thing anyone trying to break into the industry needs to do is grow an enormous set of metaphorical balls to counterbalance the lack of real ones. You are going to have to be tenacious, persistent and just keep going.

We need to band together to make our voices heard, find other talented females and start our projects. Getting involved with organization’s such as Women in Film, can be a great place to meet like-minded and similar-bodied collaborators and friends, and they have chapters all over the USA. Bentonville Film Festival’s mission is to champion women and diverse voices in media, and there are other film festivals and organizations in other countries with similar aims and motivations.


Hopefully one day, in the not-too-distant future, these kinds of things won’t be necessary as gender really won’t be an issue. In the meantime we can take a couple of hours to celebrate our fellow female’s successes, hold up their achievement as inspiration and motivation. So here’s to you valiant few who are nominated. We will be rooting for you from the bottom of our ovaries.

To help you out here are all the female nominees we could find when we scoured the list.  


Best Picture

The Big Short – Dede Gardner

Bridge of Spies – Kristie Macosko Krieger

Brooklyn – Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey

The Revenant – Mary Parent

Spotlight – Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust


Best original screenplay
Inside Out – Meg LeFauve
Straight Outta Compton – Andrea Berloff.


Best adapted screenplay
Room – Emma Donoghue 
Carol – Phyllis Nagy


Best production design

Bridge of Spies – Rena DeAngelo
The Danish Girl – Eve Stewart
Mad Max: Fury Road – Lisa Thompson
The Martian – Celia Bobak


Best costume design

Carol – Sandy Powell
Cinderella – Sandy Powell 
Mad Max: Fury Road – Jenny Beavan
The Revenant – Jacqueline West


Best original song
Til It Happens To You, The Hunting Ground – Diane Warren and Lady Gaga


Best animated film

Anomalisa – Rosa Tran


Best documentary
The Look of Silence – Signe Byrge Sorensen
What Happened, Miss Simone? – Liz Garbus and Amy Hobby


Best animated short
Prologue – Imogen Sutton
Sanjay’s Super Team – Nicole Grindle


Best make-up and hair

Mad Max: Fury Road – Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega
The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared – Eva von Bahr
The Revenant – Sian Grigg


Best visual effects

Ex Machina – Sara Bennett


Best short film
Stutterer – Serena Armitage


Best short documentary
Chau, beyond the Lines – Courtney Marsh
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness – Sharmeed Obad-Chinay
Last Day of Freedom – Nomi Talisman and Dee Hibbert-Jones


Best editing
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margeret Sixel
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

So what do you think about women in film? Do you agree things need to change or should stay the same? Are you rooting for any ladies tonight at the Academy Awards? Comment below and give us your thoughts on the subject! 


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