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The World is Round, People and Other Thoughts from a Potentially Game Changing Oscars

Awards
by Melissa Silverstein
March 3, 2014 12:01 PM
9 Comments
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I don't know about you, but things felt a bit different last night. In fact, let's be honest, they've felt different for some time now. It's not just one thing. It's Tina and Amy at the Globes; it's Catching Fire becoming the top grossing film for 2013; it's the torrent of gender posts about the movie business leading up to the Academy Awards from outlets that never before gave a shit about gender; it's Cheryl Boone Isaacs' ascendency to the top role at the Academy.  It's all these things and more that makes me hopeful for a true paradigm shift in addressing the gender disparity in Hollywood. 

The Academy Awards is the crown jewel of awards season and usually is a dick fest. Not this year. Yes, men still won the lion's share of the awards (and that has to change) but with Ellen DeGeneres in the drivers seat I felt confident that the show wasn't going to be offensive to anyone and everyone. Personally, I liked Ellen a lot. People are so accustomed to these award events being biting, snarky and mean, I believe that they were never going to like Ellen. Ellen does likable. Ellen is going to be funny and she is going to make you feel good. She addressed racism in the opening monologue, and she had a couple of good bits including the selfie photo and the pizza bit. She engaged the people in the audience, the stars who we really only see on the carpet being asked stupid questions, and she made them enjoy themselves and in turn gave us a glimpse into these people who we sometimes forget are people. Who doesn't love Meryl Streep exclaiming that she has never tweeted before or Ellen telling the pizza delivery guy (was he a real pizza delivery guy?) to give a slice to a very pregnant Kerry Washington.

I will take comfortable and inoffensive over offensive every day of the week.

It was a special night for those of us who have spent so many years raising awareness of issues regarding the gender disparity in Hollywood.  You know something has clicked somewhere when the woman who wins the best actress Oscar gets up and uses her short time to address the fact that movies about women make money and that they should be more of them.

You gotta give it up to Cate Blanchett who has returned to Hollywood in a big way after several years of running the Sydney Theatre Company with her husband Andrew Upton. Her comments were the high point of the night.

...perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.

(Sidenote 1 - let's not forget the elephant in the room of Blanchett win -- Woody Allen. That this man is one of the only people getting these movies made is very disturbing. We need more roles for women written by a diversity of writers.)

(Sidenote 2 - the heroes sections were full of male heroes which reiterates the point about how we need more movies about women.)

Maybe I am just the eternal optimist but the show felt like a celebration of potential and of the future especially with the win for 12 Years a Slave and Lupita Nyong'o. I have nothing against Jennifer Lawrence, in fact I love her, but there is no way she should have won for American Hustle, and some of the best news of the night for me was the shutout of that film. It felt that the 6,000 people in the Academy are realizing that yes, the world is round and that they can stand in front and be a part of the change that is coming or they can be left behind. The Oscar voters who are still majority white, male and older, took a step forward last night towards the future.

But at the same time I don't want to get too excited. The numbers for women are still awful across the board. We still only have a couple of women directed films opening wide this year. We still only have a couple of women centric movies opening wide this year. I'll feel like this means something when I read about Lupita's next job and when I read about Cate Blanchett's next starring role. 

Last evening felt like a start. Now let's build on it.

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9 Comments

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | March 12, 2014 10:43 AMReply

    Bravo, Vancouver Canuck! Go to www [dot] the hotpinkpen [dot] com [backslash] ?p=2426 to read what Meryl Streep said about all of this in her brilliant lecture @ Barnard College: “The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character...” My guess is she would say the same about ability to identify with lead characters of color, but I am sure that I would.

    As a survival tactic, individuals from groups with less power often learn to see the world from the POV of those with more power, whereas those in power often feel "diminished" when asked to identify with the POV of "the other." Fabulous Meryl Streep says it better, but there is tons of research to support all of this (as well as "folk wisdom" about why so many great comedians are Jewish etc). Time for those in power to stop making excuses for the status quo!!!

  • Vancouver Canuck | March 10, 2014 1:46 AMReply

    In response to a couple of the comments posted below, there is a catch 22 in operation here. On the one hand there is the idea that telling a good story will trump all gender and race inequalities. On the other, it is presupposed that the marginalized group is the one that needs to correct the inequity of the situation. My contention on both these concepts is this: even if our marginalized groups do take that next step and write a good story and produce it and get it shown, it's my experience that it remains marginalized and perceived as a niche specific to that group or community by an industry that seeks to continue to legitimize itself with its own view of the world through its own set of eyes and experience.

    As a person of color living on this continent trying to get my original works acknowledged in this industry I'm constantly having to overcome the stereotypes and misconceptions. And in many cases I'm told the way through it is to play the stereotypes first, garner some acclaim there and then branch into more mainstream story telling. After going through all that, it still seems that the only audiences willing to sponsor and advocate for these works are the marginalized groups.

    The elephant in the room is that mostly white male stories are told as though that is the perception and paradigm of our community as seen through the eyes of everyone, regardless of gender and ethnicity. And persons of color or of the other gender are secondary players to support these stories. I think a lot of it stems from a suspended belief that women or people of color can have those feelings and experiences in this community, as though for it to be so the current paradigm would be rendered invalid.

    In white male stories, generally on the one hand ethnic men are stereotypically asexual, while on the other women, ethnic or caucasian, are stereotyped by their sexuality (or lack of). We can fix this by letting the mainstream audience into the psyches of women and people of color, as though this is a reality and not just a projected perception of the single dominant white male group.

  • Jordan Porch | March 8, 2014 12:06 PMReply

    Gender and race are not the problem, and they haven't been for decades. Nobody in 2014 thinks, "Hey, you know what, I'm going to go against the norm and vote for the black supporting actress in the black film about black slaves. I'm fighting the omnipresent force that is racism!" Welcome to the twenty-first century, a time when racists are ostracized and ignored as ignorant anomalies. Sure, more males are winning, but maybe they just so happened to put out better work than the nominated females. Or maybe they simply had better campaigning teams. Less women win because there are less women filmmakers. The Academy Awards is a microcosm of that plain fact. It is not sexist, it's just that less women want to go into the film business, particularly behind the camera. We don't need more women unless they are good filmmakers. Sex is not the issue; it's talent. And just so you don't think I'm a raging white male giving my biased opinion, I am a female.

  • j | March 23, 2014 11:31 AM

    I agree it's not about sex or race it's about who was the best at what they did sounds fair to me .Indiewire can be so biased alot of the times that's when i read anything i take it with a grain of salt because its one sided .

  • Mary | March 5, 2014 4:02 PMReply

    As long as we look to the other side when a documented woman’s beater like Sean Penn is being praised as a great actor (IMHO overrated) and as a humanitarian (for aging and troubled stars , like Penn, charity is just a easy way to get good press) Hollywood will be just a place where hypocrisy and business mixed to bury artistry and gender equality. Woody Allen has company.

  • Gary | March 3, 2014 2:48 PMReply

    I've been following the gender movement for some time now and a few things bother me about it. I agree that films centered around women are far and few between; however, I disagree with the call to arms, mainly due to the perspective of said call.

    Something like 2% of films released have female directors or DPs, if we would like to see more female peers in these categories then more women need to pursue these industry positions. I admit that I don't know how many women actually long to be DPs or directors, however, there seems to be plenty of women working as producers and writers. Oh and let's not forget actresses.

    The idea that audiences desire to see and pay for female driven films because, as the box office shows, they make money is silly. How else could we explain these money making films? I've got an idea. Maybe, just maybe, these female driven films are good stories. I'm of the belief that audiences will pay to watch anything if it is a good story. It doesn't matter if the film centers around men, women, or cats and dogs.

    The gender inequality that many are shouting about these days is generally followed by no suggestions on how to rectify the situation. We are merely pointing out the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself. Some writers have suggested writing only female scripts generally geared toward traditional male roles. Okay. Why not just write a good story, whether male driven or female driven? Simply replacing one gender with another isn't the answer. Making a character female just because they are underrepresented isn't the answer. It raises too many questions like does it serve the story well, for starters. I've even heard some say that the Academy needs a Best Female Director and Best Female Cinematographer category. That'll do it! Talk about insulting female directors and DPs. Here you go, ladies. You don't measure up to male directors and DPs, so we're giving you your own category.

    Well, what about the Best Actress category? They are part of the same group of on screen talent. Mm, nope. Men don't generally play female parts and women generally don't play male parts. Despite the suggestion that we are all the same, men and women are still very, very different. However, a director is a director, regardless of gender and the same goes for DPs.

    The present approach to the gender question in Hollywood is like claiming a cure for AIDS only because we have meds to prolong the life of someone who is HIV positive. No! We're just addressing the symptoms, not the disease. Until I hear valid suggestions and examples of gender inequality within the Hollywood system, it is nothing but clanging cymbals to my ears.

    My suggestion, and I've already addressed it, is to start at the beginning with story. If you are a writer and you want to do something about this problem, write a damn good story with a lead female character and not some plug in for the sake of gender equality.

    That's my male driven perspective, for what it's worth.

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | March 12, 2014 10:21 AM

    Sorry Gary, but you simply don't know what you are talking about. "Something like 2% of films released have female directors or DPs" is a factually incorrect statement. What is correct is that under 10% of the films that make it into the top 250 ever year are directed by women filmmakers (where "Top 250" is a designation based on gross domestic box office revenue).

    Given that ~ 600 films were released in NYC theatres last year (not counting DVD/VOD), the real question is: Why don't films directed by women filmmakers make it into the Top 250???

    In other words, it is not a question of more women entering the profession (altho that would be fine with me), but a question of recognizing/rewarding women for their actual participation as it currently exists. The reasons why this does not happen is complex & multifaceted, but let's start with the fact that most film critics are men, most of the people posted in Rotten Tomatoes are men (which sounds like the same thing but actually isn't), & most of the film ads folks see in newspapers, in trailers & on websites feature quotes from men. Coincidence? I don't think so!!!

  • Reed | March 3, 2014 5:42 PM

    And what a "male driven perspective" it is.

  • Star | March 3, 2014 12:44 PMReply

    "...and she had a couple of good bits including the selfie photo and the pizza bit."

    Er, you may be the only person on Earth who considered those "good bits."

    DeGeneres bombed. Hard. The Hollywood Reporter's review of the show is absolutely scathing. Fey and Poehler are the new gold standard for awards show hosts and DeGeneres made Seth MacFarlane look like Fey and Poehler. Such a mess.

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