Why the Oscars are “#VeryMale, #VeryWhite”

By Maggie Pool

Since the Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first ceremony in 1929, only five women have been nominated for Best Director. None were nominated this year, despite the plethora of films directed by women that took the world and box offices by storm. For example, Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” burst out of the gate beating the $50 million domestic gross of the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder in just ten days, and Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 95% approval rating. There were many other films this year made by women that also gained much critical attention like “The Farewell” (Lulu Wang), “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Céline Sciamma), “Honey Boy” (Alma Har’el), “Hustlers” (Lorene Scafaria), “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Marielle Heller), “The Souvenir” (Joanna Hogg), and “Queen & Slim” (Melina Matsoukas). So why aren’t women winning? Because the Academy is only made up of 32% women.

There is one woman who has won an Academy Award for Best Director. Her name is Kathryn Bigelow. She won from her 2007 war movie, The Hurt Locker, which follows Staff Sergeant William James, a bomb diffuser in the Iraq war who seems to thrive on it. So it’s understandable why an Academy that was made up of about 94% white males at the time, according to a Los Angeles Times study, would vote for her and such a movie. This is no offense to Bigelow and her film, but it’s an undeniable correlation between the identity of the Academy voters and the content that they tend to vote for, which usually includes a white male protagonist and a plot that surrounds him and his heroicness.

Why is it that Kathryn Bigelow has been the only woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director in the 92 years of the Academy Awards? The answer is simple. There just aren’t enough women within the Academy to vote for women nominees. Throughout most of its long-respected history, the Academy hasn’t had a very diverse community of voters. After the disaster of #OscarsSoWhite in 2016, and the start of the Times Up campaign in 2018, the Oscars have made several attempts to invite new filmmakers into the Academy. The Oscars has invited 2,300 new members since 2017, so now 32% of the voting body is women, up from 25% in 2015.

While those numbers may seem small, I’d argue that progress is progress. As long as we continue to raise our voices and make our injustices clear, the Academy will not be able to ignore its lack of diversity issue.