More women earn Oscar nominations in 2016 – but there’s still room for improvement

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Charlize Theron stars in "Mad Max: Fury Road." Warner Bros. Pictures photo

Charlize Theron stars in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Warner Bros. Pictures photo

Following a year when gender equality – or rather the lack thereof – was one of the biggest issues in Hollywood, the Academy Award nominations reflected a bit of improvement in the number of female nominees for the 2016 Oscars.

But only a bit.

Women made up about 24 percent of the total pool of Oscar nominees announced Thursday, according to The Hollywood Reporter, up from roughly 21 percent in each of the last two years. To see the complete list of nominees, click here.

By The Hollywood Reporter’s count, 215 people were nominated Thursday, including 51 women. Last year, 44 women were nominated out of a total pool of 213; and the year before that, 45 out of a total pool of 220.

Brie Larson stars in "Room." A24 photo

Brie Larson stars in “Room.” A24 photo

Good news among the Oscar nominees

On the plus side, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences showed more willingness to honor movies about women with this year’s nominations: As Bustle.com. points out, three of the eight films nominated this year for Best Picture — Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road and Room — are about women. Despite its name, Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most feminist movies of the year, and it received 10 Oscar nominations, second only to the 12 nods for The Revenant. (Although Charlize Theron unfortunately was left out of the best actress race.)

All three female-focused best picture contenders are among the best-reviewed movies of the year, but they are about three very different women in very different situations, which makes the nods even more encouraging.

In related news, several female producers shared in best picture nominations: Dede Gardner (The Big Short), Kristie Macosko (Bridge of Spies), Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey (Brooklyn), Mary Parent (The Revenant), and Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust (Spotlight), according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In the best animated feature category, two of the five nominated films focus on girls’ stories – Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out and Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There – so there’s similar progress in terms of the Academy’s willingness to give consideration to quality femme-centric animated films.

In 2015, neither screenplay category boasted a single female nominee, but Bustle.com points out improvement in both writing contests this year: Emma Donoghue was nominated for best adapted screenplay for the script she wrote based on her own book, Room. Phyllis Nagy’s name is on that same ballot for adapting Carol from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt. For best original screenplay, two women were nominated for co-writing a script: Meg LeFauve for Inside Out and Andrea Berloff for Straight Outta Compton.

Three women are nominated for their work on two movies in the film editing category, up from one nominee last year: Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road and Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Variety.com points out another breakthrough: Sara Bennett joined two colleagues in the visual effects category, grabbing a nom for Ex Machina. That makes one woman of the 19 total nominees for five films in that category. Last year, women were shut out of the visual effects contest, according to Bustle.com.

Other women going for gold at the Feb. 28 Academy Awards: female director Deniz Gamze Erguven, whose movie, Mustang, is nominated for best foreign language film, and Diane Warren and Lady Gaga, who are nominated for best original song for “Til It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground.

Kathryn Bigelow is shown on the set of "The Hurt Locker," for which she won best director. She will remain the only woman to win best director for at least another year; no women were nominated in the category for the 2016 Academy Awards. Summit Entertainment photo

Kathryn Bigelow is shown on the set of “The Hurt Locker,” for which she won best director. She will remain the only woman to win best director for at least another year; no women were nominated in the category for the 2016 Academy Awards. Summit Entertainment photo

More work needed toward film equality

There’s still work to be done: There are no women in contention for best cinematography, directing, sound mixing and original score at this year’s Oscars. No woman has ever been nominated as best cinematographer, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Oscars have a particularly terrible track record when it comes to honoring female directors in the best director category, and once again, this year’s best director nominees are all men. Only four women have ever been nominated for best director: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003) and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2008). Bigelow was the only one to win.

The inequality among Oscar nominees is in large part simply a reflection in the dearth of women working behind the camera (as well as the shortage of movies focusing on women). In 2015, women comprised just 19 percent of the filmmakers working behind the screen on the top 250 domestic-grossing movies as directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

That number — just released in the past week from a study sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television at San Diego State University and released today — was up slightly from 17 percent in 2014. But it hardly can be considered progress, matching the 19 percent achieved in 2001, which represents the highest employment level for women filmmakers since the annual study began in 1998.

“Now, the issue is getting a push from a cultural consciousness that supports diversity. But the numbers have yet to change. The film industry is a large industry, and it takes a long time for change to occur,” Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the center, who oversees the annual report, known as The Celluloid Ceiling, told the trade publication.

During 2015, women fared best as producers (26 percent), editors (22 percent) and executive producers (20 percent) and found less acceptance as writers (11 percent), directors (9 percent) and cinematographers (6 percent).

Improvements in numbers of women working in film were often marginal: Directors, for example, were up 2 percent from a 7 percent figure in 2014, but that 9 percent was still below the high point of 11 percent they reached in 2000.

“It’s very easy to be misled by a few high-profile cases,” Lauzen tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Easy to name a few high-profile women directors. And then the assumption is everything is OK and things have changed, which is why I think counting the numbers of women’s employment is so important. I would hope it grounds the conversation in reality.”

It’s interesting to note that women directors like Sam Taylor-Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) enjoyed success at the 2015 box office — which hopefully will help kick down doors for other women directors in the future — but their movies weren’t regarded as potential awards contenders. It would seem that women are particularly underrepresented when it comes to helming prestige pictures.

In analyzing the inequalities in this year’s Oscars for Variety, Tim Gray points out that there were 305 films eligible this year for Academy Awards. If hiring reflected the U.S. population, Oscar voters would have weighed 150-plus films directed by women, 45 directed by blacks, 50 by Hispanics, and dozens of movies by directors who are Asian-American, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities and members of other minorities. Of course, he notes, the actual tallies were a fraction of those numbers.

Women aren’t the only ones who continue to be underrepresented at the Oscars this year: Every candidate in the four acting categories is white. Gray points out several surprising omissions from the actor race alone: Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Will Smith for Concussion, Michael B. Jordan from Creed and the many young actors in Straight Outta Compton

He also points out that Creed was written and directed by the black Ryan Coogler and starred a black man, but the only nominee was a white man. Straight Outta Compton had a great acting ensemble of mostly young, black unknowns, and was directed by the black F. Gary Gray. But the film’s only nomination was for its screenplay, written by two Caucasians. Black-focused films Chi-raq (directed by African-American Spike Lee) and Beasts of No Nation (directed by Japanese-American Cary Fukunaga) were completely shut out, along with Smith’s Concussion.

To me, the question isn’t just why female-focused films or black actors so often get such little notice from the Academy, it’s why so few of female-focused films or movies starring black actors are getting made.

It certainly doesn’t represent the marketplace: As previously reported, thanks to the box-office dominance of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, starring Daisy Ridley as as a young scavenger named Rey who has an incredible gift for channeling the power of the Force, 2015 was the third year in a row that the top-grossing movie of the year featured a female main character. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 topped Guardians of the Galaxy to become the biggest moneymaker of 2014, while The Hunger Games: Catching Fire overpowered Iron 3 to become the top-grossing film of 2013.

Directed by J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens spent four straight weekends atop the domestic box office, according to CNN.com. After 31 days, the seventh Star Wars episode has earned an estimated North American total of more than $851 million and more than $1 billion internationally, for a total of more than $1.8 billion globally.

The Force Awakens became the highest-grossing film in North American history earlier in the month when it grossed $764.4 million in the United States, putting it over the $760.5 million mark set by Avatar over the life of that film.

Star Wars finished in third place at this weekend’s box office. The movie to dethrone it: Ride Along 2, the Universal comedy sequel starring popular black actors Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, opened at No. 1 for the weekend with an estimated $34 million box office, according to CNN.com. (Riding high on its 12 Oscar nominations, Western revenge epic The Revenant was at No. 2 in its second weekend of release with $29.5 million.)

Clearly, there is an audience for movies about women and minorities, and if Hollywood is smart, it will start making more of them (and hopefully of awards caliber) soon.

Michael Keaton, left, and Mark Ruffalo star in "Spotlight," which the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has named the best film of 2015. Open Road Films photo

Michael Keaton, left, and Mark Ruffalo star in “Spotlight,” which the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has named the best film of 2015. Open Road Films photo

AWFJ honors Spotlight as top film of 2015

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists announced Tuesday the winners of the 2015 EDA (Excellent Dynamic Activism) Awards.

“Spotlight,” the acclaimed fact-based film about the Boston Globe’s investigation into the vast, decades-long cover-up of child molestation in the Catholic Church, earned four honors, receiving best film, best original director for Tom McCarthy and best original screenplay for McCarthy and Josh Singer as well as tying for best ensemble cast.

Along with the usual end-of-year categories, the EDA Awards specifically laud the work of women filmmakers and recognize the winners of dubious honors like Actress Most in Need of a New Agent and Movie You Wanted To Love But Just Couldn’t.

To read the full list of winners, click here.

-BAM

 

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