The Oscars and Women in Film

Yesterday, the 2015 Oscar nominees were announced, and the internet exploded. There are no non-white nominees in any of the four acting categories. No women were nominated for best director, best screenplay or best cinematography, despite Ava DuVernay's movie Selma being nominated for best picture. And all the best picture nominees were male stories.

Obviously, there's some very real sexism and racism displayed in the choice of nominees -- unless we are to believe that Selma was one of the best pictures of the year, but only had average directing, average scriptwriting, average acting from its lead and average cinematography (in which case what, exactly, made it good?). But I think also think that, by the time we get to Oscar nominations, it's a little late. The Academy does have many problems of its own, but it mostly highlights deep and often-unnoticed issues in Hollywood as a whole.

In short, Hollywood's diversity problem is getting worse.

Every year, the Celluloid Ceiling Report tracks how many women have been involved in the industry over the past twelve months, looking particularly at the 250 top grossing movies. The 2014 report was recently published, and the figures are almost impossible to believe.

Only 7% of the directors involved in the top 250 grossing movies in 2014 were female. This is an increase from 6% (6%!) in 2013, but a decrease from 9% from the first study in 1998.

Female writers faired a little better -- 11% of the writers involved in the top 250 grossing movies were women, down from 13% in 1998. Women were also 18% of editors (down from 20%), and 5% of cinematographers (up from 4%). Ultimately, women faired the best as producers -- 23% of producers and 19% of executive producers were women in 2014.

38% of movies had 1 or 0 female directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, or cinematographers, and only 3% had 10 or more women on the team. The study implies that 14 was the maximum number of women found. Meanwhile, all movies had at least one man involved, and 69% had between 10 and 27 men on the team.

The problem is worse when it comes to sound and music. According to the study, women represented only 1% of composers, 5% of sound designers and 5% of sound editors.

No wonder so few women are nominated. 93% of directors are men. 89% of writers are men. 95% of cinematographers are men. 99% of composers for film soundtracks are men. Compared to those figures, the fact that only 77% of non-executive producers are men begins to sound positively wonderful. A true example of diversity.

Of course, the Oscars aren't off the hook for their nominations. Selma's status as a potential best film without a nomination for any individual involved is incredibly revealing. And the Oscars could arguably be exacerbating the problem by not celebrating diverse talent when they find it. If only white male directors win Academy Awards, then only white male directors get that career-driving buzz. Worse, you end up with the implicit suggestion that only white male directors are talented enough to win Oscars, closing further doors to other aspiring directors.

But this isn't simply a problem of the Academy being out of touch. It's a problem with the entire industry. Even without Academy bias, if less than 1 in 10 directors is female, then what are the odds that any of them will be one of the 5 nominees for best director?

Until more women are directors, few if any women will be nominated for Oscars. And until those few successful women directors are recognized for their work and nominated for Oscars, few if any studios will be willing to take the "risk" in hiring them. It's a vicious circle of discrimination. But even then, it takes a pretty gutsy industry to be over 90% men in almost every significant aspect, and still not notice there's a problem.