The Oscar Nominations are in, and SURPRISE! It looks like this year will be an All-White Academy Awards. Not a single actor of color is nominated, and there are zero women directors (let alone women of color directors) being considered.
Did no woman director (or woman of color director) make a single film this entire year that was even worth mentioning? I guess Hollywood doesn’t think so.
Although "Creed" and "Tangerine" were among two of my favorite movies this the year, neither of them received a second-look. And Cary Fukanaga's "Beasts of No Nation" also nothing. Nada. And, while “Mustang” (8.1 on IMDB and 98% on Rotten Tomatoes), “The Babadook” (8.6 on IMDB and 98% on Rotten Tomatoes) and “Goodnight Mommie,” (8.1 IMDB and 83% on Rotten Tomatoes) were all released this past year (and were all directed by women), none of them were considered to be ‘Oscar-worthy’ by the Academy.
Now let's play a game. Here is a list of categories, along with the names of those, who the Academy DID find worthy of a nomination. Can you guess the common denominator in each category?
Up for Best Acrtess:
Cate Blanchett for “Carol”
Jennifer Lawrence for “Joy”
Brie Larson for “Room”
Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan fo4 “Brooklyn”
You guessed it! All white women.
Now check out the category for Supporting Actress:
Best Supporting Actress:
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Again, all white women!
And what about for this next category?
Up for Best Actor:
Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Revenant"
Eddie Redmayne for “The Danish Girl”
Matt Damon for “The Martian”
Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo”
Michael Fassbender for “Steve Jobs”
Yup. That’s right! All white men.
And now check out this one:
Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Same result! Shocker!
And now this one is a bit trickier, but it’s still not a trick question, I promise.
Up for Best Director:
Lenny Abrahamson for “Room”
Alejandro Iñaritu for “The Revenant”
George Miller for “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”
Adam McKay for “The Big Short”
All men. One man of color. No women, and especially no women of color.
If you are a white actor/actress, a white screenwriter (who writes stories about white characters and stories), or if you are a white male director-- the odds of being nominated, and awarded merit for your work, are in your favor. 100% in your favor.
This is very frustrating, and although I tell myself, I shouldn’t let this discourage me, I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel like my creative work wasn’t welcomed in this Industry that I love. This creative field, where I grew up idolizing (you guessed it) European male directors, and movies filled with all white-casts, only to have to face the crude reality that I was going to have to struggle harder than most (as a woman of color writer/director) if I ever wanted to actualize this (almost unreachable) dream. When I voice my frustrations to friends and colleagues, I am often faced with two explanations, as they try to encourage me, and shed some light on why this issue is so real. But their well-intentioned words of wisdom, I categorize into two groups: 1) Ignorance and 2) Apathy/Conformism. I will go on to explain how each of these is manifested when addressing this tender topic of race, gender, and cinema.
When people say that race and gender have nothing to do with a filmmakers’ success in Hollywood, when my own colleagues say things like "A good script is a good script. Period." or "A great actor is great, regardless of their race or gender" or "A good film is universal" and my favorite one "People of color are always hating on the Film Industry, why don't they just shut up, and create work. If they spent less time complaining, and more time creating, they may have more nominations" I am dumbfounded at the ignorance that this kind of comment propagates. It doesn’t take into account, the lack of possibility, the inability to find funding for a project, or to have to compromise on the quality of a project because no-one wants to back it. No one sees these potential films as a possible investment that would reap returns. Going a step further, most kids in diverse demographic groups, don’t always grow up believing they can be anything. And when movies don’t show “our kind” as successful Writers/Directors, then why would we ever believe that is something we can aspire to be. I was the daughter of immigrants. I grew up all over the world (which does give me more privilege than most), but I am still a woman of color writer/director. Growing up in a working-class, first-generation, immigrant household; I was always told I should grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher- those were respectable careers for my family, who often reminded me "We came a long way and left everything behind so you could have a better future." To chose to be a filmmaker/artist is a privilege. Many of us are born artists, but not all of us possess the unearned privilege to get to practice our art for a living, and for those of us who fight for it regardless, the world doesn't make it easy. Some working-class, immigrant children don’t even believe they can grow up to be doctors, or lawyers, since there’s also a deficit in the representation of all demographics in these fields; and many live in neighborhoods where school districts don't prepare them for four year colleges. I was not allowed to be an artist, let alone a writer or director, and when I fought for this, my mother would say “You think you can be a Director? How many Directors do you know that look like you?” and I could never answer, because there were none. So going to Film School, was never something I had the privilege to consider, Just like it isn’t a 'smart investment' for big Studios to put their money on a woman of color auteur, it also wasn't a smart college investment for my hard-working immigrant parents.
There is a need for Affirmative Action in the Film Industry. As it is, we struggle to figure out what came first, the chicken or the egg? We are blaming the woman/person of color for not creating work that is good enough to receive a nomination, however, we don't have the platform, the support, or the mass media acceptance (of our work as universal, vs. categorizing it as POC centered, or "diverse") to receive funding, or equipment, or backing, to produce our films. It's hard to make quality films when no financier wants to fund your product at the fear of not getting enough of a return. It is a business after all. I can name Producers (colleagues of mine, same age as me, who are respectably successful) who ONLY produce work by male directors (mostly white men). Why are women of color not worth your backing? No wonder there are countries that shunn baby girls, or drown them, and thrown them away. Girs are not as worthy of an investment as boys are. We look down on parents, and cultures who do this kind of thing, but this industry is no better, and perpetuates this disparity by saying (with their wallets, and their privilege), that women of color stories, or women of color directors aren’t a safe bet, or an investment worth backing.
Let’s play another game: Let’s use very similar stories, but one that has a white male lead (Superman) and one that has a female white lead (Supergirl), which one does better in the box office? And we haven’t even thrown men and women of color into the mix here, but you can imaging that in the pyramid of privilege, the stories with white male leads will always come out on top (as the bigger box office hits). Here, again, we have a chicken and the egg situation. The audience must change its perspective, and be more open to these “other” films (as universal stories), yet, a way for audiences to embrace this, is for media exposure of these stories, and yet Studios don't want to tell these stories, at the fear of losing money at the box office (which they might—not because these “other” films aren’t good, but because audiences have yet to evolve, and it takes time to do so). Furthermore, why can't a woman/woman of color director direct the next Ant Man or Star Wars? Why are all these major blockbuster hits directed by white men?
Friends and colleagues who say to me “We’ve come a long way. Iñaritu was nominated, he is Latino” or “You always find a reason to be displeased no matter what, you should be grateful that things are changing. Latinos basically dominated the Golden Globes” or “What about that one Director, who Directed that one film three years ago, she was Black!” And I find these statements to be almost worse than the ignorant ones. Settling for crumbs, isn’t the same as getting a slice of the pie. When you have to dig, search, and pull out arbitrary facts, or random strokes of luck, to try to prove that we have come a long way, then that alone should be enough proof that we are struggling. Denying that this is still a very real issue, is conforming and accepting the crumbs we are given. I would like for the day to come, when we don’t have to search through all the names, and categories, with a fine-tooth comb, to validate “how things are really changing” I would like for the nominations across the board) to accurately represent all the demographics.
Have things really changed that much?
Let’s put it to the test. Are you sitting down? Good. Now focus, and off the top of your head, think of 5-10 women of color directors that you know. Oh, you need more time? Ok. Take a few more minutes. Don’t look it up! That’s cheating. Still thinking? Even if you took an entire day (without going online, or doing some thorough research), you will likely come up with zero names, maybe one, or two (at the most). Ok. Now, let’s do the same thing with white women directors. Can you name 5-10 (without going on IMDB, and looking up the name of the movie)? Sure, you can probably come up with a solid 3-5 names. And now, the same thing with Men of Color Directors. 5-10 names? Again, your list is no longer than 3-5 tops; and this is even if you KNOW about cinema. I am a cinephile, I love, breathe everything film, and these lists are still so hard for me. Now, for the final round. Can you name 5-10 white male directors? You can probably name over 30 just off the top of your head, without reaching, or forcing your brain to remember “Who was that one lady who directed, that one film about….” The white male directors flood out, you can barely keep up. A cascade of names. You know so many of them. Am I the only one who thinks this is a problem?
Conclusion and Solutions.
I want to be very clear that I am not against white people making solid creative work, and being rewarded for it, just as I am not opposed to smart white people getting into good colleges. But having equal access, and equal resources, and opportunities, is something that is of crucial importance. Some of my favorite Directors, my biggest influences and inspirations are European, white male directors. My favorite films featuring almost entirely white casts. I have love-hate relationships with these works, because they inspired me to pursue this field, but they also dominate the field. Films like Hitchcock’s “Read Window,” Tarkovski’s “Solaris,” Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour,” Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim,” or Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar,” have all profoundly influenced my work, and inspired my path as a filmmaker, but where are all the other films, and filmmakers who never had the opportunity, the support, the funding, the notoriety, the hype? It’s not just women of color who suffer from the lack of their voices. We all suffer. Like with Patriarchy, women aren’t the only victims, men also suffer from a one-sided dominant structure. When I think of all the films, and directors I admire, I wonder, how many other films (never made), and directors (who never had a chance) might I have also been influenced by? I firmly believe that, we’d all be a more rounded, and creative beings if we had exposure/access to all works, by all filmmakers, rather than selected works, by privileged filmmakers (from dominant groups).
We need Affirmative Action in the Film Industry. More funding, and more projects for artists of color. Just like the French government penalizes models who have low BMIs (by fining their agencies and employers), the federal government should penalize Networks and Studios that don’t hire women (of color) Directors. There needs to be a minimum percentage of diversity in the creative fields.
People need to stop conforming, and making up excuses about this. White male directors, white women directors, men of color directors, and women of color directors, ALL need to stand together. If one voice is underrepresented, we all suffer. So let’s support one another in sharing our voices in the Arts. Artists in these different groups also need to embrace their privilege and actively speak out against it. If you are not actively fighting against your privilege, then you are actively condoning it, and perpetuating it.
We need to stop settling for crumbs, and make this a real issue, that requires big changes, not small, gradual changes. We’ve waited over a hundred year to see a Mexican man be nominated for Best Director on a Film; I don’t want to wait another hundred years for women of color to be celebrated for their work. And I don’t mean “the one time, that one year, with that one movie” I mean consistently, like—it’s actually part of our society to be fair, and to have diversity, and to have all kinds of films, by all kinds of people, and about all kinds of people, be considered.
Just like the Unions go on strike for better pay, better benefits, and working conditions, Actors, Writers, Producers, Directors, should go on strike to push Studios to move away from whiteness, and male dominance. We are so quick to stand together when a natural disaster happens, and it shakes up the world, but yet we let this tragedy continue quietly. We talk about the oppression of women, and minority groups all over the world, but refuse to accept our silent discrimination.
There are ways to resolve this issue. Bigger battles have been won; but instead, we choose to be comfortable (in our oppression), sit back, and embrace the spectacle.
Lastly, for those who say “It’s just the Oscars, it’s all politics, it doesn’t even matter anyway.” To you, I say, yes it does matter. Any platform (like the Academy Awards, or The Golden Globes) with so much power to influence, and affect culture, and society, has the responsibility to be fair, and to represent and honor (or at the very least—consider) all voices.
Be sure to check out The New York Times Article here as well!