For a long time now, the Oscars have been seen as much more than the most recognized award in the world film industry. More than indicating which were the best productions of a given year (which is often quite questionable according to critics), the Oscar is understood as part of political life.
In doing so, I indicate that this highly sought after award is also expected to reflect the world in which it exists and endures. Therefore, it is even understandable that the fact that the 2023 Oscars did not include women in the list of nominees for the Best Director award caused a lot of furor on social networks. Especially since there were at least four female directors eligible for recognition: Sarah Polley, for Among Women; Gina Prince-Bythewood, by King Woman; Maria Schrader, by She said; and Charlotte Wells, for aftersun.
Instead, six men were nominated (Among Women is on the list of nominees for Best Picture, but Sarah Polley was not chosen to direct and only made the finalists for Best Adapted Screenplay). This news outraged because it strengthened a bad “tradition” of the Oscars: throughout its history, only 7 women received the award for directing. Two of them, in previous years: in 2021, Chloé Zhao won by nomadlandand in 2022, Jane Campion won by Attack of the Dogs.
All this data inspires movements such as #OscarSoMale, which has denounced sexism and the predilection for male candidates at the awards for so many decades. Historically, we can say that women were rarely remembered when recognizing the talents of this market with such strong power of influence.
Why is this important?
(Source: The New York Times)Source: The New York Times
The main issue here is that an award of this level (like the Oscar, but not just the Oscar) represents much more than a statue on someone’s shelf. It means dictating the direction of an industry of global influence, which impacts the ways in which people spread across all continents will see their return and – most importantly, how they will see themselves.
That is, having women (as well as black people, indigenous people, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and so many other power minority groups, as seen by North American culture and many others) being recognized is also a way to guarantee that their artistic visions find funding and, therefore, reach new audiences. It is worth remembering that the simple premise that “the jury is not to blame that the directors are better than the directors” is shallow and contestable – the very fact that many of the critically praised films in 2022 emerged from female productions and direction is already the proof to the contrary.
In addition, it is also worth reflecting here on the fact that, if there are more men than women in the film industry, it is prudent to think about why this happens. If fewer women manage to develop and consequently stand out in this market, it is quite possible that there is a structural reason that leads to this.
Representation at the Oscars
(Source: Papelpop)Source: Papelpop
Not to say that nothing evolves in world cinema, there is an unprecedented fact to be celebrated: the Malaysian-Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh has already made history by becoming the first Asian to be nominated for the Best Actress award for Everything Everywhere at the Same Time.
The 2023 edition, by the way, has another record: it is the year in which more Asian actors received nominations for their performance. Stephanie Hsu, an American of Chinese descent, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Everything Everywhere at the Same Time as well as Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan, for the same film. Thai Hong Chau was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The whale.
To The New York Times, Michelle Yeoh declared her dubious feeling for being the first actress to achieve the feat of this nomination in 95 years of Oscars. “Of course I’m over the moon, but also a little sad because I know that other amazing actresses from Asia have come before me. I hope this nomination shatters the ‘glass ceiling’ above us, and that we continue to see more of our faces in the award.”
It is worth remembering that one of the main criticisms aimed at the Oscars in recent years has to do with the lack of diversity among the winners, including black people. However, in 2022, the fact that had the most repercussions on the party was the slap given by Will Smith to presenter Chris Rock after he made a very disrespectful joke with Will’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
There were many who accused that the gigantic reverberation of this event, and the consequent damage to Will Smith’s career, reveals how much racism still persists not only in this industry, but also in the social sphere. Thus, the endless debate about slapping (or, at least, the importance given to it) would perpetuate an idea of violence and brutality that is usually associated with black people, especially men.
But advances come in waves, not in a straight line, as we might imagine. In 2020, for example, the Oscar broke another taboo: that of privileging only films produced in the English language among its main laurels. Responsible for the feat was the fantastic Korean work Parasitewhich brings a strong social critique to the context of capitalist exploitation. Parasite ended up winning Best Picture and gave the award for Best Director to Bong Joon-ho, making it the first foreign language feature to achieve this feat.
Over the years, the perspective is that this demand for diversity among award-winners will only increase, and that the cinematographic works driven by the most important award in the cinematographic market will become increasingly plural. Undoubtedly, seeing us all represented on screens is something that the industry must increasingly aim for – whether for political reasons or just for commercial reasons.