Women’s Stories Stand Out in the Oscar Competition, But Hollywood Still Lags Behind in Gender Equality
Stories with female leads fill the list of films seeking an Academy Award this coming Sunday. This reflects advances in an industry that has long relegated women to secondary roles in the shadow of the main male character. But Hollywood is considered to be lagging behind in terms of gender equality.
Michelle Yeoh struggles through a plural universe. Angela Basset leads a warring nation, and Cate Blanchett cunningly manipulates the members of a world-class orchestra. Blanchett’s film, “Tar”, was nominated for best picture.
Its rival is the feature film “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, a kung-fu adventure film starring Yeoh as the protagonist tasked with saving the world. “Women Talking”, about a Mennonite woman who struggles with sexual assault in her community, was also nominated for best picture.
Angela Basset accepts the Outstanding Actress Award in a Drama Series at the 54th NAACP Image Awards at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, U.S., February 25, 2023. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)
In the best supporting actress category, Angela Basset was nominated for her role as Queen Ramonda in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, a Marvel superhero film featuring female heroes at the forefront.
However, Hollywood is still far from gender equality.
“Women Talking” director and screenwriter Sarah Polley said, “The conversation that has been going on in the last few years has stalled. I mean, has the world changed as much as we wanted? Of course not. In many ways there have been setbacks. ”
In 2017, the #MeToo movement encouraged women to speak out about their lack of share in Hollywood and demand equality. The data shows there is an increase.
According to the findings of UCLA researchers, women accounted for 47.2 percent of leading roles in leading films and theater in 2021, up from 32.9 percent in 2017.
Director Sarah Polley attends the 38th Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, US, March 4, 2023. (REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci)
But among directors, the most influential role in filmmaking, only 21.8 percent were women, up from 12.6 percent in 2017. Only three women have won the best director Oscar in the award’s 94-year history.
This year no female directors were nominated, even though there were Polley and Gina Prince-Blythewood, directors of “The Woman King”.
Executives who approve film production and set budgets are also heavily skewed toward men, according to 2020 UCLA data. Researchers found that 82 percent of movie studio CEOs are male, as are 80 percent of management below the CEO level.
To promote gender equality, activists created the ReFrame stamp, a certification that can be used to show that producers recruit women for at least half of the key actors on-screen and behind the camera. By 2022, 29 of the 100 top-grossing films in the US and Canada meet that criteria.
“There’s more and more women behind the camera making the decisions. We need more of that. If you look at the statistics on women running studios, it’s not equal. So it’s a struggle to get more seats at the table, the leadership table, to make sure things this has become the norm,” said actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Lupita Nyong’o attends the premiere of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, in London, England November 3, 2022. (REUTERS/Toby Melville)
“Tar” director Todd Field says he hopes Hollywood doesn’t behave the way it did in the past when it comes to gender. A decade ago, he says, he was told he could get a bigger budget for his film if the main character was a man.
Field says, “There’s been a great tradition of strong female characters and strong female leads in film history, especially in the 1950s. Why this changed, I’m not sure.”
More women-centric films are scheduled to hit theaters in the coming months. Among them are The Marvels, a superhero film with three female leads; adaptation of the novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” and a new version of Barbie from Oscar-nominated director Greta Gerwig.
Greta Gerwig at the premiere of ‘White Noise’ at the BFI London film festival in London, England, October 6, 2022. (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)
Meanwhile, when asked about women’s representation in general, Michelle Yeoh said, “We need equality for women too. We need more women’s representation, and especially older women.”
Older women, in particular, have to fight the thought that their golden years are over, Yeoh continues. The 60-year-old actress said, “We have to change all that nonsense, and I’m here to do it.” [uh/ab]